art cinema. A form of cinema that focuses on the aesthetics of cinema and cinematic practices and is primarily, but not exclusively, produced outside dominant cinema systems. [from: Hayward, 1996] This term refers predominantly to a certain type of European cinema that is experimental in technique and narrative. This cinema, which typically produces low- to mid-budget films, attempts to address the aesthetics of cinema and cinematic practices and is primarily, but not exclusively, produced outside dominant cinema systems. For example, the French New Wave and the new German cinema, which come under this label, received substantial financing from the state. Other art cinemas, such as the American underground cinema were funded by the film-makers themselves. Art cinema is also produced by individuals—often women film-makers—who do not come under any particular movement (for example Agnes Varda, Liliani Cavani, Nelly Kaplan and Chantal Akerman).

Art cinema has been rightly associated with eroticism since the 1920s when sexual desire and nudity were explicitly put up on screen. However, for American audiences during the censorship period under the Hays code (1934-68), 'art cinema' came to mean sex films. With an eye to the export market, film producers were quick to exploit art cinema's sexual cachet. Perhaps one of the most famous instances of this is the case of Jean-Luc Godard's Le Mepris (1963), starring Brigitte Bardot. Upon its completion, two of its producers (Levine and Ponti) insisted that Godard should insert some nude scenes of Bardot. He did this, but not with the anticipated results—far from titillating or sexual, these scenes are moving, tragic.

The term cinema d'art, was first coined by the French in 1908 to give cinema—which until then had been a popular medium—a legitimacy that would attract the middle classes to the cinema. This earliest form of art cinema was filmed theatre (mostly actors of the Comedie Francaise) accompanied by musical scores of renowned composers—making it a quite conservative artefact. During the 1920s, however, owing to the impact of German expressionism and the French avant-garde, art cinema became more closely associated with the avant-garde. From the 1930s onwards, partly owing to the French and Italian realist movements, its connotations widened to include social and psychological realism. And the final legitimation came in the 1950s when the politique des auteurs made the term auteur sacrosanct. This politique or polemic argued that certain film-makers could be identified as auteurs—as generators or creators rather than producers of films. This further widening of its frame of reference has meant that, although art cinema is considered primarily a European cinema, certain Japanese, Indian, Australian, Canadian and Latin-American film-makers are also included in the canon—as well as certain films made by representatives of some minority groups: women, Blacks and self-called queers.

Historically, art cinema was not intentionally devised as a counter-Hollywood cinema, even though its production is clearly not associated with Hollywood. It is interesting to note, however, that the 1920s art cinema was a period of great cross-fertilization between Hollywood and European cinema. Generally speaking, in art cinema narrative codes and conventions are disturbed, the narrative line is fragmented so that there is no seamless cause-and-effect storyline. Similarly, characters' behaviour appears contingent, hesitant rather than assured and 'in the know' or motivated towards certain ambitions, desires or goals. Although these films are character—rather than plot-led, there are no heroes—in fact this absence of heroes is an important feature of art cinema. Psychological realism takes the form of a character's subjective view of events; social realism is represented by the character in relation to those events. The point of view can take the form of an interior monologue, or even several interior monologues (Alain Resnais's and Ingmar Bergman's films are exemplars of this). Subjectivity is often made uncertain (whose 'story' is it?) and so too the safe construction of time and space. This cinema, in its rupture with classic narrative cinema, intentionally distances spectators to create a reflective space for them to assume their own critical space or subjectivity in relation to the screen or film.