|The Wizard of Oz
|Man with a Movie Camera
|Meshes of the Afternoon
|Maya Deren, Alexander Hackenschmied
|I Am Cuba
|The Colour of Pomegranates
|Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles
|Az EN XX. SZAZADOM
|In the Mood for Love
|Wong Kar Wai
The Wizard of Oz
Unforgettable. The ultimate reminder of how and why many of us fell in love with movies. My first viewing was a version dubbed in Arabic on a bootlegged copy that my uncle brought back to Poland from Turkey. I must have watched it over 100 times and would likely turn into a puddle if I were to experience it again in what I then believed to be its original version.
Man with a Movie Camera
David Abelevich Kaufman, also known as Dziga (a Ukrainian phrase meaning 'whirling top') Vertov was born in 1896 into a Jewish book-dealer’s family in Białystok, Russian Empire, now modern-day Poland. He understood Lenin’s philosophy that film was the most important of all the propaganda forms – especially within a largely illiterate population – and his Anniversary of the Revolution (1918), the first documentary ever made, should be studied in every film school.
Though none of us have truly experienced his most notable work, ie, Man With a Movie Camera – which has not been seen in its correct form since the 30s due to its wide replication and distribution in an inaccurate speed, which has significantly changed its original rhythm and accents in a way that does not match its original score – I'm still dazzled by its artistry and look forward to the forthcoming restoration…
Meshes of the Afternoon
Gifted to me by a dear friend on a burned DVD at a time before I worked in film, Meshes of the Afternoon unearthed a consciousness and curiosity that I'd previously kept buried. Simply: it brought me back to life. After watching, I learned that Eleonora Derenkowska, aka Maya Deren, was born in 1917 in Kyiv, Ukraine, into a Jewish family that fled to the United States in 1922. Though many years apart, her story paralleled my own, and at that moment, everything made sense: we carry our traumas through our genes and histories, but there's a potential to churn them into light.
I Am Cuba
Perfect example of a filmmaker with a finger on the pulse of a time and place capturing a moment of social change without sacrificing artistry. A legendary cinematic treasure whose production stories include filming over 1,000 Cuban soldiers in a secret location during the Cuban Missile Crisis, I Am Cuba’s collective plots take us from the decadent, debaucherous world of Fulgencio Batista’s pre-Castro Havana, with its US-owned swank nightclubs and bikini-clad beauties lounging poolside, through the city’s poverty-stricken slums, and on to the first stirrings of revolution with brutally suppressed student protests in the streets and armed revolts in the countryside. While this dreamlike piece of Soviet–Cuban agitprop was initially rejected by both Soviet and Cuban audiences alike, it has since gained cult-like status. I first experienced it in a theatre in Havana (where I studied as part of semester abroad in 2006) and although not without its bumps, it remains my favourite screening of all time.
Shooting in black-and-white and at times employing infrared film, using wide-angle lenses that distort and magnify and filters that transform palm trees into giant white feathers, Sergei Urusevsky (also the cinematographer on Kalatozov’s 1957 The Cranes Are Flying) achieves magic.
Věra Chytilová’s second feature film, the absurdist and aesthetically riveting Daisies, was an instant cult classic and infamous enfant terrible of the Czechoslovak New Wave. Premiering two years before the 1968 Prague Spring, it follows the misadventures of two young women named Marie I and Marie II (embodied by non-professional actresses Jitka Cerhová and Ivana Karbanová), who decide to mirror the indulgent world around them. In their universe, nothing traditional is sacred and food, clothes, men and war become both ammunition and targets for their pranks. This provocative and timeless gem of feminist cinema is a surrealist fever-dream and begs the viewer to open their eyes to what is sacred to them.
The Colour of Pomegranates
The cinematic Holy Grail. On my first ever film scouting trip, in 2014, I travelled to Yerevan, Armenia, to visit Parajanov’s former home, now a museum. The space was absolutely bursting with life and art – paintings, embroideries, painted pottery, furniture – much of it handmade by Parajanov himself. In a small room was an encased wall-hanging that I lingered on for some time. Eventually, a guide came up to explain that the six intricate 'thalers' I was examining were made from aluminum foil from milk tops which Parajanov had carved with his fingernails while in prison. I imagine that every piece in that space has a story like that.
PS Parajanov studied in Moscow under the tutelage of directors Igor Savchenko and Alexander Dovzhenko (whose 1930 film Earth it is remiss of me not to include on this list). Other major Ukrainian filmmakers whose work I cite as a major influence and who are missing from this short list include Larisa Shepitko and Kira Muratova.
Directed by Barbara Loden, who also plays the lead role, a mother in a coal-mining region in 1970s Pennsylvania who decides to leave her husband and is condemned to wander.
The first time I saw this film, I was furious. It felt like a warning about the cost of being an independent woman. Now, I don't breathe when it’s screening and am inconsolable after. She understood everything.
Her first and only feature film is a timeless cinematic achievement in American independent cinema. I would have loved to see her working opposite John Cassavetes and, even more so, Gena Rowlands.
Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles
I struggle to discuss Chantal Akerman's work, which means the world to me, with just anyone, and I mostly keep it to myself. Though raised in Belgium, Akerman rooted herself as a daughter of Polish Holocaust survivors and had Eastern Europe running through her veins and into her films. I'm a generation too late, but would have loved to know her more than anyone. Her 1993 documentary From the East feels like revisiting childhood. I was first introduced to her through this film, but also cherish News from Home (as well as everything in between and afterwards).
Az EN XX. SZAZADOM
Enyedi’s 1989 debut came out the year that Soviet communism fell. Looking to the future through a frame of the past, it lured us out of the cave by the light of the cinema. Cutting through space and time, sprinkled with irony, symbolism, and realism, she muses on the twin origins of modernity and cinema, both born of electricity.
Orphaned and selling matches to survive, Dóra and Lili fall asleep in the snow and dream of being rescued by the donkey from Jean Renoir's The Little Match Girl (1928). In actuality, each is unknowingly abducted by a strange man, spawning scenes depicting the twins’ divergent life paths – Dóra a hyperfeminine grifter who swindles rich men; Lili an anarchist plotting revolution. Together, they incarnate the binary of Freud’s Madonna-Whore theory, which posits a psychological complex through which men see women as either saintly Madonnas or debased prostitutes.
Transported by a rollercoaster of images, we observe a dog undergoing a Pavlovian experiment – regardless of what is unveiled next, this serves as a pointed reminder that our 20th century was one of paradoxes and we, like the dog wired up to electrodes, know little of the universe beyond our own laboratory.
In the Mood for Love
Desire incarnate. The perfect film. Watch with caution – it has the power to make you realise what you do (or, as in my case, don’t) want!
Thank you for this beautiful invitation. My choices – like all choices – are subjective and I sincerely hope you've enjoyed mine.
As mentioned in my text, I would have ️️loved to include Dovzhenko's Earth (1930) and due to space constraints didn’t include miniseries (Dekalog, the ultimate masterpiece), animation (Cinderella, which I know frame by frame), documentaries (Shoah, which allowed me to see my home and all its pain from the outside), or the obvious films that while I adore, also feel untouchable to me – ie, Land Without Bread, Double Indemnity, Red Desert, Mirror, Love Streams, Tokyo Story, The Umbrealla of Cherbourg, All About My Mother, Repulsion, Cleo from 5 to 7, Le Mépris, The Green Ray, Tampopo, Possession, Touki Bouki, 3 Women, The Royal Tenenbaums, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, etc…
Hope to see you at the cinema,