9. Successive Slidings of Pleasure (1974, Alain Robbe-Grillet)
Little-known French filmmaker Alain Robbe-Grillet (Glissements progressifs du plaisir sports a measly 647 votes on IMDb) once said that the more one tries to demonstrate that one is not a walking-and-talking embodiment of a stereotype, the more stereo-typically-clichéd one acts when push comes to shove in the end of the day.
Like Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, Robbe-Grillet was one of the few directors associ-ated with the French New Wave/Nouvelle Vague movement not to fall into the trap of imitating Hollywood’s formalist “cinematic gaze, expression, devices, and language” empty method of meaning-formation.
He actually made good and interesting films, paying attention step-by-step within-the-flow only to bodies, dialogue, faces, emo-tions, vocal/verbal tones-and-turns, feelings, psychology, etc., while ignoring the nur-tured urges to try to pin-and-pigeonhole it all down to some grand theme symbolical-ly-metaphorically or to interpret it via “cinematic language.”
A weird figure from the get-go, he had his wife sign a bizarre contract regulating a sadistic arrangement to what he referred as “conjugal prostitution,” his films, like those of Walerian Boro-wczyk or Nagisa Ōshima, are a test of the viewer’s intelligence. Sincerity, candor, and willingness to come to terms with non-taken-for-granted and counterintuitive knowledge about one’s self after looking in the uncomforting and challenging mirror are the name of the game here.
Looking deep into one’s unconsciousness and facing surprising truths allowing what is on the screen to bestow counterintuitive emotional responses upon them, this film deals with a woman brought into questioning and inter-rogations by the legal system for suspects of being a modern witch. The girl who shared her apartment has been found dead, and a bloody pair of scissors just found in the scene of the crime only made things worse.
Every viewer must hold to their most unconscious desires and submit themselves, after reading said synopsis, into an expec-tation-free adventure becoming surprised over and over again to discover how their emotional and physical-visceral responses to the actions depicted on screen turn out to be the exact opposite of what they expected upon hearing about them. An experience well-worth savoring.
10. Andrei Rublev (1966); Solaris (1972); Stalker (1979) Dir. Andrei Tar-kovsky
The late Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky (Андрей Тарковский, 4 April 1932, Zavrazhye, Yuryevetsky District, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union – 29 December 1986, Paris, France) was one of the greatest and most emotionally-profound directors of all time, and his three films selected here, whose original Russian-language titles are, respectively, Страсти по Андрею, Солярис, and Сталкер, are some of his greatest.
Intensifying our experience of life as in a trance-state, out-of-body experience, watch-ing his films, as long as one refrains from nailing Christ to the cross by interpreting them via “cinematic expression” and rushing to nail it all down into some grand theme rather than slowly experiencing them as a spiritual cleansing bath, is like living the en-tire range of life’s emotions – family, love, growing-up, happiness, loneliness, depres-sion, death, loss, grief, bereavement, alienation, adolescence, complex and confus-ing/contradictory emotions such as self-deception and immanent desire, etc. – and can be one of the most enriching/enhancing artistic experiences of one’s life.
While I never understood why would anybody-in-their-right-mind would be as impervious and oblivious to what is right in front of them as to reduce the tender Stalker into some “science-fiction” flick, it is worth correcting the more-understandable mistaken-though-common impression that Solaris is one. Of course, being an emotionally-profound drama that merely happens to be set mostly on a spaceship does not in any way render this profound masterpiece, seeing it being as it were as far away as possi-ble from being generic as possible, a genre flick. No genre flick, by definition, ever had anything interesting to say.
