Le Film Artistique

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
They speak in the way only the French can, as if it's not enough for a concept to be difficult, it must be utterly incomprehensible.

The stereotypical artistic independent movie, the kind which practically requires a didactic analysis to convince people that, though it does not aim to entertain the Lowest Common Denominator in any way, it's a profoundly meaningful work of True Art. If one of the characters makes one, expect Creator Breakdown. These films are likely to have several, if not all, of these elements:

In the best cases, use of this trope is an Affectionate Parody or a sharp Take That to a particular work, director or movement.

Examples of Le Film Artistique include:

Examples of in-fiction films

Anime & Manga

  • The Big O does this with Memories in general, but specifically there is a short film with relative importance to the plot done in the French style, complete with Deliberate Monochrome, subtitles (because the dialogue is silent), and a big curlicue "Fin" at the end. But it's more of a Film Noir with art house symbolism than a true art house film.

Comic Books

  • The annoying, pretentious hippie art teacher in Ghost World, played by Illeana Douglas, made such a film and shows it to her remedial art class. It's nothing but a few minutes of the words "mirror, father, mirror" repeated over and over, to black and white shots of a shadow walking up stairs and baby-doll parts being thrown in a toilet.

Films -- Live-Action

  • In Mr Bean's Holiday, the eponymous Mr. Bean puts his holiday movie over the story's antagonist arthouse director's surreal police drama, with the dialogue from the original footage oddly matching with Bean's random images.
  • Brought up in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. (Although it also refers to Damon's role in the film version of The Talented Mr. Ripley).

Ben Affleck: (to Matt Damon) I'm sorry I dragged you away from what ever gay-serial-killers-who-ride-horses-and-like-to-play-golf-touchy-feely picture you were gonna do this week.

  • In After the Fox, Peter Sellers plays a master thief who is trying to smuggle gold into Italy. As a cover story, he pretends to shoot an art film in a small coastal village. When the ship carrying the gold is delayed, he has to improvise, shooting scenes at random and trying to come up with explanations for his "artistic vision". At the end, the film is shown at his trial, where a film critic hails it as a work of genius. Of course.
  • The low-budget indie French movie being made in Irma Vep. So artistique, the lead actress—Maggie Cheung—has no idea what she's doing there, and the angsty director has a nervous breakdown.
  • Woody Allen's character in Hollywood Ending apparently ends up making one of these accidentally: he was blind while directing it. The American critics hate it, but the French love it...


