Wednesday, February 15, 2017
How to write an art house movie
Recently I saw A MAN CALLED OVE (or, as I like to call it: FOUR FUNERALS AND A WEDDING), which is Swedish and up for an Academy Award. It was likeable and seemed to touch all the heartstring bases. And it got me thinking – what if I wanted to write a movie like this? What are the elements that I would need? After exhaustive research (thinking back to the many art house films I’ve seen) I’ve concluded these are the things that must be included:
Your protagonist must be middle-aged and cranky. Life has let him down somehow. Often he is tortured by the past. And always he feels guilty for something.
He’s very independent but usually someone looks after him – a wife, daughter, hot young neighbor.
He befriends a young person. There must be at least two “seeing life through their young eyes” scenes.
He lives in bleak surroundings. And the weather is always bad. There’s never anything in his kitchen. His modest possessions are all reminders of the past. Sonja’s favorite bathroom plunger, that sort of thing.
We watch him do boring mundane shit for half the movie.
He must begrudgingly take in a pet. Preferably a cat, but a bird will do, or he spends the second half of the film doting over his aquarium.
There’s always a fire. Some structure needs to burn down while he watches or the movie doesn’t get made.
He fights with authority figures who either want to take his house, tear down his art, fire him, commit him, take away his driver’s license, or humiliate him in front of his cat.
Flashbacks to horrific events are a must. Usually a child dies in some accident that needs to be shown – drowns, hit by a train, falls down a well – and Mr. Cranky feels it was his fault.
He is very skillful with his hands. He can fix appliances or build houses or change a Saab fanbelt. Or he builds sculptures that are brilliant but no one understands.
He’s a loner who ultimately discovers he needs other people.
Anytime anything that is remotely good happens to him, there is a tragedy one minute later.
He has health problems, usually a bad heart. We see glimpses of this early on – he clutches his heart, gets real dizzy – but thinks nothing of it. Uh oh. But we know it's coming.
There are quirky comedy moments. Not hilarious but just amusing enough that you don’t hate him.
And finally, the film is a half-hour too long.
Hopefully these helpful tips will allow you to go off, write and direct your own art house film. See you at the Oscars, or at least the Herzegovina film festival.