Rather, a profound masterpiece as Solaris deals with, to quote critic Phillip Lopate from his Criterion Collection DVD insert, the fact that Tarkovsky correctly “disliked [Hollywood science-fiction flicks] as cold and sterile [and] certainly [used] more intensely individual characters and a more passionate hu-man drama at the center than [any Hollywood genre flick, u]nlike [Hollywood genre flicks] Solaris is saturated with grief, which grips the film even before it leaves Earth[, i]n the moody prelude, we see the protagonist, a space psychologist named Kris Kel-vin, staring at underwater reeds as though they were a drowned woman’s tresses[, p]layed by the stolid Donatas Banionis[, he] looks forever traumatized, slowed by some unspeakable sorrow[, h]is father and aunt worry about his torpor, chide him for his plodding, bookkeeper-like manner[, h]e is taking off the next day for a mission to the space station Solaris, a once thriving project that has gone amiss; it will be his job to determine whether or not to close down the research station[.] Solaris helped initi-ate a genre that has become an art-house staple: the drama of grief and partial recov-ery.”
In other words, Solaris is an anti-science-fiction film, dealing as it were with human emotions and their complexities, not with technological pyrotechnics and spe-cial-effects showmanship glorified by teenage boys. Its finale remains one of the most emotionally-profound and emotionally-complex ever filmed. Andrei Rublev remains one of the greatest films ever made about the transcendental power of art to change and impact our lives (was the anti-Hollywood Tarkovsky hinting at something?).
In the words of critic James Hoberman, writing for the Criterion DVD insert, “[t]he first (and perhaps only) film produced under the Soviets to treat the artist as a world-historic figure and the rival religion of Christianity as an axiom of Russia’s historical identity, Andrei Rublev is set in the chaotic period that saw the beginning of the na-tional resurgence of which [paintings] would become the cultural symbol[, i]ndeed, it was precisely the veneration of icons that would distinguish Russian art from that of the West[, a]s the Renaissance gathered momentum, sacred images were transmuted into secular works of art; Russian paintings, however, remained less representations of the world than embodiments of spirit.”
11. Stromboli terra di Dio (1950); Europa ’51 (1952); Journey to Italy (1954) Dir. Roberto Rossellini
Eschewing “cinematic gaze, language, devices, and expres-sion” shortcuts-to-understanding-self-and-character instantly-telling viewers how to feel regarding characters/self, this trilogy, refocusing on body/face/emotion/psychology/acting/dialogue/tone, remains one of the greatest statements regarding the battle-of-the-sexes in cinematic history.
Europa ’51 (which has only 2,449 votes on IMDb!), like Lars von Trier’s Dogville (2003) or Manderlay (2005) and Claire Denis’s White Material (2009), is a psychologically-penetrating por-trayal of a woman self-destructing by her naïve empathetic misplaced emotional at-tachment to help the undeserving “weak.”
In the words of critic Fred Camper, writing for the Criterion Collection DVD insert, “Irene [Girard] ([Ingrid] Bergman), a wealthy housewife in Rome, is wrapped up in social engagements with her businessman hus-band, George (Alexander Knox), and neglects her young son Michel’s cries for atten-tion[, a]fter his suicide attempt results in his later death, Irene comes to understand that her entire life has been a ‘mistake[,’ t]rying ‘to find a way’ with the help of her Communist cousin Andrea [Casatti], she devotes herself to the poor[, b]ut she ulti-mately turns to Christianity, not Communism, because she wants a love that will ‘em-brace everyone’—including her departed son—and so must find a spiritual path[, t]his love leads her away from her family, but unlike Karin in Stromboli, she directs it not toward her experience of nature but toward others—as truly Christian love must be—even if, as a result, her doctors and her family will judge her mad and confine her to an asylum.”
Critic Richard Brody (op. cit.) wrote that “[a] woman who abandons her comfortable circumstances to live among the poor, who uses her privilege to wander among ruins, must be crazy—and so Bergman seemed to many celebrity-besotted ob-servers.”
Stromboli, according to critic Dina Iordanova (op. cit.) “tackles head-on the tribulations and the insolence that a woman may experience in the process of her emancipation[,] Stromboli shows a woman who is self-centered and independent and who, as a result, is more alone in a marriage than she would be if she were single[, i]t asserts that a woman’s need for companionship and continuous emotional support may matter more than pecuniary maintenance or dogged loyalty.”
As for Journey to Italy, according to critic Paul Thomas (op. cit.), it contains “the most abrasive scenes be-tween a man and a woman that have ever been filmed.”
12. Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975, Chan-tal Anne Akerman)
One of the most misunderstood films of all time. Filmed in stat-ic tableaux and containing longwinded scenes with the camera barely-moving and be-ing merely-functional, the eschewal of “cinematic language” in favor of a theatrical-like life-changing presentation of several people merely speaking in a room with the viewer left to follow their tonal and bodily shifts-and-turns is the name of the game.
Decisively and decidedly not a feminist or Marxist manifesto (the directress said so herself), this is a semi-autobiographical portrayal of Chantal Anne Akerman’s, having been brought-up in an Orthodox Jewish household, statement regarding the im-portance of rituals in people’s lives and the meaning and meaning-bestowal they com-port upon us, the methodologically-individualistic ability of Man to create indomitably one’s environment and responsibility-taking life outcomes.
In the words of critic Ivo-ne Margulies, writing for the Criterion Collection DVD insert, “[s]tretching its title character’s daily household routine in long, stark takes, Akerman’s film simultaneous-ly allows viewers to experience the materiality of cinema, its literal duration, and gives concrete meaning to a woman’s work[, w]e watch, for three hours and twenty-one minutes, as Jeanne [Dielman] cooks, takes a bath, has dinner with her adolescent son, shops for groceries, and looks for a missing button[, e]ach gesture and sound becomes imprinted in our mind, and as we are lulled by familiar rhythms and expected behavior, we become complicit with Jeanne’s desire for order[, t]he perfect parity between Jeanne’s predictable schedule and Akerman’s minimalist precision deflects our atten-tion from the fleeting signs of Jeanne’s afternoon prostitution[, t]hey nevertheless loom at the edge of our mind, gradually building unease. Jeanne Dielman constitutes a radical experiment [with] drama[, i]nfused with her fondness for rituals—domestic, Jewish—her lines accrue meaning nevertheless[, i]n public appearances, the filmmaker has often discarded any direct equation of Jeanne’s quotidian chores with ‘a woman’s repression under patriarchy,’ explaining that these were the loving gestures she was familiar with as she observed intently her mother and aunt making a bed, preparing food.”
Celebrating life. Films in which (according to testosterone-fueled dudebros infatuated with explosionfests and chases) “nothing happens” are the ones in which all-that-matters happens.
13. Killer of Sheep (1978, Charles Burnett)
Like the previous entry on this list is not about simplistic and reductionist “women’s problems,” so does this non-narrative masterpiece (capturing small“/uncinematic” moments of life rather than rep-tilian “plot twists” and explosionfests), filmed in Los Angeles’s (African-American/Latino) Watts neighborhood, one of the poorest places in the United States, is not really and primarily about race or even class.
Dealing with the same emotional complexities and universal states of confusion that just might as well be found in a Henry James, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Leo Tolstoy, D.H. Lawrence, or George Eliot novel about very white aristocrats, Ray Carney noted that “presence of minority char-acters is not what is revolutionary about [Killer of Sheep]; the styles are[, they] styles represent breakthroughs into new ways of thinking and feeling about life, something that the presence of no number of minority characters or politically correct themes guarantees the other sort of film[, a]rtists’s and characters’s expressions are treated as being sociologically or ideologically representative (or as failing to be) in an attempt to make the inquiry matter more; whereas unique, individual emotional states are viewed as not being important enough to merit study in themselves[, n]eedless to say, such a critical bias has serious ramifications[, r]adically skews the definition of experience[, i]nside drops out of life[, e]xperience is understood in terms of its external qualities (its sexual, social, and ideological dynamics), it becomes its outsides[, c]haracters are reduced to external relations of power, dominance, control, and their position in a sys-tem[, i]ndividuality disappears[, p]rivate concerns, feelings, dreams, and aspirations–everything that makes them unique and not representative–ceases to be accounted for[, i]f the private, internal realm is acknowledged at all, it is treated as being a reflection of yet one more general, abstract system of power relations[, i]dentities are skin-deep for the ideological critic[, d]oes not involve lovingly opening oneself to the work, learning from it [but] debunking it: exposing its so-called ‘complicity with the reigning ideology,’ and, as far as possible, reducing the work to its political, social, and materi-al origins[, y]ou become your group: your gender[, r]ace, [s]ocial and economic status[, c]haracters in movies are rich-poor, Black-White, men-women[, a]ffirmative action for the arts [grades] a checklist[: a]re there enough female [and minority parts?] Are wom-en depicted as sex objects? Is sexist language used? [F]ormalists [view art as] stylistic razzle-dazzle a mile high and knowledge of life an inch deep.” Similar to Federico Fel-lini and Vittorio De Sica.
