8. Lars von Τrier
Films: Dancer in the Dark, Breaking the Waves, Dogville, Antichrist
Trier’s movies anger their audience. People leave theaters being disturbed, feeling that they didn’t really get what the director meant. His films are a real punch in our stomach.
Trier entered Denmark’s film industry with the ‘Dogme 95’ manifesto, a text dictating certain rules to be followed by directors in an attempt to face Hollywood’s clichés, the excess of technology effects and come closer to the true meaning of the story told. This remained his main concern throughout his career: to tell a story, no matter how shocking that might be.
All of his films reveal the secret side of things, confront social taboos in a way that we feel really uncomfortable to watch them. He wants us to have a strong response to them, even if it is repulsion. He approaches his themes –such as sexuality depression, love, forgiveness, ambition – through elaborating women characters: women that are scorned, psychically unstable, women that are guilty of sexual promiscuity, unhappiness, rudeness, who demonstrate inconvenient aspects of their psyche. He is a director of women.
However, he doesn’t want to treat or cure them, he rather embraces them with love, he believes their dysfunctionality is emancipatory. He doesn’t seek to give answers and a politically correct end to his stories, he prefers leaving question marks that we will carry in our minds long after having watched them.
7. Michelangelo Antonioni
Films: Blow Up, L’avventura, Zabriskie Point, Red Desert
The films of Michelangelo Antonioni are ambiguous. They pose difficult questions and do not accept easy conclusions. He started from Italian Neorealism and turned in an inner analysis of human psyche towards a thoughtful, anti-melodramatic style.
He portrayed the rich, idle class of post war miracolo italiano as their holidays, parties and cultural preoccupations try to hide, in vain, the absence of a goal or feeling, their boredom and ennui. He dehumanized his heroes and heroines and used them as devices to show the high psychological complexity of the unstable and neurotic personalities of his time. He didn’t depict relations but the failure of relations. People fail to communicate with each other as they fail to communicate with themselves. Eroticism is used as an anodyne of their moral dilemmas.
In modern world, full of neurosis, melancholia, emptiness and alienation, human relations fade. Both thrilled and terrified by the technological revolution that took place in his times, he filmed modern men as an extension of machines and he translated Marxist notion of alienation into abstract pictures of complex lines, shapes and colors. Being first an architect and then a cineaste, he gave principal role to constructed spaces, he raised environment in one of his protagonist, may that be an industrial site, a remote island, a desert.
Antonioni taught directors after him to explore elliptical and open narration, to take nothing for granted, not even cinema.
6. Jean Luc Godard
Films: Breathless, First Name: Carmen, Alphaville, A Woman Is a Woman
A highly influential figure in world cinema, appraised by the critics much more than by the audience, Godard grew up in a world where cinema began to gain more importance. He spent his youth watching movies and talking about cinema with other enthusiasts, like Truffaut, Rivette and Chabrol. That is how French New Wave movement came to life. A group of young bohemians that wanted to shoot movies but had no funding decided to break all the existing rules in cinematic narrative and editing.
The tendency to break rules was not limited only to cinema that time. French society was questioning issues of its recent history, such as its stance in WWII and the war in Algeria, youth movements around the world were challenging family and sexual relationships, a revolutionary air was blowing over Europe. Godard was not indifferent to all that. His New Wave era films deal with war, colonialism, injustice, the cultural politics of the revolted youth, the problems of women’s emancipation, culminating with Weekend, a poignant political film criticizing the tragic flaws of over-consuming bourgeoisie though largely discussed images of thrown commodities and people.
After the upheaval of May 1968 Godard decided to “make political movies politically” and traveled to Palestine, Africa, America to do so. He continues up to today, never stopping to provoke and shock, always coping with important social topics and politics. His movies are not – they never were – blockbusters, as he addresses to a limited audience that always appreciated his innovative and rules breaking genius.
5. Robert Altman
Films: Gosford Park, Short Cuts, the Player, M.A.S.H.
Among the best directors of the previous century in the USA, an inventive renegade of standard Hollywood operating procedures, he tried very hard his way to make films, insisting for more than 20 years until receiving international acclaim M.A.S.H, a cult anti-war movie comedy.
He dealt with many genres –in his own subversive way, with a humor that was not understood by everyone, always aiming at American hypocrisy and puritanism. It was as if he was trying to attack every little aspect of the society he was living in, in every film he made he searched to denounce : the folk music industry (Nashville), the rotten social elite and its rites (A wedding), racism (Cookie’s Fortune), institutional violence (Quintet), California dreaming (Shortcuts), Hollywood (The Player).
He has worked with almost every movie star in Hollywood – everyone adored him. Most of his films have tens of protagonists, as he created a palimpsest of different characters – he was brilliant in giving a role’s accurate profile even with few minutes on screen. However, more than the individuals, he was interested in what they make- society. In his films he described social conditions rather than personal stories.
In his fractured and fragmentary narratives are lyric designs where lives of the protagonists intersect at random, their dialogues often overlapped, he encouraged them to improvise. He created for them an ‘altmanesque’ universe of acid satires and counterculture character studies, a world of anti – conformist, anti-studio cinematography.
