Film Programme Manager - ICA
|Die ABENTEUER DES PRINZEN ACHMED
|Le ROI ET L'OISEAU
|Les Amants du Pont-Neuf
|The Act of Killing
|The Seventh Seal
Die ABENTEUER DES PRINZEN ACHMED
Is there such thing as watching a film outside its context of production? I doubt it, and yet, Lotte Reiniger's almost centinary work has not taken a ride. The Adventures of Prince Achmed is a synthesis: the peak of handmade silhouette animation merged with astute narration, and passion.
Passion could and should be read here in its heavier sense: the endurement; an ongoing process of suffering, echoing Carl Theodor Dreyer's 1928 film, already in the making with Reiniger's film got released. A frame-by-frame craft, three years in the making, and not (apparent) compromise: each frame stays today as a fascinating object of study, both in imagining the process of creation than the result.
As the oldest feature animated film remaining, what does Reiniger's work reference? Other artforms - literrature, poetry, and visual crafts - and in doing so, this first-of-a-kind becomes the absolute reference for animation films until today.
Le ROI ET L'OISEAU
When discussing one's favourite films, I believe that the main biais is the moment when the work was discovered. Context is essential in the reading of understanding of a work - well in fact, context is the understanding of the work; context is the work, not to bring Barthes' Death of the Author's ideas in the mix.
Le Roi et l'Oiseau is one of them for me. I watched it as a child - I can't remember where, and when. What stayed with me was an extraordinary otherworldly sensation: a lonely world in which conventions are different and each character is defined by its role.
It is much later, by chance, that I encountered Grimault's work again, and made the connection with that childhood feeling that had stayed with me. Rewatching it was scary, but no: Le Roi et l'Oiseau is a gem. There is nothing like this work written by Jacques Prévert; it is a world on its own.
My choice of Faits Divers is meant to be emblematic of the work of one of the greatest filmmakers: Raymond Depardon.
From photography to film and vice versa, Depardon's body of work is not only remarkable by its ecclectism, but also and mostly by the constant questioning and reassessment that he imposes to his practice.
Raymond Depardon began his career as a war photographer covering the main conflicts zones in the world. This led him to wonder: what are the institutions that regulate our society? Depardon's so-called Institution films emerged: experiental, handheld films following individual's day-to-way amongst various institutions. Faits Divers is one of them.
Yet, Depardon would not compromise other areas of his work: he kept developing his reporter skills and experiences across the world, while becoming one of the main French photographers, taking official pictures of French presidents. This led him to the feeling that, while he was telling others' stories, no one was telling the story of where he comes from: France, the countryside, the Garet farm. This triggered the wonderful trilogy Profils Paysans, but also Journal de France and other works.
Depardon's humble, masterful body of work is nothing less but stunningly inspiring.
Samira Makhmalbaf was raised amongst one of - if not the - most influential Iranian families within cinematic creation. This is no small thing to carry, and yet, her debut feature, made at age 18, is both a masterful response to her family's legacy and a standalone landmark work.
The Apple encompasses and defeats many key concepts to the filmed object and to narration: fiction and non-fiction become irrelevant as Makhmalbaf merges them. The same applies to the role and responsibility of the camera; in the film, it serves as as protagonist as much as an observer. Finally, the film is remarkable in its unique way of raising questions as much as providing responses to them. The viewer is left with an uncanny feeling of non-understanding of a peculiar, terrible event; an event that does not seek any explanation other than stating the complexity of human relationships.
Les Amants du Pont-Neuf
The last film of the so-called 'Alex trilogy', The Lovers on the Bridge is intransigeant and uncontrived; one of those films that is only limited by the filmmaker's own imagination.
Leos Carax's masterpiece of social-poetic-realism is also a response to the idealized image of Paris on screen. Paris is full of misery, of struggle, but yes, Paris is also the city of love. But not in the way that one would wish.
The identification to the characters of Denis Lavant and Juliette Binoche is at first emotional, before the viewer understand that their apparent misery is mrely a metaphor of the misery of the human condition in modern societies.
Leos Carax's work is bleak, but emotions hid harder from that apparent absence of any hope.
The Act of Killing
Oppenheimer, Cynn and the Indonesian anonymous filmmaker's work is nothing short but horrendous to watch. If there is such thing as a purpose to the craft, the film serves it, although it does eventually make the viewer feel somehow hopeless.
A film composed of many words - a word composed of many films. If I allowed myself to use the adjective 'seminal' once across this top 10, this would be for this film.
A near 10-hour long Godwin point, which indeed closes the debate, or rather does not allow it. Lanzmann's work is unflinching, unforgivable - the search for answers does not justify any humanity. Not here.
I watch Shoah every year, which helps to stay grounded and close to one's values, as there is always some 'thing' more important and relevant than the everyday struggles that we go through.
Johnny Guitar succeeds in one specific area, in my view: Nicholas Ray understood that shrinkening the characters' reality and contriving them to a few, essential concerns is a fertile ground for emotions to develop.
The apparent simplicity of Johnny Guitar is balanced by an slow burning emotional weight which leaves you heavy in tears. The film had an instrumental effect on Younger me, and one of the reasons why I'm participating in this poll today.
The Seventh Seal
A work of incommensurable depth, demonstrating Ingmar Bergman's genius.
In The Seventh Seal, symbolism is not limited to words or images, but also leaking from the constructed passing of time and in the articulation of the shot and sequences.
Bergman provides a masterclass on crescendo: all elements of the film intertwine to form an inescapable danse macabre, which in fact ends the film in an infernal sentiment of despair.
Is Monsieur Hulot an impersonification of Jacques Tati by himself? The two characters surely share a strong similarity: they do not suit the time and society they evolve in. In the age of the French New Wave and the beginning of the New Hollywood Cinema, Jacques Tati releases Playtime - a lecture in slapstick against the backdrop of a society that increasingly fails the individual.
Playtime was released on the same year that Bonnie and Clyde, Blow Up, La Chinoise, Belle de Jour... and Wiseman's Titecut Follies. If Tati resorts to humour and absurdity to depict the dysfunctions of modern society - leaving no place for self expresion/development - the astuteness of the critique in Playtime has nothing to envy to Wiseman's direct cinema or Godard's Marxist films.
Tati's film is both heartwarming in how joyfulling creative it is, and absolutely acerb and pessimistic on their depictions of society and its future. So far, 55 years on,Tati has been right. The only thing he perhaps did not quite predict is that clowns like Monsieur Hulot would rule the world, and memes will become the new conventions.
This exercise has been deliciously difficult, and I am grateful for your invitation in taking part in it. Yes, it is impossible to objectify the quality of films, let alone to remember all the ones we have seen. But the mere act of thinking it through brings back all emotions - anger, sadness, joy, friendships and love - from those moments that we spent watching films.
I cherish those moments as much as the films themselves. I cherish film-watching as a ritual:
1. The wider, imposed context: our age, emotional state, cultural upbringing, surroundings...
2. The precise, chosen context: which film to watch, with whom, where, when...
3. The content and duration of the film
Point 1 feeds into 2, which feeds into 3, which feeds into 1... How complex is that all? There is, in my view, no way to differentiate those three elements. The 'film' therefore becomes our response to it, a moment altogether - it is ungraspable.
In this top 10 exercise, one tries to rationalise and make sense of it all. Yet, the only true reaction is emotional, contextual, personal.
This top 10 is representative of those moments that have been determinant in my self-development. They are the reason why I have take part in this wonderful Sight&Sound poll.