Programmer, curator, critic
|Man with a Movie Camera
|Pierrot le fou
|West of the Tracks
|The Deer Hunter
|La canta delle marane
Rather than, for example, The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station, I chose from the marvellous catalogue of Lumière views the third version of Leaving the Factory as a starting point and horizon for emerging cinema. The latter promises to be somewhere between the layout and the hazard, as a mise en scene inseparable from an art of narrative. It took three times to reach, through staging, the complete story that had been premeditated, from the opening to the closure of the gate. Magnificent irony: it was necessary for this to 'cut' the exit of the leaders of the company. Inexhaustible support for the imagination, this view can tell us that these workers will soon go to the fairground and discover this cinematograph which captures their movements here.
Man with a Movie Camera
An incomparably powerful film in its ability to decipher the world with tools of cinema, Vertov elaborates it as an artist and aesthete and not as an ideologist, so our gaze and our senses are stimulated and not imprisoned. Man with a Movie Camera represents a concentration of genius, theoretical, political and playful at the same time; a vertiginous mise en abyme between reality and its representation, cinema and life. Dziga Vertov materialises the ambition of a cinema that is only cinema – and not theatre or literature as mentioned in the inaugural (and only) intertitle. He turns cinema into a collective art, highlighting other talents than his own – those of the editor (Yelizaveta Svilova) and the operator (Mikhail Kaufman). They are actually Vertov's wife and brother, so it is also an intimate, eminently personal film.
Pierrot le fou
It is hard to pick out one film by Jean-Luc Godard but Pierrot le fou condenses a crazy inspiration; a concentration of Godard's research since his striking beginning with Breathless. It is a total film, a first sum which also constitutes a coffin for the wonderful duo Anna Karina-Jean-Paul Belmondo. It is overwhelming to know that Godard is also filming a farewell to his greatest muse… If Vertov is looking for a cinema which is just cinema, Godard wants a cinema which is everything. The Filmmaker is both tragedian and burlesque, but also painter, musician, sculptor, writer.
West of the Tracks
Wang Bing is in the right place at the right time in this China which switches from one paradigm to another. But that is obviously not enough – there is always or almost someone, but a simple presence doesn't make a great artistic work. By mixing acute sensitivity with a flawless determination, Wang Bing brings the small digital camera to a point of plasticity, of visual power, opening possibilities only partially glimpsed until now. In the footsteps of Leaving the Factory and The Man With a Movie Camera, Wang Bing signs the film of the ending 20th century and at the same time the very first of the following, from an artistic, technical, social, political, historical point of view. Tiě xī Qū is a renewal for cinema.
The Deer Hunter
There is a lot missing from this ranking, but my choice is this great American fresco, a heady masterpiece. The Deer Hunter seems to contain, ten, twenty, one hundred films, all the classical American cinema – and at the same time it is the final piece of it. The conclusion is artistically grandiose but particularly scathing: the end of innocence, illusions, gaping injuries in the belief in America's national narrative. The Deer Hunter organizes an organic cohabitation of the intimate (the individual, friendship, family) and the collective (the community, the nation), in a radical emotion and with an exceptional sense of dramaturgy, carried by an absolutely overwhelming troupe of actors touched by grace.
More than putting fiction and documentary in a tension and create a mise en abyme, Abbas Kiarostami proceeds to a succession of dizzinesses. We literally have no more ground under our feet as spectators, if not, perhaps, the cinema itself, beyond its registers or categories. Beyond the extremely stimulating aspect of this film, we are in the presence of a great social film, in line with neorealism, a major work on imposture and the double, on the fictions that everybody tells (to others as well as to ourselves) to face life. It is also very beautiful, the way that one piece of news instinctively created for Kiarostami the necessity to make a film – was he aware that the liar and impostor kid from his film The Passenger (1974) was materialising here?