4. Krzysztof Kieslowski
Films: Three Colors:Blue, Three Colors: Red, Three Colors: White, Dekalogue (10 T.V. episodes)
Is there any director that has approach human psyche in a more subtle and delicate way than Kieslowski? Is there any director that has posed crucial moral dilemmas with no ethical cover than he did?
Kieslowski started shooting documentaries that criticized the Party’s propaganda in Communist Poland of the 70s and proceeded with feature films that depicted Poland’s political and social environment of those turbulent years. As Poland followed its way from People’s Republic to free market, via Solidarity resurrection, Kieslowski managed to make films that could exploit the social surroundings to get deeper into the protagonists’ psychological profile.
He realized that, as post-communist Poland was not exactly what he had dreamt of, he preferred to focus in the individuals, the people around him, how they faced the challenges of their lives, the obsessions, the grievances, how they were trying to tame their fate ignoring the serendipity that reigns over most of our supposed choices, the coincidences that rule our existence.
He molded his heroes – and mostly his heroines – so lively that audience could easily identify and sympathize with them. Through them he wanted to find answers for the basic questions that tyrannize humans and he dealt with abstract concepts, such as love, freedom, fraternity, will, intimacy.
He chose to paraphrase the Ten Commandments and French Revolution’s Triptych and treated those abstract concepts in a very material and accessible way, giving importance to every little detail that could reveal his protagonists’ inner world. The last years of his short life he was traveling, together with his stories, from Poland to France and vice versa, shooting ‘colorful’ masterpieces.
3. David Lynch
Films: Twin Peaks, Mullholland Drive, Blue Velvet, Inland Empire
Pioneer in cinematic post modernism, Lynch uses dream in reality pictures and blatant ‘hide and seek’ symbolism to reveal suburban wastelands and American little country town hidden violence. Working at the same time with real world and dreams, logic and sub consciousness, he creates a surrealist universe of colorful pictures that draw symbolism from the everyday life normality and abnormality. In most of his movies there are multiple layers of conscience: being awake, sleeping, dreaming.
This play between real and unreal, strange and familiar, light and dark, true and lie, is designed to attack the underbelly of American way of life, may that be in a small town, an industrial city, Hollywood and its vast promises or the loneliness of the endless highways.
Violence, loneliness, misperception of reality, fractures identities, deformity are the key words to lynchean world of misguided heroes and hard-solving situations. He opted for a cinema that would not bring success but would challenge the viewer to interpret, as he decodes the complex Lynchean pictures, where bright colors hide horrifying truth.
2. Ingmar Bergman
Films: Wild Strawberries, The Seventh Seal, fanny and Alexander, Persona
Bergman’s cinema is a very personal one. He instilled his movies with his dreams, his memories, his guilt and his fantasies. His childhood was coming again back from the first to the last one. His private world became a world of us all. His stories are parables about adultery, sadism, disappointment, loss of faith, anguished sorrow. His settings are the naked landscape of an island, a suffocating living room, a theater stage.
Bergman wanted to unfold the psyche of its protagonists. He had a group of actors and actresses with whom he collaborated closely and he knew how to work with them so that they would take out of themselves what he needed for his story. He brought the camera very close to their faces, living them no space to escape thorough exploration of their feelings, their agonies, repents, guilt, doubts. He let us enter in their more private thoughts that they were obliged to share with their co-protagonists and with us. The interaction between his heroes and heroines marks the boundaries between individual and the community and highlight the difficulties of communication.
He seemed to be in an unceasing quest for answering his profound worries about the existence or inexistence of God. He posed philosophical questions on humiliation, the separation of nature and the sacred, guilt, faith and doubt and even life and Death.
1. Stanley Kubrick
Films: 2001: A Space Odyssey. A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lindon, Eyes Wide Shut
What would someone say or write about Kubrick that has not been already said or told? Recognized by most as the absolute cinematic genius of the 20th century, Kubrick had a charisma many directors would cherish and envy: he made comparatively few feature movies, each one of a different genre, and every one of them was a masterpiece.
What brings him in the top of this list is that he masters cinematic creating of pictures and content alike. His movies surprise audience and critics through their constant innovation of screening techniques, while at the same time everything that appears on screen, every minor detail, costume, object, is there to serve the meaning.
He stated that the most important parts of a plot are the mysterious ones, then ones that lay behind reason and language. His films concerned grandiose characteristics of life, as the deteriorating effects of war or the well – kept secrets of society. Nevertheless, he preferred not to deliver all the information to his audience, he chose for planting in into audience conscience through pictures of astonishing beauty and harmony, by visual symbolism.
A movie is not a photograph of the reality but a photograph of a photograph of the reality, he said. It was a metaphoric, cinematic reality the one that we discovered in his movies, where we came face to face with his protagonists and their famous, sinister blares. Kubrick would not describe the situation but the reaction of his protagonists to it, trying to throw light to the darkest parts of human spirit, which most interested him.