|The Red and the White
|The Spirit of the Beehive
|Die Ehe der Maria Braun
|Rainer Werner Fassbinder
|TERRA EM TRANSE
|In the Mood for Love
|Wong Kar Wai
The Red and the White
The bravura sequence shots are breathtaking and the film as a whole utterly wrenching. Bleak perfection.
While this comparison might be a little...cheap? obvious?, this film feels like a César Aira novel brought to the screen - an intricate thought experiment that delights, enchants, and gets under your skin.
The Spirit of the Beehive
Bleak (a recurring theme here) and deeply atmospheric - one of the finest meditations there is on the strange and wondrous nature of both childhood and cinema.
Am I allowed to include two hauntingly elegiac turn-of-the-century classics of Chinese-language cinema (the other being In the Mood for Love)? Guess I just did! (Different dialects, different industries, of course).
Die Ehe der Maria Braun
The epic historical sweep, the sheer satisfaction I get from the film's narrative design, and of course, Hanna Schygulla make this a must-include for me.
TERRA EM TRANSE
While Terra em transe's premise (a poet wrestles with his political conscience and then martyrs himself in an especially pointless way) doesn't read as particularly promising, the baroque audacity of its style - which reaches literally operatic heights at times - and the richness of its allegory make this one essential viewing.
Ruan Lingyu's exquisite performance lends transcendence to this silent melodrama of women's oppression and yearning in cosmopolitan Shanghai. (Like other choices on this list, this one reflects the very selective/partial knowledge/appreciation of Chinese cinema in the US academy, but it's still one for the ages).
This widely reviled adaptation captures, for me, all the otherworldliness of Herbert's novel, and has literally haunted my dreams for decades.
In the Mood for Love
The soundtrack, the step-printing, the cheongsams… In the Mood for Love is the quintessence of cinema's power to manipulate time and elevate quotidian details to the status of a fetish, and its evocation of erotic longing and nostalgia vibrate on the frequency of cinephilia itself.
It's hard to choose a Godard film for this list but feels impossible not to. Le mépris strikes me as the ideal balance between his work's self-reflexivity and its penchant for the elegiac and transcendent. It's at once a send-up of the institution of cinema and somehow, a meditation on love and art's profound mysteries. Plus, that score...
This list was compiled with avid interest but also extreme ambivalence. I approach teaching film with the attitude that there is no such thing as a good or bad movie, but only ones whose existence shaped viewers or the world in large or small (but still potentially profound) ways. I encourage students to recognize that cinema is not just the fiction feature or even documentary and experimental film, but also amateur and home movies, educational and training films, advertising, and more. Is the idea of a canon, a list of the greatest films all time, at all tenable given longstanding blind spots regarding cinema's sheer diversity of forms and purposes, not to mention that most in the Anglo-American academy (myself included) still know very little about the history or present of international cinema beyond what appears on the festival circuit?
How to explain my decision to participate, then? It happens that I am completing a project on cinephilia and institutions of film culture in postwar Latin America, but that doesn't make me immune (on the contrary, it seems) to the rituals involved in canonization and the formation of film taste that also confer status on those who participate in them. In short, it is flattering to be asked, and I failed to resist temptation.
My list is a very conventional one with very serious limitations. It ignores everything outside the fiction feature, neglects women directors, and, like (in my experience) the academic discipline of film studies, barely expands its horizons beyond Europe, the United States, and East Asia. It is a product of critical vogues for international filmmaking movements, cycles, or schools (such as the New Taiwanese Cinema during my formative years). The appreciation of such trends may allow US/UK-based cinephiles to feel cosmopolitan, but they do not in any way exhaust or encompass the heterogeneity of "world cinema." With these limitations in mind, I chose films have haunted me in some way, leaving me with a sense of the profound wonder, strangeness, and mystery that cinema and life have to offer, even in these dystopian times.