Vice-Chair & Programming Director
|Army of Shadows
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Army of Shadows
Melville has been my favourite French director for many years, and I think Army of Shadows was his finest achievement. A stunning work about the French Resistance's 'state of being' during WWII – stasis, fear and vulnerability have never been more aptly captured than in this psychological examination of men and women under duress. A sheer masterwork.
Kubrick is, of course, one of my all-time favourites. Over the years, I've found myself loving Barry Lyndon more and more deeply every time I see it. It's just so gorgeous and finely poised in terms of storytelling and pacing. It might not be his most influential work or a cultural touchstone by any measure, but it's my favourite of his. It's also one of the few films of the medium that truly transports you back to its period, and in that sense, it is one of the greatest time-travel movies ever made.
Religion and politics collide in frightening ways in this based-on-a-true-story docu-drama. This is astonishing filmmaking and one of the greatest films from the Latin American region. Despite being made nearly half a century ago, Canoa is eerily prescient of our times – the self-righteous witch-hunting, the blind faith in (religious) authority, the right to do what is ‘politically right’. This is as potent a cautionary tale as any.
The genius of Kiarostami was his sublime blending of the spontaneous with the planned and scripted, and fiction with reality. This approach to filmmaking doesn't get any more transcendental than in this complex meta-fictive 'docu-drama' about one man's obsession with cinema, and another man's (the director's) fascination with the audacity of his subject's actions. This film changed how I thought about the possibilities of cinema.
Visconti’s magnum opus is one of the most elegantly constructed and opulent films of all time. It’s also my favourite Italian film, tackling the decline of aristocracy amidst the rise of the middle classes. As they say, time waits for no man. It has everything that you want in a film of this kind, and more.
I’ve never seen a film like this, nor would anyone ever produce something like this any more. A masterful look at secularism and asceticism from the bold, singular lens of Buddhism (a religion that has hardly received screen treatment), Im’s film brings into question the existence of humanity, the purpose of religion, and perhaps a more startling point about having the faith and singular determination to live our lives fiercely and without regrets, in spite of religion.
Ray was the filmmaker who introduced me – like almost everyone else – to Indian cinema. This is my absolute favourite of his. It captures the clash between tradition and modernity in a deeply poetic and melancholic way, through one stubborn man’s inability to face change. The film also circumvented traditional expectations of how music might function in Indian cinema, featuring Hindustani classical song and dance in some of the most intoxicating music sequences ever shot.
Hou is my favourite Asian filmmaker of all time. Here is a mammoth work about tradition, memory and family, astonishingly crafted and wrapped in a historical fervour that gives it its stunning power. Complexly structured and set in the context of Taiwan’s colonial history, there’s an added layer of how performance art (traditional Chinese puppetry) might conflate with nationalism. In that sense, the ‘pulling of political strings’ is given new symbolic meaning here in what I feel is Hou’s greatest film.
A haunting tale of greed, lust and morality that is steeped in Eastern sensuality and supernatural mythology, Mizoguchi’s greatest film bridges the realms of reality and fantasy so effortlessly, as if both realms exist in a single construct. Humans are fallible, but more importantly, they are also redeemable, though most of the time it is at the expense of grief and hurt. There is a temptation to go with Kurosawa or Ozu, but this is my pick from the Japanese Golden Age .
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Bold, bleak and uncompromising, Brocka’s work stands as one of the finest in the pantheon of South-east Asian cinema. Shot in a gritty, neorealist style, the film is a powerful reminiscence of a bleak past, an examination of a nation in dire straits as authoritarian rule, corruption, and street crime threaten to derail any form of social progress.
Because there are only ten slots, I regret certain glaring gaps, particularly film from the silent era, films directed by a female filmmaker, and/or films from the African region. My choices are primarily driven by how much I love the films that I've picked and how much they have impacted me. These films have continued to grow on me with repeated viewings over the years, which is one measure of greatness. I've also tried to be as geographically diverse as possible, highlighting examples of Asian cinema that deserve to be included in the 'canon', particularly the works of Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Im Kwon-taek and Lino Brocka.