Associate Professor in Film Studies
|Ma nuit chez Maud
|Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee
|When Harry Met Sally...
|Le Jour se lève
|L'île de Bergman
|Night on Earth
Ma nuit chez Maud
It's very difficult to choose among the many films Eric Rohmer made, especially as he grouped them into series which all work away at an ethical/moral philosophical issue. Ma nuit chez Maud does however showcase Rohmer's ability to combine deep philosophical reflection (how should one live one's life? what roles should our political and religious ideals play in our decision making?) with acute topographical realism as he follows his narrator through the narrow streets of Clermont-Ferrand, all photographed in glorious black-and-white by Nestor Almendros.
The opening sequences of this film are glorious and disturbing in equal measure as we join the tobacco sharecroppers cruelly exploited by la marchesa at the country estate of Inviolata. Then Lazzarro tumbles from a cliff, the police arrive at the estate, Hélène Louvart's camera sweeps over the badlands, and we enter into an entirely different territory altogether, which sends shivers down the spine. The confident handling of the fabular within the everyday makes this Rohrwacher's stand-out film, in my opinion.
This is a polemical choice, but Frozen does have serious claim to be considered one of the most important films of the last few decades. Its popularity shows how it manages to capture something of the zeitgest, cleverly combining an empowering story of girlhood resilience with captivating digital sparkle. Elsa's iconic makeover sequence is a masterclass in combining music, movement, rhythm, colour and light to provoke powerful emotion.
When Harry Met Sally...
I'll have what she's having.
Le Jour se lève
The quintessential poetic realist film. I chose this because of its pioneering narrative structure and the fantastic performance from Jean Gabin at his most tragic (and charming).
L'île de Bergman
It's difficult to choose amongst Mia Hansen-Løve's incredible output. Her ability to make films about loss, and still to give us something hopeful and extraordinary at the end, marks out her filmmaking for me. I also admire the seeming naturalness and candour of her mise en scène ,which belies her complex narrative structures and plays with ellipsis. These qualities come to the fore in this film, which never feels tricksy and which pays homage to Bergman without being overwhelmed or drowned out by him and his towering reputation. The film holds on to its different levels of story in a compelling way. It also has an absolutely barnstorming use of ABBA.
It's easy to see why this film makes these sorts of lists on a routine basis. It manages to combine a dark study of loneliness, failure, grief, breakdown within a structure that is nevertheless luminous. It is the Bergman I return to, still puzzled as to how to interpret the ending of the film and Isak's gesture across the water to his young parents looking back at him. The film offers the ability to go back and revisit our own parents in their youth (something picked up by Sciamma in Petite Maman). It takes up the time-travelling possibilities of cinema not in a science-fiction way but in a way that mirrors our memories, working through the proximities between cinema and dreams.
Night on Earth
It surprises me that this film is not better known, given its ability in five 20-minute vignettes to offer us a kind of minature version of five different cinematic traditions (Hollywood, US Indie, French, Italian, Scandinavian). The film grows in power and impact as the vignettes rub up against each other, the narrative device pushing us towards comparison and contrast. It made a huge impression on me when I first saw it and I love the swing between ridiculous black comedy and extreme pathos.
A devastating study of trauma and grief. Egoyan's ability to fashion complex narratives and show us the ambivalence of our attachments reaches its apogee here.
Varda is a director whose extraordinary output and compassion for the marginal and the dispossessed makes any of her films glow. Sans toit ni loi/Vagabond creates a powerful portrait of an angry young woman without seeking to explain her or solve her, counteracting the thrust of much narrative cinema and making this film in some ways the 'anti-Vertigo' (the film that so frequently tops this very list!).
This is a list which necessarily reflects my own partial viewing and is based on my knowledge of mostly European and American cinema. The criteria of 'greatness' is pretty elastic but I tried nevertheless to select films which all exemplify what cinema can do that other art forms cannot, especially its ability to play with time.