I surprise myself by choosing Louisiana Story rather than Nanook of the North, Moana or Man of Aran… The fact that I have recently seen it, in a theatre and from a beautiful print, leads me there, however. During the first sequences of wandering in the bayou, the painter of light who is Flaherty reaches new heights, shots of pure contemplation turned towards recording the beauty of the world, everything towards which his cinema tends: the harmony between humans and their environment. These are for me among the most beautiful visual compositions not only by Flaherty but in the whole history of cinema. Then there's everything else, the adventurous, fearless, intrepid spirit of childhood, and Flaherty's loyalty to it.
La canta delle marane
I highlight a filmmaker who is still relatively unknown but who is no longer ignored – her rediscovery has been underway since the 2010s, but readjustments to the history of cinema are still quite slow. She could have been the great female figure of transalpine cinema – let's say an 'Italian Agnès Varda'. But her lack of interest in building and pursuing a career, her calling off since the 80s, the fact of having essentially a filmography with shorts had the expected effect. Like others of her brilliant films, La canta delle marane is guided by a particularly inventive formalism which brings out the vitality and vigour of the young bodies in the frames, based too on an extraordinary, particularly inspired editing. It is also one of the films in which she entrusted the writing of the text for a commentary to Pier Paolo Pasolini; their proximity also ensures that the political is never dissociated from the poetic.
Akira Kurosawa strikes the perfect balance between staggeringly strong moments – for example the snow storm sequence! – and some parts where he develops a brilliant art of telling a story. It's not Kurosawa's most celebrated film, but it is for sure one of the greatest, one of the most beautiful adventures that has ever been filmed. Like a viaticum, if one begins to doubt the possibility of friendship between the peoples, of cohabitation between cultures and human beings, then it is because it is urgent to see Dersu Uzala again. The "Captain!" and "Dersu!" will never cease to echo across the vastness of the deep Siberian taiga. With Akira Kurosawa's powerful art: we strongly believe in it, we are there.
Since 1967 Wiseman's work is a sum of inestimable value which ended up being a sum obtained by an exceptional quality of observation and listening. He is regarded as a filmmaker of institutions – above all those of the United States – which is not false. But we can also consider that these institutions are viewpoints from which one could elaborate a dizzying summary of human nature, of the violence of relationships, but also of unsuspected resources of the capacity for resistance. Each one leads this existence in a theatricality, by executing mise en scene, by developing fictions. The choice of Welfare is also made to underline the acute sense of Wiseman's dramaturgy (based above all on the unity of the sequence), its “romanesque” and literary dimension ,located somewhere between Georges Perec (Life, a User's Manuel) and Samuel Beckett. Wiseman finds here, with this staggering final monologue, his Godot.
Rather than having the extremely painful feeling of excluding, I wanted to have the pleasure to include. I voluntarily forgot eminent members of my personal pantheon, often important figures of cinema history whose films I would have liked to quote. Few Americans: Charles Chaplin, Howard Hawks, Buster Keaton, Ernst Lubitsch, Billy Wilder. Some Frenchmen: Robert Bresson, Jean Renoir, Jacques Tati and Jean Vigo. Three Italians: Pier Paolo Pasolini, Vittorio de Seta, Roberto Rossellini. Two Japanese: Shohei Imamura, Yasujiro Ozu. Three Soviets: Artavazd Pelechian, Esfir Shub and Andrei Tarkovskt. A Dutchman: Johann van der Keuken. And a German: Harun Farocki. And then Alfred Hitchcock. And Ingmar Bergman. And Fritz Lang, of course. Etc…
Then I took the freedom to be unfair, to be faithful to an important part of my taste, but, fortunately, without making it an absolute dogma. I appreciate documentary forms above all because we don't know what it is, documentary. All this seems to have been put back on the loom constantly since 1895 – isn't it wonderful? And beside, more than a defence of documentary, I wish to transmit my emotion from seeing on screen the meeting between cinema and the world. This point of tension is not specific to the documentary, but it creates with a particular acuity inventive, daring, wonderful forms and stories. From the ranking, it seems that cinema is an art, but it is also in my eyes kind of dreamy human science, somewhere between anthropology and history. The 'writing' of this human science uses the means of the sensitive, of the subjective, to put us in a better presence of things – whether true or false, whatever.