Mark Le Fanu

Film academic

Voted for

Citizen Kane1941Orson Welles
Diary of a Country Priest1951Robert Bresson
Sansho the Bailiff1954Kenji Mizoguchi
Ordet1955Carl Th. Dreyer
City Girl1929F.W. Murnau
La Grande Illusion1937Jean Renoir
Pather Panchali1955Satyajit Ray
Wild Strawberries1957Ingmar Bergman
Shoah1985Claude Lanzmann


Citizen Kane

1941 USA

Last time round, Citizen Kane was bumped out of its pre-eminent position in the famous poll by Vertigo. It deserves to be re-instated!

Diary of a Country Priest

1951 France

I know we live in an ungodly age, but fortunately you don't have to be a believer to see that this really is one of the greatest films ever made.


1958 USSR

Part 2 of Eisenstein's great epic is the bravest and most reckless film ever made. In this movie, Eisenstein challenges Stalin to recognize his sins (sins, not "mistakes"), ask forgiveness of his people, and kneel before God in submission. Did he think that would ever happen? Of course not. But he truly believed that was what ought to happen.

Sansho the Bailiff

1954 Japan

The recognition scene at the end of Sansho the Bailiff between blind mother and mendicant son is in my opinion (fortunately not merely mine) one of the single most emotionally powerful sequences that have ever been put onto celluloid.


1955 Denmark

The famous last scene of Ordet vies with the famous last scene of Sansho the Bailiff as rare examples of the cinematic sublime. What words can ever describe the purity and depth of the emotions brought forth in scenes like these? It is superhuman.

City Girl

1929 USA

Murnau surely has to be on any such list as this. City City isn't nearly as well known as Sunrise, but it is just as riveting. Between the two, the heroine of City Girl is perhaps the more interesting. That means the character (as conceived of by director and screenwriter), but also the actress. The performance of Mary Duncan as the feisty bride Kate, translated from the bustle of Chicago to the loneliness of rural Wisconsin, is one of the most beautiful in silent cinema.

La Grande Illusion

1937 France

It is not as well known as La Regle du Jeu but what can one say? It touches me more. Two aristocrats (von Stroheim, Pierre Fresnay), two contrasting lieutenants (Gabin, Marcel Dalio), and, at the end, the beautiful farmer's widow (Dita Parlo) whose four sons have fallen at Verdun.

Pather Panchali

1955 India

Ray's timeless Bengali masterpiece stands in, here, for all the other wonderful films of neo-realism, stretching from Italy to Iran, that ought to make an appearance in lists such as these. Evidently, I agree with Martin Scorsese that neo-realism is the single most important movement ever to have sprung out of film history.

Wild Strawberries

1957 Sweden

The temptation is to go for a film showing Bergman's darkness, but quite often, I find, that famous darkness of his becomes merely hysterical. In Wild Strawberries, as in his memorable version of Mozart's Magic Flute made 20 years later (perhaps the greatest example of filmed opera ever?), darkness and light are in perfect equipoise. They are supreme filmic examples of classicism: of a sane, balanced view about human nature and our human predicament.


1985 France

Shoah is enormously long (far too long to be seen in one sitting) and yet it is still a single film as well as an irrefutable masterpiece. I include it because it is one of the greatest single meditations on man's depravity that has ever been committed to celluloid, and also because of its strange beauty, its rhythm, its inexhaustibleness. It is the only example of a documentary in my list of films - a huge regret. Surely quite a number of the greatest films ever made belong to the documentary genre.

Further remarks

All my choices are conservative. In matters such as these conservatism is a moral duty.