Sarah Cooper

Professor of Film Studies

Voted for

Sherlock Jr.1924Buster Keaton
The Passion of Joan of Arc1927Carl Th. Dreyer
Meshes of the Afternoon1943Maya Deren, Alexander Hackenschmied
La Jetée1962Chris Marker
The Battle of Algiers1966Gillo Pontecorvo
The Act of Seeing with One's Own Eyes1971Stan Brakhage
Beau travail1998Claire Denis
Shirin2008Abbas Kiarostami
Futatsume no Mado2014Naomi Kawase


Sherlock Jr.

1924 USA

This wonderful little film is on my list because it is attached to a strong memory of teaching a classical film theory module inherited from D. N. Rodowick when I first began to lecture at King's College London in 2004. I hadn't seen the film prior to this and I fell in love with it on first viewing. Deftly constructed, clever and entertaining, it's one of my favourites of the silent era.

The Passion of Joan of Arc

1927 France

There have been many portrayals of Joan of Arc in the history of cinema, but the way in which Renée Maria Falconetti is captured in close-up in this film is the one that is etched most deeply in my mind's eye. The importance of the film within early theorising about cinema led to my teaching it for several years on the same classical film theory module that I mentioned in comments on the other of my silent era choices, Sherlock Jnr. The strongest memory I have of teaching this film was when I screened it with the Richard Einhorn 'Voices of Light' accompaniment--the kind of choral music I find very moving. With the sound at full volume in the pitch-black screening room suddenly and then repeatedly illuminated by Falconetti's face, this was an unforgettable, quasi-religious experience.

Meshes of the Afternoon

1943 USA

When I first saw this film a couple of decades ago, I didn't fully appreciate its brilliance. But having worked on it since, and had the opportunity to visit the Deren archives, I now do. Research trips do not always turn out as planned, but my visit to Boston one August a few years ago to work on Deren's papers was truly inspiring and ran like clockwork. Deren's film is now enmeshed in a happy memory of a fruitful research trip.

La Jetée

1962 France

I was completely blown away by this when I first saw it on a small computer screen in Salle P of the BNF in Paris. I have since seen it on screens that do it more justice. I have written on it and taught it. I return to it repeatedly and it continues to fascinate me. It gestures back to Hitchcock's Vertigo and forwards to Marker's own magnificent essay film, Sunless. Like another of my choices (Shirin), albeit in a different way, it prompts questions about what film is and what cinema can do. Marker apparently made this while filming Le Joli Mai on the crew's day off--if my downtime generated something that was anywhere near a fraction as incredible as this, I'd be very happy.

The Battle of Algiers

1966 Italy, Algeria

I first saw this film at a moment of political awakening and it has remained an important reference point ever since. I have taught it several times in conjunction with discussion of postcolonial theory. As a lover of the so-called Left Bank Group (Varda, Resnais, Marker), I was familiar with the fraught cinematic contention with the Algerian War in France. The Battle of Algiers was an explosive vision from elsewhere which has had a lasting impact on cinema, politics, and me.

The Act of Seeing with One's Own Eyes

1971 USA

I have never been able to shake the eerie, uncanny feeling this film stirred in me when I first saw it. Mortuary images in other films have never conveyed that unique hesitation between life and death that is apparent in this work. I first watched this film while preparing to run a session on film for a group of librarians with a colleague in which we would screen extracts from another of Brakhage's films (Window Water Baby Moving). We showed them the extracts just prior to a tea break, and we were both really touched and impressed that they all came back afterwards for the remainder of the session. Now, whenever I think of Brakhage, this autopsy film included, I have this odd mental image that combines his work with our lovely librarians listening to us attentively in the lecture theatre of the Franklin Wilkins Building in which we ran our session.


1986 Sweden, France, United Kingdom

I owe a debt of thanks to Chris Marker for introducing me to Tarkovsky through his films. It was when I was working on Marker that I first watched all of Tarkovsky's films. The Sacrifice stood out. The elemental aspect of Tarkovsky's work interests Marker in his filmic commentaries and I remember his focus on the house fire in this film in particular--on how hard it was to get this crucial shot. The Sacrifice is by far the most mysterious to me of all Tarkovsky's films and I think that's why I like it so much.

Beau travail

1998 France

I remember seeing this film at the Arts Picturehouse Cinema in Cambridge shortly after it came out, which was shortly after the cinema itself had reopened. I was transfixed. It made such a strong impression on me that I knew I wanted to write on it. What I wrote formed the basis of my first conference presentation on a film and, subsequently, my first film article. It is still one of my favourite films.


2008 Iran

I've been endlessly intrigued by this film ever since I first saw it. I'm obsessed with films that are minimalist and that focus attention on a voice-over and/or soundtrack (Derek Jarman's Blue would have made it onto this list were it longer, provocative though such a choice may be, given the blank blue screen). In this case, Kiarostami's choice to focus additionally on the faces of women spectators provokes questions about what film is and what cinema can do. I have never taught this Kiarostami film (I teach Like Someone in Love) but I have written about the powerful ways in which it stirs the imagination, prompting a parallel cinema of images in the mind accompanying the images on screen.

Futatsume no Mado

2014 Japan, France

This film packed such a strong emotional punch when I first watched it that I have been unable to put it into words. So I am listing it here as my final choice. I have been teaching Kawase's The Mourning Forest for a few years. This latter film won the Grand Prix at Cannes, but I agree with Kawase when she says that Still the Water is her masterpiece.

Further remarks

My list comprises the first ten films that came to mind when I thought about the ones that have had the greatest effect on me over the years that I have been teaching and writing about film. My choices span the history of cinema but are necessarily partial, reflecting my research interests and specialisms. There is so much I still want to see and so much that I have seen and forgotten. Each of my choices relates to a memory--of spectatorship, of writing, or of teaching--and each has made its way onto this list because that memory has yet to fade and perhaps never will.