Live-Action TV

  • Monty Python's Flying Circus has a hilarious example in "Le Fromage Grand", which, underneath its rubbish-dump setting and random selections of violent Stock Footage, contains a profoundly tragic narrative about a man, a woman, and a lettuce. The lettuce explodes in the end, which is claimed to represent the self-destructiveness of materialism.
  • 3rd Rock from the Sun does this once. Mary says the film is very erotic "once you figure out which character is male and which is female".
  • Another Diane—Diane Chambers—does this in an episode of Cheers. She creates the short film "Manchild in Beantown" to persuade Woody's parents to allow him to stay in Boston and work at the bar.
  • Parodied in The Goodies episode "The Movies". The film of a nun stripping to a frenzied cello accompaniment, but revealing a whiteface mime, is especially bizarre. It was a parody of Ken Russell's films, specially Mahler.
  • Something similar happened on The Carpoolers, with the son making a surrealist film out of a wedding home video and declared a genius by the Sundance Film Festival jury.
  • Married... with Children's "SHEOS" [sic].
  • A sketch from The Benny Hill Show features Benny as an avant-garde French director being interviewed by a fawning Henry McGee, only to repeatedly burst McGee's bubble about his talent as he reveals that all the artsy stuff was actually the result of a low budget or just laziness, like switching from color to black and white after running out of color film, and casting the producer's girlfriend (who has a lisp, causing her to mispronounce a line where she orders soup and make it sound like a profound philosophical statement) as the lead.
  • Big Train features a parody of French cinema, shot in black and white and spoken in French with subtitles. A woman in a cafe (played by Catherine Tate) tells her boyfriend she's leaving him for "something else"—a set of traffic lights. She eventually decides to return, but the man has taken up with a lawn sprinkler.
  • Similarly, The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer had spoof French arthouse films (actually less surreal than most of the duo's output) starring Le Corbussier et Papin, both remarkably skilled farting artistes.
  • The Fast Show also manages to successfully shoehorn a catchphrase into this trope.
  • One of the running jokes in Arrested Development is a film called "Les Cousins Dangereux", which would appear to fit the trope fairly well. This is arguably more a parody of "classy" European softcore films. The parody isn't so much that it's art as that Europe is more sexually liberated. Compare the American remake where "classy" and "erotic" are filtered through more stereotypically puritanical American values.
  • Howard Moon of The Mighty Boosh is a fan of director Jurgen Haabermaaster, whose film The Doctor and The Pencil, "an exploration of pain and rage... so playful," features a doctor and a man in a pencil costume screaming at each other while an unshaded lightbulb swings between them; the doctor also pounds a piece of meat with a telephone handset while yelling "MAKE THE CALL" (seen in "The Chokes").
  • Abed's film in Community.
  • Spaced has rabbits rabbits rabbits rabbits...
  • iCarly
    • An episode has Spencer hiring a film involving a goat and a balloon in order to impress a hot foreign girl.
    • In the episodes "iQ", Carly falls for a boy, that is presented as highly intelligent and cultured, enjoys these kinds of movies and takes her to one for their date. Carly is horrified to find out that what she thought was the end of the film after several boring hours was only the intermission.
  • Gilmore Girls has "A Film by Kirk", which is hilarious to the title characters.
  • Parodied in The Chaser's War on Everything, which presented an inflight safety video, Ingmar Bergman-style. [dead link]

"When instructed by your crew member, please adopt the emergency arthouse position."

  • In Being Human (UK), George, in an attempt to be the worst date possible (It Makes Sense in Context), takes a girl to an incredibly long artistic German film. (She loves it.)
  • One of the French Exchange Student sketches in Sorry, I've Got No Head has Philippe insisting on watching "Les Deux Cellos de M. Gravice", which is black and white and features a man playing two cellos.
  • Parodied as far back as the 70's in the german scetch show of Loriot. Two critics talk about a 5 second clip from a silent movie that shows a man standig up in a trash can with the lid on his head and falling over when trying to move, similar to "Man being hit by a football". It turns into a heated debate about whether the movie is a masterpiece of cinematography or a political allegory for the exploitation of the working class by the establishment.

Puppet Shows

  • From The Muppet Show special The Muppets Go to the Movies: Sam the American Eagle is translating what he thinks is the latest masterpiece by Ingmar Bergman, Silent Strawberries. (It's actually by his brother, Gummo.) It stars the Swedish Chef (who else?), who confronts Beaker, who is the Angel of Death. When the Swedish Chef asks to not die, Death gives him a rubber chicken instead. Now he can join a traveling show, and sure enough, in comes a Swedish Kermit presenting a Swedish Fozzie Bear, who tells a joke about Swedish meatballs. It ends with a sing-along to a Swedish version of "Hooray for Hollywood"; by then, Sam has left the stage in disgust.

Web Animation

  • Moody in Weebl and Bob. "My boner has returned!" They also parodied this earlier with "Death".
  • Homestar Runner
    • The Brothers Chaps made an animated music video for They Might Be Giants's song "Experimental Film", starring the Homestar Runner cast. It's presented as an in-universe film made by Strong Sad and The Cheat.
    • In the Strong Bad Email "narrator", Strong Bad narrates a trailer for "a four hour film with no dialogue and no plot" from "some smelly French studio".
    • Strong Sad makes another in "independent", which consists of a black and white still of a dying potted plant accompanied by him crying into the wrong end of a saxophone.
    • Don't forget "A Staple-Down Life", from DVD exclusive Puppets on the Road.
  • The French segment of the Red vs. Blue Going Global [dead link] video is a classic skewering of this trope (the other segments parody other national stereotypes in a very silly, but very "artsy" way).

