Film Critic and Broadcaster
|Ganja & Hess
|Vincent Paronnaud, Marjane Satrapi
Kurosawa's most compassionate film is gently exquisite but still contains the experimental form that made him a master. It is life affirming, existentially profound work from one of greatest filmmakers who ever lived.
Sembène's first feature changed African cinema, a continent who's stories have so often been subjected to the colonial lens. Sembène, already established as an acclaimed novellist, flourished in his new medium and saw its potential as a politically galavanising tool, holding up a mirror to Africa's working classses. There is all that power in Black Girl, where M'Bissine Thérèse Diop plays Diouana, a young Senegalese woman who finds her trapped in an apartment in Antibes with abusive employers, but Sembène's film is also astonishly beautiful, with a gauzy lyrical magic to his images that would go on to become his signature.
The greatest tragedy of Wanda is that it would be the only feature film that Barbara Loden would create. Her portait of a detached aimless housewife who ends up on the run with an abusive bank robber is one of the most striking character studies commited to screen. Expertly performed and directed with a gritty, unpolished aesthetic Loden seemed to break free of all the slick Hollywood cliche's of the era and create something wholly true.
Ganja & Hess
The story of Ganja and Hess is as much indictment of the world it was born into as praise for the film itself. After the success of Blacula, playwrite Bill Gunn was tasked with following the trend and creating another Black vampire film. Casting Night of The Living Dead star Duane L Jones in his last role as Dr Hess Green and newcoming Marlene Clark as Ganja the film was an expiremental, sensual masterpiece that explored new potential in the vampire myth. It was joyfully recieved as the only American film at Cannes that year before being either ignored, disrespected, or torn apart by the white American critical establishment. For many years the film existed only as a single copy in the Museum of Modern Art but thankfully through restoration and rediscovery Ganja and Hess is finally being recognised for its greatness.
Steve McQueen's Deadpan won him the Turner Prize and was a recreation of Buster Keaton’s Steamboat Bill, Jr. sequence where a house collapses on top of him but he survives thanks to a fortuitously placed window. The house falls over a stony faced unmoving McQueen again and again from different angles. Through the repetition, other elements slowly come to the fore and the entire piece takes on a feeling of revisiting trauma. Now rightly recognised as one of our greatest living artists and filmmakers its in the merging of the two that his brilliance, that has brought him unprecedent success and acclaim, is neatly summarised.
First concieved as a television show Mulholland Drive has the rare combination of perfection even though chunks of it feel missing. Any attempt to "solve" this bewtiching neo-noir is as hopeless as it is fun. Its a film where the dark eroticism, nightmare sequences and bewitching performances seem to consume you, not the other way around.
Majane's Satrapi's animated autobiographical film was based on her graphic novel of the same name, and tells her coming-of-age story against the backdrop of the Iranian Revolution. Persepolis spoke to my own life in Sudan, growing up an imaginative child, in the middle of a geo-political unrest and, at times, opressive gender roles. But beyond that connection Persepolis has a striking point-of-view, is stunningly animated, and is an almost overwhelming pleasure to watch and rewatch.
Having spent so much of my life championing lesser recognised films and artworks, the experience of watching Parasite and then seeing it reach unprecendent success was a strange one, I was not used to being so aligned with the status quo.
Sometimes, however, the masses, the Cannes Jury and even The Academy got it right and Bong Joon-Ho dark parable of class warfare rightly triumphed.
Part of what makes Parasite such a masterpiece is the way it switches between screwball farce, violent horror and gently melancholy so seamlessly, and its politcal satire is never dumbed down or betrayed. For Bong Joon Ho to accomplish all that and build to a conclusion that powerful and agonisingly painful, still feels utterly miraculous.
There's a word in Arabic for a "gift that becomes a burden" that basically summarises my relationship with this list. I spent years hoping I'd done enough to earn being invited but, from the moment the email arrived to the second I submitted, I have been in agony, endlessly debating what should make the cut.
I'm now very pleased with my choices, made up of films that challenged what cinema could be and who it was for and no two included have much in common beyond that they technically qualify as 'films'.
If there is a great overhaul of the list, and 2022 proves to be the year that we re-establish the film canon and diversify what 'greatness' means then I will be thrilled to have played some small part of it. If it isn't I will remain optimistic for when I submit my list in 2032.