10 Great Movies Featuring Minimalist Storytelling

6. The Headless Woman (Lucrecia Martel, 2008)

The Headless Woman

One of the most vexing stories in Latin-American cinema, mysterious and seemingly incomplete, “The Headless Woman” tells the story of a middle-aged woman who has a car accident and, in an apparent post-traumatic crisis, ruminates on the possibility of having killed someone. Masterly directed, this film is so scarce when giving information that a complete understanding of it upon a first viewing is very difficult.

Concentrating mainly on the relations of a family, the latent misogyny, violent classism, and the problems of mental illness are presented only by short and casual dialogues between the characters that slowly rebuild the decayed relations they have, mirroring some of society’s actual problems and parading the bourgeois lifestyle.

The indifference that the main character’s husband has for his wife is shown only by the lack of interest that he has in his partner’s life when she breaks down from stress; his response is to ask her to make some coffee.


7. Winter Light (Ingmar Bergman, 1963)

Winter Light

Little can be said of Bergman that hasn’t been said already. His ability to condense a complex story into less than 90 or 100 minutes located him among one of the most admired directors of history and this feature film is nothing but an apparently straight-up classic story (a small town priest starts to lose his faith and debates between love and religion), but upon multiple viewings, the movie begins to show its layers.

Beginning with a masterful portrayal of a small European town (the gossip, the co-dependence between its inhabitants), the movie goes through various topics, like the incipient decadence of the Christian faith in the 20th century, the male and female roles in modern relationships, and the weight and transcendence of death.

“Winter Light” is considered by Bergman one of the best films he ever made, as it is one of the most intimate and autobiographical ones, reflecting his own personal crises regarding religion and love.


8. 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance (Michael Haneke, 1994)

71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance

This film is a convoluted mix of seemingly random scenes that end up building a story of crossed pathways that converge in one exact place and time. With Haneke’s well-known penchant for portraying cruelty and scepticism, the movie peeps into the life of different characters trying to cope with their various problems. Profoundly naturalist, nothing displayed in this film escapes reality, but only remarks on the loneliness, the violence, the neglect, and the general discomfort in European modern life.

Haneke’s magic appears in the surroundings of the main story: the scenarios the characters inhabit are filled of expositional information about their lives. An old man’s loneliness is only revealed by glances of his daily life—his desolated lunches composed of beer, prefabricated food, and tabloid news—that slowly paint the sad and isolated existence of a neglected old man.


9. Once (John Carney, 2007)

great movies minimalist story telling

This pseudo-musical became widely known at the time of release, reinvigorating the genre with interesting ideas on how to mix music and cinema in one, extracting itself from the classic format of surreal musical instances where the plot gets put on hold for a meta-narrative song.

Instead of that archaic structure, this film prefers an organic insertion of songs into the story itself. The presence of music is justified by the narrative, as the movie deals with the first encounters and development of a relationship between two music enthusiasts, a street musician and a frustrated piano player.

The main interaction that bonds these two would-be-lovers is music, listening to and performing it. With a cast of actual musicians, the songs are performed most of the time in the actual shot without dubbing.

The relationship with music isn’t the only naturalistic topic the film addresses; the understanding of what could be called love at first sight is treated in a very grounded style all the way from its birth to its development to its decomposition.


10. Mutum (Sandra Kogut, 2007)


In this devastating coming-of-age tale, a young boy named Thiago lives in the backlands of Minas Gerais, Brazil. Living in the precariousness of a farm with four siblings, an abusive father, a caring mother, a good-hearted uncle, and a grandmother, Thiago is forced to confront adulthood as he is introduced to work, sexuality, violence, sickness, and death.

First-time director Kogut manages to wonderfully represent the process of maturation as external situations serve as visual metaphors for the main breaking points of childhood. Nonetheless, the subtle buds of characterization are never lost in the plot or in the monotony of daily life.

A peculiarity that helps profoundly is the cast, which was composed in a very Bressonian way, with no actors. Each character is played by an untrained “regular” person performing in front of the cameras, making the acting sloppy, fresh, and real.

Author Bio: Pedro Bertoni is an Uruguayan film-making student, with swedish-australian roots, avid lover of romantic comedies and soviet cinema. An amateur yoga instructor and spiritual guide, meso-american cumbia connoisseur. He spends his free time cultivating organic tobacco and writing his romantic-neo-existencialist-drama opus magna script.