14. Certified Copy (2010, Abbas Kiarostami)
Like the best works of Rob-erto Rossellini or Michelangelo Antonioni, Copie conforme forgoes both reptilian “plots” and macho/decoder-ring semiotic symbolizations-“pure cinema” auteur-ism/formalism as substitute for dealing with the emotional complexity of man-woman relationships.
Consisting of little more than long conversations filmed as tableaux with the rarely-moving camera being a mere-functional recording-device, an “uncinemat-ic/talky merely-filmed-literature and theatre,” master filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami’s specialty, this is one of the most emotionally-profound and truth-based learning-experience ever put to celluloid/screen. Knowledge required to understand this mas-terpiece comes with age and life-experience and is all about the complexities of life, not those of camera tricks.
In the words of critic Godfrey Cheshire III, writing for the Criterion Collection DVD insert, “Certified Copy opens with the matter-of-fact air of a documentary[, t]he camera stares deadpan at a table that stands before an antique stone mantelpiece and contains two microphones, a bottle of water, and a copy of a book titled Copia conforme[, i]ts idiosyncratic emphasis on style over storytelling and the feeling of great personal meaning in [an] account of the torturous relations of men and women.”
15. The Boss of It All (2006, Lars von Trier)
Direktøren for det hele, the master’s most playful film, is one of his best statements on the inferiority of the Hol-lywood edifice/apparatus. Dogme95 eschewed gaudy formalistic tricks coercing viewers into easily-understandable generic themes/theses and redefined the taboo “merely-filmed theatre/literature without any cinematic gaze or language,” body/face-experiences so hated by testosterone-poisoned dudebros, as a positive. Starring the beautiful Iben Hjejle and Sofie Gråbøl, Lars von Trier’s masterpiece, one out of many, does all that plus admonishing naïve immature/juvenile rebellious virtue-signaling.
16. Le Pont du Nord (1981, Jacques Rivette)
With as little as 755 votes on IMDb, Jacques Rivette’s (one of the few French New Wave/Nouvelle Vague direc-tors not to fall into the trap of imitating Hollywood’s formalist “cinematic gaze, ex-pression, devices, and language” vacuousness, not for nothing he remains the least-discussed filmmaker of this movement) riveting masterpiece awaits new viewers.
One of the most profound political films ever made, the original French-language title meaning “northern bridge,” this ostensible tale of a woman recently-released-from-prison and a strange young female street urchin (played by a mother-and-daughter-team) who keep running into each other remains one of the most trenchant critiques of “victimhood” mentality.
17. Far From Heaven (2002, Todd Haynes)
The most beautiful woman in the world, Julianne Moore, stars in this playfully-satirical deconstruction of Holly-wood’s mythology of “cinematic gaze, language, expression, and devices” and poli-tics-as-escapism. Cathy Whitaker is married to Frank in 1950s suburban Connecticut, the whole filmed being filmed as a 1950s Hollywood melodrama. One day, she catch-es him red-handed kissing another man and signs him up for conversion therapy.
The whole experience drifts her into the arms of her African-American gardener, to whom she is obviously attracted and, naturally, she is empathetically drawn to the burgeon-ing civil rights movement henceforth, only for her surroundings to react just as one would expect. The characters do not know any better and the film’s beauty is that, rather than condescendingly-judging or being retrospectively-smug, neither are we supposed to.