10. Zero for Conduct by Jean Vigo
So the school kids’ rebellion is provoked in large measure by sexual abuse at their school, but the rebellion represents a rejection of everything rotten about formal education. Passive learning, meaningless and irrelevant material, biased-racist-social class dominated curricula, the submissive role of the student, the evils of the grading system etc. The students stand triumphant at the end having taken over their school.
Yet, this leads to a WTF moment as you realize this was done, in reality, 40 years later when French students took over the Sorbonne and other French universities and almost toppled their government. Watching Zero for Conduct we say WTF because we know that de Gaulle’s army tanks drove into the Sorbonne and restored learning as usual and we can imagine the same thing happened later to the little ones in this film.
9. Seven Beauties by Lina Wertmueller
Pasqualino runs a small family business in Italy and believes in honor. After accidentally killing a man who sexually exploited his sister, and cutting him up and packing him in three suitcases, and then getting caught, he is allowed to join the Italian army, which he deserts, leading the Nazis to send him to a death camp.
But Pasqualino was blessed with the seven beauties and when he finds the Commandant of the camp is a woman – a morbidly obese and disgustingly ugly German lady – he realizes his only recourse to survival involves sexually seducing her.
It works. Others in the camp with courage and integrity and compassion die in the most disgusting manner – one man commits suicide by jumping into a trough of human shit. But Pasqualino survives. Well, Pasqualino always survives and you are forced to ask how much of a Pasqualino all of us might be. WTF!!!!
8. Chinatown by Roman Polanski
Jakes Gittes, private investigator, gets a little too personally involved in a case. Turns out a wealthy guy named Cross is illegally siphoning water from a drought-stricken LA to irrigate his own land. An LA investigator discovers this and gets killed. At the end we are set up for a chain reaction of WTFs when we learn Cross committed the murder and had had an incestuous relationship with the woman who hired Gittes and who tells Gittes, about another women being raped by Cross, “She’s my sister and my daughter!”
The cops are in on all this too as they shoot the woman who hired Gittes and allow Cross to take away his latest incestuous rape victim. A cop says to Jake at the very end: “Forget it Jake. It’s Chinatown.”
7. Old Boy by Park Chan Wook
I saw this at a little art film theater in NY City and nobody in the audience got up to leave after the film ended. Folks were just stunned. If you can stun NY art film watchers, you’ve made a great film. There is a double or triple whammy WTF here in that you learn the guy has been having sex with his daughter but you also learn he goes to a hypnotist to erase that memory, but then, at the end, you aren’t so sure the memory has been erased when he resumes the relationship. WTF!!!!!
6. Breathless by Jean Luc Goddard
So Jules and Jim has a crazy WTF ending and so does this classic art film fare from Goddard. Why does Patricia betray Michel? There are no motives given, especially after she informs him she is carrying his child. She snitches, he casually accepts it and then gets shot by the cops.
5. Blowup by Michelangelo Antonioni
David Hemmings plays a photographer – at the beginning of the film he emerges from a homeless shelter where he has surreptitiously snapped shots, but later we see that Carnaby Street fashion is his bread and butter gig.
After developing some photos he had taken in a park, he realizes he has caught the immediate aftermath of a murder. He tries to blow up the image to see exactly who was murdered and who was at the scene, but blowing the photo up distorts the image. He gives up, goes to a rock club to hear The Yardbirds, has a couple adventures and at the end he watches a pantomime troupe playing pantomime tennis.
When one guy hits the fake ball with his fake racket over a fence and everyone looks at David Hemmings on the other side of the fence, he walks to where the fake ball has landed, picks up the fake ball and throws it back to the pantomime troupe, which begins playing pantomime tennis again. Brilliant!
4. Psycho by Alfred Hitchcock
OK, more for the de rigueur category. No Norman’s mom isn’t alive, Norman is his mom! Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr! But don’t worry, he is so peaceful and gentle he wouldn’t hurt a fly.
3. La Dolce Vita by Federico Fellini
Marcello is a journalist who covers celebrity gossip and religion. After a series of adventures through Rome’s high society and intellectual class, Marcello and his small group walk down a beach where they find a huge, dead, sea creature. They say good bye to each other and leave. Film ends.
2. Eraserhead by David Lynch
Why does that lady have the weird sideburns? Why is she singing an allegorical pop song at the end? Somehow it made sense to me. Others might have said, “WTF!?”
1. 2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick
I decided not to pick more than one film from any one director, or Kubrick could have given us a few WTF endings. Slim Pickens dropping with his H-bomb and Dr. Strangelove suddenly walking, for example, would be one. But I felt it was de rigueur to include the ending of 2001 here. Arthur C. Clarke once quipped that 2001 was the most expensive religious epic ever made and we see a goofy kind of psychedelic Christian rebirth at the end.
Author Bio: Daniel Gauss is a graduate of Wisconsin and Columbia who teaches, tutors and writes about art in New York City.