Web Comics

  • Sinfest has a parody of this type of "art house movie". Notable for the pig in a ballerina outfit at the end.
  • In Bobwhite, it is Marlene's ambition to create one of these.

Web Original


"Things. Stuff. Stuff and things."


Western Animation

  • The Simpsons
    • Barney Gumble's film, Pukeahontas: "Don't cry for me; I'm already dead."
    • Also the "Itchy and Scratchy" replacement, "Worker and Parasite."
    • And the foreign films that Lisa loves, including one about two soldiers and a goat complaining morosely about the ongoing war.
  • In Clone High, Joan of Arc made one of these types of films for the student film festival. Said film is comprised of stereotypical symbolism and also weird noises, such as "Whisper Whisper", and, oddly enough, "Celine Dion... Celine Dion..." The funniest part of that was at the end, only Freud got it.
  • Family Guy
    • The college art film that featured Diane, the female newscaster. Filmed entirely in black and white in Anachronic Order and ended with her slumped at a table while a clown flipped a pancake on a stove. It's also worth noting that said pancake was flipped in slow-motion.
    • In one episode, Peter makes Carter announce from the Eiffel Tower: "People of France, a good-looking depressed guy smoking a cigarette is not a movie!", to which the French took some offence.
  • One Tiny Toon Adventures episode revolves around Plucky's attempt to win a student film festival. After struggling to make a really elaborate film, he loses all but the last few seconds of footage at the last moment, and is forced to enter just that. He's saved by the fact that the second-to-last film to be shown to the judges is an unbearably tedious arthouse-style film made by Cloudcuckoolander Shirley the Loon, which takes up all but a few seconds of the festival that day. The judges are so relieved by the brevity of Plucky's film that they immediately declares him the winner. Also, Gogo Dodo's film sort of subverts the trope when it surprises everyone by not being as wacky as they expected (it's actually footage from an old black-and-white Warner Bros. comedy short). He says it was "realism".
  • Jay's college film in The Critic.
  • Don't forget the "Chef's Salty Chocolate Balls" episode of South Park, with such independent movies such as A Bunch of Gay Cowboys Eating Pudding, confirming Cartman's claim that this is what independent movies tend to be about.
  • There was a hilarious spoof of this sort of artsy film featured in an Animaniacs episode themed around a drive-in theater. It was in black-and-white, and in French... and the dialogue was made up entirely of lines from French children's songs. (Quoth Yakko, "This is the worst French film I've ever seen! It's also the only French film I've ever seen.")
  • An episode of Pinky and The Brain makes fun specially of Fellini on their fake reunion/clip show.
  • In Rugrats: All Grown Up!, all of Tommy's films are like this. One episode features a film called Gesundheit, which was basically 2 hours of closeups of people sneezing followed by the reply "Gesundheit".
  • The Chameleon Brothers from Rocko's Modern Life made one of these, "La Vie moderne de Pinto", out of Rocko's home movies, adding shots of flowers blooming, pretentious narration, and title cards saying "Regret" and "Pineapples", among other things. Of course, the only thing Rocko was concerned about was that the film featured his (pre-censored) nudity. More Hilarity Ensues when he discovers that the chameleons sent it to an Australian Film Festival, which it wins! Even more Hilarity Ensues when Rocko gets a letter from his parents, who saw the film at the festival. Rocko is mortified, but to his amazement his parents absolutely loved it.
  • Several episodes of Home Movies parody these as well. They even made a film about "zee finest artistes of Europe!" that culminated in a musical number.
  • Sort of in Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends; Bloo writes a trope overdosed hilariously over-the-top movie for a student film festival called T-Rexatron Alienwolf 3: A Prequel in Time, the Unrelenting, with weird scenes and purposely Narm-y lines.
  • Parodied in Monkey Dust where the lead actor in such a movie stops and tells the director he can't go on filming because there is no plot whatsoever to the movie. When the director says that the leading lady's breasts are the plot, the actor threatens to take it up with the scriptwriters—only to find out that the entire thing has been written by chickens on a typewriter.

