The term "art cinema" is one of the most familiar in film studies, marking out simultaneously specific filmmakers, specific films, specific kinds of cinemas, and, for some writers, specific kinds of audiences. The filmmakers implied by the term are such European auteurs as Michelangelo Antonioni (b. 1912), Federico Fellini (1920–1993), Jean-Luc Godard (b. 1930), and Ingmar Bergman (b. 1918); the films include L'Avventura (1960), 8½ (1963), À bout de souffle ( Breathless , 1960) and Det Sjunde inseglet ( The Seventh Seal , 1957). The cinemas are small film theaters, rather than the picture palaces of old or the multiplexes of the present, screening new films but having a repertory function as well; the audiences for the art film are drawn from the highly educated urban intelligentsia. These features, however, are only the predominant connotations of the term, which has a range of uses and connotations, so it is useful to distinguish between extended and restricted definitions of art cinema.
The extended definition suggests an "art film" presence in the history of cinema virtually from the beginning, incorporating historical instances stretching back to the years before World War I; it retains relevance throughout the history of film and possesses a certain amount of currency in relation to contemporary cinema. The restricted definition refers to the emergence in the 1950s of a strand in European cinema with a distinct set of formal and thematic characteristics, specialized exhibition outlets, specific artistic status as part of "high culture," constituting in some respects cinema's belated accession to the traditions of twentieth-century modernism in the arts. The two senses are interrelated and art cinema in the restricted sense can be regarded as part of the historical continuum embodied in the extended definition as a key, though bounded, phase in the history of a particular kind of film.