So yesterday a guy I know told me he saw Blowup by Antonioni again and thought the film was horribly dated. Au contraire mon frere. The film was deliberately embedded in London’s ‘mod’ culture, it’s not dated at all, it’s a period piece. Then I realized maybe he meant the pantomime performers made the film look dated. Then I remembered the amazingly ambiguous ending to the film and his criticism lost all credibility.
Then I got the idea for this top 20 list – maybe this guy saw the ending, said, “WTF is this!?” and just concluded the ending was some superficial homage to the moribund Marcel Marceau. After doing some research, I discovered there is a plethora of “WTF movie ending” lists, but they really fail to delve back into film history.
Here’s my shot at “art film WTF endings” with a clarification: WTF would have 2 meanings – an ending so ambiguous you leave saying WTF was that? Or an ending so bizarre and shocking you leave saying WTF was that? So we have WTF category 1 and category 2 and I’m lumping them together. “WTF!!!” you say? Well, it’s a free country, compile your own list. Please note that this list contains spoilers.
20. The Host by Joon-ho Bong
Due to experiments conducted by the US military, there is a monster living in the Han River running through Seoul. It likes eating people. Early in the film we are introduced to the sweetest, cutest, most lovable little Korean girl you might imagine. Toward the end of the film she is captured by the monster who holds her in his lair as one of his next snacks. You really get to like this girl, who protects a little boy who is also in the lair.
Finally, the monster eats her and you feel like crap and you say WTF – come on! Did the monster REALLY have to eat this little girl in this film! Jesus Christ, you couldn’t save the cute little Korean girl! WTF!
19. Nazarin by Luis Bunuel
When you present something so ambiguous that you get praise from both the Vatican and atheist groups, you know you have created an art film classic. This is a one of Bunuel’s less ‘surreal’ films but one of his more affecting and meaningful projects. It’s a tale of a genuinely sincere and humane priest who gets railroaded by corrupt small town officials in Mexico.
At the end, as he is chained to a group of other prisoners and about to be marched off to a prison camp, an old woman walks up to him and gives him a pine apple. The film ends.
18. Aguirre the Wrath of God by Werner Herzog
Herzog said he didn’t even know what the dialogue was going to be for individual scenes until 10 minutes before each scene. The guy just kind of went with the flow. So a nutty Conquistador (played by Klaus Kinski) usurps power from a competent Conquistador to look for a City of Gold which, in reality, is part of a mythological story and not a literal place.
Ultimately his party gets ambushed by indigenous folks who think he is stupid, lots of white folks get shot with arrows and a huge bunch of monkeys swarm the ship Kinsky is on. He yells at the monkeys. The film ends.
17. The Bicycle Thief by Vittorio de Sica
So throughout the whole film we’re hoping the guy finds his bicycle again. At the end, with his son by his side, he decides to steal another person’s bicycle…seems fair, doesn’t it? Not to the guy who owns the bike. The dad is publicly humiliated and walks off with his son.
16. Jules and Jim by Francois Truffaut
There’s no reason for Catherine to drive with Jim off a bridge to end the film. But she does it. Why? Your interpretation is as good as mine.
15. Y Tu Mamá También by Alfonso Cuarón
Yep, you get a few WTFs out of this one. So the sexy woman is going to die soon. The two teen guys have awkward sex with each other for no good reason. Since they are of different social classes they will soon end their deep friendship and go to different types and qualities of colleges. And, the punchline of the whole film is that one of them has been having sex with the other’s mother (and your mother too!).
14. Z by Costa Gavras
This is an amazing film about political corruption. A sincere and kind-hearted politician is assassinated in an apparently random manner. Yet, it turns out the Greek military is behind the whole thing since this politician wants to force American troops out of Greece. A lackey prosecutor is assigned to ‘investigate’ the case and he surprises everyone by actually investigating (so we get a WTF right here).
Indeed, he indicts a huge number of generals and military guys. So we think, wow, great film, justice was done! Nope. Before the closing titles run we see what happened to each general – not guilty, not guilty, not guilty, not guilty…the prosecutor became uncorrupted, but fat corrupt judges never change.
13. The Blue Angel by Josef von Sternberg
So after throwing his life away chasing Lola Lola, Professor Unrat crawls back to his desk at the school he had to leave due to Lola Lola. He dies there. The film is chalk-full of WTFs as we see a guy in a highly respected position become the subject of universal scorn.
12. The Marriage of Maria Braun by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Maria works her hump off as a post WWII German businesswoman partly in the hopes of finding her husband again, who disappeared in the war. The bundle of dough she is hoarding from her numerous successes will ensure a wonderful life for them upon his return. So he finally returns years later. Life sucks anyway. West Germany wins the 1954 World Cup. Maria kills herself. Film ends.
11. Kanal by Andrzej Wajda
A group of Polish resistance fighters has to go down into the Warsaw sewer system to try to evade a squad of Nazi soldiers who are hunting them down. One by one each Polish fighter is killed in an often humiliating and degrading way, in a sewer among all kinds of muck. The film is one slow wwwwwwtttttttttffffffff as you slowly begin to realize this is one of the darkest and most pessimistic films ever made. At the end all the good guys are dead and the Nazis have triumphed in this sewer.