|Vivre sa vie
|The Gleaners and I
|Paul Thomas Anderson
|Un chien andalou
|Meshes of the Afternoon
|Maya Deren, Alexander Hackenschmied
|The Apu Trilogy
Vivre sa vie
At art college days we were shown a print of Vivre Sa Vie and Godard has had my heart ever since. So radical. Always fresh and a huge influence. In retrospect the obsessive looking at Anna Karina raises questions, but my memory is of tenderness, of the sensuality of the black and white. Her close-up watching the Jeanne d'Arc closeup. The toughness of the clinical voiceover/dispassionate pseudo-documentary. And then, of course, the philosophical conversation in the restaurant. I am always caught by the beauty of her deluded, poignant, innocent view and even though I know what's coming... am always devastated by the almost throwaway, out of control way that she meets her end.
I love MIRROR for its visionary poetry - for the way its non-linear narrative is so personal and specific and yet speaks to everyone, for the way public/private memory, documentary and fiction are juxtaposed and challenged and always feel new, for the way we accept that the characters seem fragmented and obscured from us - like how even people we know and love often seem mysterious and apart. Also how, across his work, Tarkovsky uses elements like water and fire, air and light, as numinous signals of transformation and change.
One of the greatest works of cinema. Ever.
Chris Marker's great film is often shown to students as a way of demonstrating how something wonderful and vast can be achieved through the simplest and most basic of means, but I think maybe what people respond to is the vision of dystopian, threatened worlds bridged by memory; the in-the-moment ephemerality of a love affair made all the more poignant by separation across time and space; the way Chris Marker uses the stills partly as a way of showing that we are always looking at the past, trying to catch the just gone - until the woman opens her eyes in real time and subverts everything by her direct gaze. This is a film which is almost as important for the work it inspires as it is for itself. 12 Monkeys is maybe too overwrought and too illustrational of its source, but I think every good sci-fi film (up to and including Blade Runner 2049) inherits something of La Jeteé's concerns with origins and loss and the search for the real.
The Gleaners and I
The importance of THE GLEANERS AND I increases as years pass as this overlooked aspect of life becomes the way more and more people have to live. For me, GLEANERS was a real jolt out of the insidious fiction that great films with big ideas have to be enormous, costly productions. The artisanal, handmade look is so absolutely tied in to what this essay film is all about. Agnes Varda speaks of herself as a gleaner and as this documentary road movie progresses we can, over time, maybe develop a view of ourselves as gleaners - putting meanings together, realising that reality is not necessarily in the main narrative that we project onto the world and then want to live in, but on the edges.
This is the best film by Paul Thomas Anderson, who I think is actually a great experimental filmmaker who works in the heart of the Hollywood system. The film has been praised for the wonderful performances by Philip Seymour Hoffmann and Joaquin Phoenix, but one of the things that makes the film great is how the direction supports and gives space to those performances - and also because I think the film has the courage to be flawed at times, and to risk taking us to strange places.
Un chien andalou
The shock of the imagery and the attack on linear narrative are now an accepted part of film language, but I think Un Chien Andalou is still a powerful moment in cinema.
Meshes of the Afternoon
One of the great experimental films and key to the history of feminist film practice in Europe and the USA. Generations of women students have looked at MESHES OF THE AFTERNOON and been inspired to make films because of the simplicity of its means and the complexity of its inner world. Part of what keeps it fresh is how Deren's strong physical presence commands the camera as an extension of her own subjectivity and then how this is aligned with a disciplined commitment to plot and editing as a way of proposing and then rupturing narrative. Although it is connected to UN CHIEN ANDALOU and the European avant-garde in terms of its exploration of dream imagery, I think MESHES actually resonates with American film noir in a way - but instead of the quest being about exposing a mysterious woman, destroying her image and then eliminating her, Maya Deren's quest is the discovery of her self.
A great work of cinema by a great director. Some themes echo other films by Lee Chang-Dong, where an outsider exposes the surreal hypocrisy of South Korean society simply by being who they are. Jong-du, an innocent and slightly mental disabled man, is discharged from prison only to discover that his family have moved away. He discovers Gong-ju, the daughter of the man he is supposed to have killed, stricken with cerebral palsy and abandoned by her family, and the couple embark on an unlikely love affair. OASIS takes huge risks. In attacking conventional cruelties, it also creates a sense of unease in the viewer. But I love the long developing shots at the start where we wonder who Jong-du is and ask why he is in summer clothes on a freezing winter's day. I love how Gong-ju becomes the agent of what happens, the way we see a number of set pieces and then realise in retrospect that we are looking from her point of view. Also, there is a memorable fantasy sequence involving a baby elephant, an Indian prince and a dancing girl in a tiny kitchen. So tender and simply shot.
The Apu Trilogy
Maybe it's out of order to choose a trilogy here instead of one film, but I hardly know how to separate these films. Together they are such a major achievement and they represent the foundation of an independent Indian cinema.
Thank you for the opportunity to look again at these films which have had such an impact on so many people. I am torn about the amazing films that I had to leave out (e.g. ROME OPEN CITY, LA STRADA, BICYCLE THIEVES, IL GRIDO, THE ECLIPSE, LA NOTTE), but I think maybe their status as landmarks in world cinema is well established.