6. Journey to the West by Tsai-Ming Liang – France/Thailand
The most outwardly experimental film on this list, or the most intentionally devoid of any semblance of traditional plot, structure, or pacing, is Tsai-Ming Liang’s 56-minute film following a Tibetan monk (played by Kang-Sheng Lee, who is reprising his role from a number of various shorts and anthologies in Liang’s filmography) as he moves at an almost excruciatingly slow pace through modern day Marseille, France in a series of 14 shots that alternate between him and French actor Denis Lavant.
As both actors move throughout the frame (wonderfully shot by Antoine Heberle) they never meet face-to-face and also encounter increasing amounts of pedestrians moving at the fast pace of the modern world, some becoming annoyed and others stopping in fascination.
7. Norte, the End of History by Lav Diaz – Philippines
Lav Diaz is at the head of the Contemplative Cinema movement, a loosely grouped movement of films and filmmakers who utilize long takes and minimalistic action in order to allow an outlet for viewers to reflect upon an contemplate anything from the presentation of the material at hand in each film to the cinema itself to anything else that happens to come to mind during that time by giving them the one thing necessary to do such an internal monologue, time.
Clocking in at 4 hours, 10 minutes Norte is actually one of Diaz’s shorter films with a more compact and explicit story about a law student, Fabian, who commits murder and an innocent family man ends up taking the fall for the crime. Rather than seek out a more conventional structure of justice and retribution, the film doesn’t resolve this dilemma, forcing Fabian to remain free but imprisoned by his own thoughts about morality and the fact that an innocent man has taken the fall for his crimes.
A film that will not only be revered for years to come as a piece of Contemplative Cinema but also a prime example of Diaz’s craft as his recognition continues to grow as well as that of the Southeast Asian New Wave.
8. Stations of the Cross by Dietrich Bruggemann – Germany
Stations of the Cross is a cold and unwaveringly formal film that manages to find compassionate resonance through its message. The film follows Maria (Lea van Acken), a devote 14-year-old Catholic who upon learning of the 14 stations of the cross that Jesus Christ endured before his death feels that she must replicate those steps in order for her to find salvation.
The film is composed of mainly static shots that serve as set pieces rather than individual scenes that all drive along the narrative with a relenting force that encapsulates director Dietrich Bruggemann’s arguments on the power and fanaticism of religion and Catholicism specifically as well as the effects of a strict, nearly monastic upbringing of children especially in todays modern society.
9. Timbuktu by Abderrahmane Sissako – Mauritania/France
West African master Abderrahmane Sissako’s new film Timbuktu has (arguably) received a more widespread release and mass attention in the west than any of his other features to date because of the films depiction of the all-to-real concern of religious extremists (in this case radical Sunni Jihadists) taking over an otherwise peaceful town and drastically altering their way of life.
Throughout Timbuktu Sissako follows various individuals and groups as they deal with life and conditions under the jihadist’s rule ranging from the killing of a farmer and his wife to a particularly moving game of soccer played by the towns youth without an actual ball because it is banned by the group. Sissako’s film utilizes various microcosmic stories throughout Timbuktu to accentuate the absurd and dastardly rules of the Islamic State and the effects of complete encroachment on someone’s way of life.
Never one to shy away from politics, Timbuktu is one of Abderrahmane Sissako’s most urgent and timely films dealing with an issue that extends far beyond the borders of Western Africa and into the minds of many individuals around the world today.
10. Two Days, One Night by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne – Belgium
Featuring French superstar Marion Cotillard in her first role for the Belgian filmmaking duo, Two Days, One Night is a characteristically intense and personal story about one woman’s plight to convince her coworkers to let her keep her job. Sandra (Cotillard) is a wife and mother in rural Belgium who works at a solar-panel factory when she is hospitalized for a few weeks following a nervous breakdown.
In her absence her fellow coworkers (16 to be precise) take on the extra work and management realizes they are capable of covering the work without her so offer them all $1,000 bonuses for her not to come back to work at all. Now racing against the deadline, Sandra must convince all 16 of her coworkers to let her keep her job rather than take the money for themselves.
What follows is an intensely personal and moving series of vignettes that highlight many various facets of human emotions and relations shot in the typical Dardenne style of close-up handheld camera work eliciting a visceral connection to the characters and their interactions.
Author Bio: Ian Cahoon is a Film Studies student at Towson University who is actively involved in the Baltimore film community. He sometimes updates his blog http://ianlcahoon.wordpress.com but wishes to start updating it more.