|Taste of Cherry
|Artificial Intelligence A.I.
|Three Colours Blue
Taste of Cherry
The film of Kiarostami's that's closest to my heart. A masterpiece. I remember discovering the film when I watched it for the first time at a film festival in Beirut. And what a magical discovery it was. Through death, Kiarostami tells us about life. Like all grand thinkers, he has no answers, only questions. In each one of us, there is something from Mr. Badii, whether we are aware of it or not.
Artificial Intelligence A.I.
Spielberg's most underrated film. His darkest. A visionary tale about David, the eternal young boy. Some scenes are heartbreaking and unforgettable, amazingly shot by Janusz Kamiński. It’s a film I saw during its initial release in 2001. At the time, Kubrick had just died, and there was a lot of pressure on Spielberg. The pressing question back then was: how Is Spielberg going to make this film in a way that honours the great master who gave him his project, knowing that Kubrick was the one who would bring it best to the screen? I think the film is a combination of both Spielberg and Kubrick’s visions. Somewhere between the coldness of Kubrick and the "emotional" Spielberg. This film made me understand the importance of the passage of time in our lives. Spielberg has spoken about childhood all his life, but in this particular film, it's no longer stage but a destiny. There is something pure about this film. Magically pure.
Where to begin with this film? If perfection had a name it would be named after it. To make a complicated story very simple, I would say: it's about a man with a sickly ego and ambition, who ascends society from nowhere, and exits it back into nowhere! No need to speak about the visual aspect since all films buffs use its “candle-light design” as a lighting reference, nor to mention how Kubrick elevated a rather mediocre novel to the level of a visual masterpiece. Barry Lyndon can't be reduced to a simple aesthetic object, that would be unfair. What impressed me the most about this film is Kubrick's acerbic vision and the violence hidden in the most absolute beauty.
The French title of the film translates as "Cold Sweats", and it's really cold sweats that we feel at several points as we watch the film. Probably the most analyzed film by the master of suspense. And I have to say that the film lends itself to this exercise, because of its many mysterious aspects and its sexual and psychological connotations. It's a film open to many interpretations, even the craziest ones. I personally feel hypnotised every single time I watch it and, being a person with repetitive thoughts, I relate to Scottie on so many levels. I have tried several times to experience the same situations and same emotions… Hitch found an excellent context to show us despair, desire, passion and illusion – from a romantic perspective, which is not the case in his other films. I think this is no longer a work of art but a part of our collective consciousness as film lovers.
The work of a real genius called Jacques Tati. Impossible to watch it without paying attention to the details, specifically the ones related to sound, which is of great importance in this French director's cinema. The technological upheavals and the evolution of the lifestyles of urban France during what they called "Les Trente Glorieuses" (1946-75), from the point of view of an anxious and fascinated artist. We see his character Monsieur Hulot somehow lost in a place where everything is mechanical and inhuman. An extraordinary film, both visionary and ambitious. Tati went so far as to recreate a city from scratch to fulfil the needs of his film, dragging his production company into one of the most famous financial disasters in the history of cinema. A true legend!
A unique film about cinema and gaze, from the opening scene to the very end. “The cinema", said André Bazin, "substitutes for our gaze a world that agrees with our desires. Le Mépris is the story of this world…" With this statement, we are introduced to this world. Based on the novel by Alberto Moravia and shot in an incredible location (Capri), the film is about a screenwriter (Michel Piccoli) who leads a happy life with his wife (Brigitte Bardot), until a famous American producer asks him to work on an adaptation of the Odyssey, directed by Fritz Lang at Cinecittà. The very famous dialogue, written by the prodigy director himself, the timeless music composed by Georges Delerue and the images of Raoul Coutard (the DP of the "French New Wave") all contributed to place this film at the very top of cinematic history.