Examples of Real Life films

Films -- Animation

Films -- Live-Action

  • Ingmar Bergman's Persona (thanks to Popcultural Osmosis pretty much everyone doing this trope makes fun of it). Film focuses on two women, one of which made a conscious decision not to ever talk, and the second is her nurse. The first part of film is pretty easy and straightforward, but later it descends into seemingly absurd talks between two women and long, incomprehensible silent scenes of, for example, nurse cutting her wrist, forcing the other woman to lick her blood and then slapping her face a few dozen times.
    • Several of Bergman's other films get this as well.
  • Last Year at Marienbad
  • Céline et Julie vont en bateau (Celine and Julie Go Boating) is a perfectly straight example of this trope. It's French, three hours long, includes seemingly completely unnecessary scenes, has a plot (when you get to it) whose closest comparison would be Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and the ending... borrows heavily from Theater of the Absurd, that's all we'll say. It's actually un film très charmant, if you're patient with it.
    • Jacques Rivette, the director, glories in this trope. Go ahead, see if you can sit through all of "Out One".
  • Alejandro Jodorowsky made many such movies. His first, Fando and Lis, fulfils all criteria other than "absurd length or brevity" and putting a Black Comedy spin on the angstiness. The Holy Mountain boosts the imagery to such freakish heights of psychadelia that even the sternest viewer will not get all of it.
  • Warum läuft Herr R Amok?, a film where absolutely nothing happens, despite the fact that the main character kills his family and then himself. Although, the film does a pretty good job of illustrating why Herr R. runs amok. It's just not the violent crime film or psychological thriller everyone expects from the title.
  • Jean Genet's Un Chant d'Amour: 30 dialogue-free minutes of homosexual erotica.
  • Sayat Nova, or The Color of Pomegranates, is a veritable Armenian արվեստի ֆիլմը. It's meant to be a biopic based on the title poet's life, although with or without this information, the film will surely feel like a trippily decadent Mind Screw. There is no plot, but rather a series of heavily symbolic images inspired by Nova's poems with the related verse included occasionally.
  • David Lynch's works, most notably Inland Empire and Eraserhead. Lynch's features actually largely make sense, at least on a plot level. His short films fits the trope much more closely than his features.
  • My Dinner with Andre is 110 minutes of Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory sitting in a restaurant and talking. Aside from a brief voice-over at the beginning and end, as Wallace Shawn is travelling to/from the restaurant, that's it. Thanks to director Louis Malle's dynamic camera work, and the sheer intensity of Wallace and Andre's conversation, the movie is quite engaging.
  • Andy Warhol's Empire is an exterior shot of the Empire State Building for 24 hours. He made dozens upon dozens of films like these, many of them static shots of one person. Remember the "Oscar-winning" movie Ass from Idiocracy? Consider that Warhol did a film called "Taylor Mead's Ass".
  • The Cure for Insomnia. It has a running time of 87 hours. One could argue that it's Exactly What It Says on the Tin, and thus, not intended to be artistic at all.
  • Bob Dylan's Renaldo and Clara: it's four hours long, and alternates between being a concert film/Rockumentary, cinema verité documentary, improvised drama (with a cast full of non-actors), and surreal home movie. Even among Dylan fans it's a Love It or Hate It work, with a lot more Love Its than you might expect.
  • Most films by Guy Maddin fit this trope. His film Brand Upon the Brain! was silent, shot with grainy, black and white 16 mm film, and narrated and orchestrated live... all that without getting into the plot. Nearly all of his films are in grainy black and white. Some of them condescend to have a plot, say, The Saddest Music in the World. Others... not so much. If you want Guy Maddin in all his mind-screwing grandeur, try Arkangel. It's what David Lynch would have shot if a particularly deranged Dostoievsky handed him a script.
