Aparna Sen

Freelance Filmmaker and Actress

Voted for

Rashomon1950Akira Kurosawa
The Seventh Seal1957Ingmar Bergman
Mahanagar1963Satyajit Ray
OLIVIER, OLIVIER1992Agnieszka Holland
Babel2006Alejandro González Iñárritu
Road to Perdition2002Sam Mendes
KRÓTKI FILM O ZABIJANIU1987Krzysztof Kieslowski
GARM HAVA1973M.S. Sathyu
All about My Mother1999Pedro Almodóvar
Belfast2021Kenneth Branagh



1950 Japan

The narrative is set in 12th-century Japan and the action takes place in the course of a single afternoon. A samurai and his wife are travelling through a forest. A bandit comes upon them. The samurai is killed and his wife raped. Later, in an open-air court, we hear four different characters recount their versions of this incident - the bandit, the wife of the samurai, a woodcutter who has witnessed the incident and the dead samurai who is invoked through a medium. Rashomon is perhaps the first film to have several versions of the same incident and has become a template for the genre of multiple-narrative cinema. In black and white, it creates a shimmering effect of sunlight through the foliage, which is not simply pretty. Instead, it suggests a kind of magical quality where right and wrong, truth and falsehood become confused, setting the tone for what is to follow. One of the images that has stayed with me is that of the woman's white veil flying away, revealing her face, and ever so subtly suggesting temptation.

The Seventh Seal

1957 Sweden

I have always been fascinated by this film which has the Bubonic Plague as backdrop, where a knight returning to Sweden from the Crusades seeks answers about the existence of God (a recurrent theme in Bergman) as he plays chess with Death. I feel that the strength of this film lies in the starkness and directness of its questioning the silence of God, and also in the way it obliterates the dividing line between cinema and theatre.


1963 India

Mahanagar is a classic feminist film made by a man. The protagonist Arati, who initially takes on a job to supplement the family income, begins to come into her own as a human being as she succeeds at her workplace. What I find most appealing in Mahanagar, in contrast to later 'feminist' films, is that Arati is not the typical socially suppressed woman striving to fulfil her potential. She takes a moral and ethical decision when she resigns from her much-needed job in order to protest against the unfair treatment of a colleague. Ray shows the man and woman as equals in a beautiful scene at the end of the film. Arati's husband, who has lost his job when the bank he works at failed, rushes to his wife's office to ask her not to submit her resignation letter. Ironically, Arati walks down the stairs at that very moment after having handed the letter in. As the couple stare in dismay at each other with the city pulsating outside, her husband says, in one of the most evocative bits of dialogue ever written for the screen: "Such a big city...won't at least one of us get a job here?"


1992 France

This film, inspired by a true story, is about a nine-year-old boy who mysteriously disappears on his way to his grandmother's house, throwing his family into complete disarray, only to reappear six years later as a teenage hustler who claims to be the lost boy. The mother, who had turned completely neurotic after her son's disappearance, is now ecstatic; the fathe,r who had become estranged from his wife and gone away to Chad with a new job, returns and is reunited with both wife and son. Only Nadine, the sister, is filled with doubt. She keeps testing the boy claiming to be her long-lost brother to find out his true identity and they end up making love. Ultimately, it ceases to matter whether the boy who returned is the original boy or not and, in a strangely unsettling way, one begins to wonder whether truth itself matters. The film is full of beautiful and sensitive motifs, particularly that of a gently swaying empty swing that becomes a poignant metaphor for absence and loss.


2006 USA, Mexico

I like Babel for its deep insightfulness and humanity. A chance shooting of a rifle by two playful boys sparks off a series of interconnected incidents involving four sets of people in three different continents - Morocco, Japan and the United States. Not only is the intricate plot superbly thought out in every detail, but demonstrates how a chance action in one part of the world can seriously affect people in a completely different part without the parties ever having met, so that, in a sense, all of humanity is ultimately interconnected.

Road to Perdition

2002 USA

I must have watched Road to Perdition at least six times. Each time I discover something new. The photography, the acting, the mist en scene, all of it fascinated me every single time! The images, in particular. The absolute power of Conrad Hall's cinematography! Moving shadows running down the seat of a car, of rivulets of rain on the window-pane...a lake in front of a house reflected in the front room in a way that makes the lake and the room one...a shoot-out amongst men in black in the middle of driving rain... And always, always, an unshakeable feeling of fear! Human brutality against a backdrop of stunning beauty! And yet, in the end, what triumphs is the human spirit and the director's deep commitment to humanity.


1987 Poland

There are two killings here - the senseless, brutal and unmotivated murder of a cab driver, followed by the calculated execution of the murderer by the state. The film begins with a sense of foreboding - a grey morning...rows of grey buildings in the distance...a dead cat hanging from barbed wire in the foreground... Jacek, the murderer, is an ugly, unlikeable man and there is no defending his actions. Yet there is Piotr - a beautiful, idealistic young lawyer - who defends him and remains with him till the very end. Good and evil exist side by side.

Some moments stay with you long after the movie is over...Jacek throwing a pastry at the window of the confectioner's, outside of which two little girls stand watching the display. It is just a game, but an incredibly violent act all the same....the executioner checking out the apparatus in the cold, steel-plated execution room...Jacek pulling on his last cigarette as if to prolong his final moments...Piotr's words when asked if he is ready to hand Jacek over... "I will never be ready," he says.


1973 India

You think of a country as your own, and then suddenly one day, everything changes and you are an outsider. Garm Hawa (Scorching Winds) deals poignantly with the pain of the partition of India and its aftermath. Gandhi has been assassinated in 1948. The times are bad. All Muslims are looked upon with suspicion. A North Indian Muslim businessman, Salim Mirza, and his family who live in Agra, a seat of Muslim learning, art and culture, are forced to consider the possibility of leaving India and going away to Pakistan. The family is split up. Salim's brother leaves for Karachi with his son. Salim's aged mother refuses to give up the mansion and there is a very moving scene of her hiding under the huge clay oven in the kitchen while the rest of the family is preparing to leave. The film's greatest strength lies in its sensitivity and its steadfast refusal to take sides...at no point are Muslims made out to be all good and Hindus made out to be villains. The reason why the film has endured is because it is as relevant in today's India as it was at the time of its release.

All about My Mother

1999 Spain, France

A delightful film without any gender, or perhaps one with all possible genders in it. The intricate plot starts out with a tragic death, but soon develops into a warm saga of love and friendship.

Lola, a transgender, was both father and mother to Manuella's dead son Estebaban. She also has a son (again called Esteban) with a nun, Rosa. Rosa dies in childbirth and Manuella adopts her newborn son.

So Esteban now has three mothers - his birth-mother Rosa, Lola who is both his mother and his father, and his adoptive mother Manuella.

In a world full of binaries, this film is a marvellous and liberating departure.


2021 United Kingdom, USA

Beyond the colourful opening shots of modern Belfast, beyond a wall scarred by blue graffiti, the camera rises to discover a past world, a world at war with itself, a world of black and white. It was the time of the Troubles.

A child growing up in these turbulent times questions the differences between people, the religious divide, and corrosive loyalties. What triumphs over the strife-torn narrative is humour, the love of language and songs, family ties and budding love.

Further remarks

It is almost impossible to choose ten best films because one feels differently at different times about everything - people, relationships, paintings, food and, of course, cinema.

The ten I chose seemed best at this point in time. I post my choices here with the disclaimer that I might choose a completely different set at another time.