We can say all we want about the violence it engenders, but for me Taxi Driver will remain one of the most tender films. The way Scorsese deals with his characters has no equal. The film shows the 70s with an open heart, by taking us on an urban journey into the heart of paranoia and loneliness. It's already a film about redemption, a few years before Raging Bull, through the truly striking descent into hell of Travis Bickle. And how can anyone forget Robert De Niro and his absolutely breathtaking portraying of alienation in New York, the city that is also a full character. This is a film about decline and loss of bearings, in an America under the shadow of the Vietnam War. An America that looks at itself and that has always been an object of curiosity.
A great reflection on Russian history through the eyes of Tarkovsky. Nonlinear storytelling, dreamlike sequences, historical footages and much more... All this put together through amazing editing, influenced by shattered memories. This is the Russian filmmaker's most autobiographical film. When I saw it in my teens, I understood that I was in front of another kind of storytelling. It had a crucial importance for my appreciation of the cinema, which marks the passing of time by deconstructing time to make us feel it. Much has been said about Tarkovsky's talent but one thing needs to be said again: he will always be the poet of cinema who sculpted time.
Another enigmatic film. It's quite difficult to choose only one film from the extraordinary career of Ingmar Bergman. The film contributes to the rebirth of the Swedish master. A Stage actress (Liv Ullmann), has suddenly stopped speaking during the rehearsals of Electra and a young nurse (Bibi Andersson) must help her. One can imagine what the great Bergman can do with such a plot, but it's never enough to imagine. The flood of images that we witness made Persona one of the most enigmatic films ever made. A psychological drama that recreates the meaning of purification in cinema. The key scene of the film remains for me: the scene where Alma (Bibi Andersson) speaks for almost four minutes and the camera is following Elisabeth's (Liv Ullmann) face as a listener all the time. Then the same story is repeated as the camera shows Alma. This is the Bergmanian art in all its splendour.
Three Colours Blue
For me, no list is possible without Kieślowski. Three Colours: Blue had a very strong emotional impact on me when I saw it the first time. But the film can grow inside the spectator, year after year, even without watching it again. It begins with the story of Julie (Juliette Binoche), who lost her husband and daughter in a car accident, and since then has been trying to recover from the tragedy that befell her. Her quest to break free from the clutches of the past, including music, will create new psychological challenges for her. “How do we build ourselves in a situation like this?” is a question that the film will ask at every moment. Blue is nothing less than a stunning visual documentation of the price we pay to achieve freedom. Kieślowski poses a philosophical question: To what extent are we really free? Like every enlightening master, we find him posing questions to which there are no satisfactory answers. The film's rhetoric is inseparable from the aesthetics that make it a cinematic masterpiece: a visual mood that makes blue paramount. This cold blue that rattles the soul.
In less than four decades, I have seen thousands of films, and from plenty of them not a single frame has remained with me. On the other hand, a select bouquet of films had life-changing impacts on me. This is why I usually never answer when somebody asks me who’s my favourite director or what’s my favourite film. I find it impossible to reduce the history of cinema to a few names and titles. I truly think it is unfair and really unnecessary.
You will now ask, why am I participating in this legendary Sight and Sound poll?
Well, first, because it's a legendary poll!
Second, for a solely personal reason: I remember reading about this poll in a book when I was 13 years old.
It was during the Lebanese civil war, at that time when we were living in an underground shelter (just like Kusturica's Underground), and this book was the only thing I used to read. I don’t remember how I got that book, but I memorised the critics’ columns about the best 10 films.
When the war ended and we were out of the shelter, I roamed our shattered city with the very tough yet enduring goal of finding copies of these films. That's how I became a film lover, and that's how I started to build my cinematic culture. Somehow, I owe a lot to that poll.
I think it's impossible to choose 10 films. Even 100 is quite a tricky job. We need to impose some kind of criteria on ourselves in order to do so. Very subjective ones, I must make clear. That's why I chose 10 prayers instead of 10 films. 10 prayers that transcend cinema. 10 prayers that are more than cinema. 10 prayers that immortalise the 7th art in every possible way. 10 prayers without which I would never go to a desert island.