  • Calamari Union, the first major movie of Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki. Filmed in black and white, in eighties Helsinki, with very little dialogue. All its sixteen protagonists are guys with black glasses, all called "Frank", except for one called Pekka (who speaks in English). In a very Warriors fashion, they cross the city at night, trying to reach the Eira neighbourhood, which is a kind of promised land according to one of the Franks. Not all of them make it. No calamari (squids) appear or are even mentioned. Diverging from the Le Film Artistique purest tradition, however, the movie is not serious but humorous in a very quirky, unsettling, playful and deadpan (thus Finnish) manner, and presents intelligent criticism of consumerism and urban life. An European Cult Classic, like pretty much any movie by Kaurismäki, who admitted he was drunk for the most of the shooting. It shows.
  • Vase de Noces. A lone farmer who may be the last man on earth slots the heads of dolls onto the heads of doves, collects vegetable matter in jars, sodomizes his pig—which gives birth to what are presumably human/pig hybrids, tries to raise said hybrids as humans by feeding them at the dinner table, hangs them when he is unable to—prompting the pig to commit suicide, buries himself alongside the pig with his clothes on and reemerges—clothes now mysteriously absent, tosses all the vegetable matter from the jars into a pond, fills them with his feces and urine instead, makes tea out of said feces and urine and consumes it, hangs himself. Belgian, black and white, no dialogue, the church choir chanting of medieval composers Perotinus and Monteverdi supplies the soundtrack alongside electrically-generated bleeps and bloops. According to the director, it's about an alchemical quest for immortality. We wish we were making this up.
  • Dogtooth: a Greek film in which couple keep their children imprisoned in their home to adulthood, teaching them that the outside world is incredibly dangerous. Features lesbian incest, passionless sex scenes, long stretches without dialogue and no real ending.
  • Begotten, an American black and white movie with almost no contrast at all (the colours shown are dirty white or dirty black, nothing between), no dialogue, no music, and a story showing an allegory of the Creation of Life through a succession of enigmatic and very gory scenes.
  • Minimalist cinema, and Chantal Ackerman in particular. One of Ackerman's films, Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles is three and a half hours long of a woman doing the same things over and over again. That length is the entire point, but it's still put generations of film students to sleep.
  • Michaelangelo Antonioni is another king of this trope. For example, Blowup, a movie involving a murder mystery and a swinging London photographer at one point being molested by two female models.
  • Most of Peter Greenaway's oeuvre fits this trope. While some films, such as The Draughtsman's Contract and The Pillow Book are fairly well rooted in reality and understandable (for the most part) to the average audience, works like Prospero's Books take neo-baroque to an incomprehensible new level.
  • Dusan Makavejev generally makes movies that fall into this.
  • Salvador Dali and Luis Bunuel's film Un Chien Andalou is a prime example. Of course, given the artist... Warning: Eye Scream and major Mind Screw abound.
  • Tree of Life fits this trope, possibly being the most abstract film to get such major stars and a $30 million+ budget. Ironically, due to being French, silent, and black and white, a lot of people mistook The Artist sight unseen as one of these when it's actually an incredibly simple and accessible comedy to the point a lot of critics thought it was too light to be deserving of Best Picture and campaigned for the actual Le Film Artistique in the running that year.
  • The Green Elephant, a memetic Russian film, infamous for its gory content. It is filmed on handheld VHS camera, have only 4 characters, and is very depressing, although it has some comedy value.
  • The 1961 French exploitation film My Baby is Black! has many of the trappings of this trope while showing why Le Film Artistque doesn't automatically mean quality. Ostensibly about the evils of racism and interracial love conquering all, the movie is rife with pretentious narration that barely sounds like regular human dialogue, a dragging if not glacially paced plot, black-and-white filmography and a its supposed morals being largely ignored.