5. Persona (#198 on IMDb top 250)
Probably the most famous Ingmar Bergman film after “The Seventh Seal”, “Persona” is a 1966 psychological thriller film starring the gorgeous Liv Ullman and Bibi Andersson. The film starts with a creepy and deeply symbolical scene in which a boy wakes up in an empty hospital (or is it a morgue?), intercut with images of spiders, a crucifixion and the religious sacrifice of a lamb, and sees the projected images of the two women on which the film focuses: Alma, a nurse, and her patient named Elisabet, an actress that has suddenly stopped talking and walking. Having the doctors excluded any mental or physical illness, Alma is led to believe that Elisabet’s will to live can be restored. But who exactly is Elisabeth? And who really is Alma?
Nothing about this film can be easily and fully explained. Full of magnificent and impressive shots, “Persona” is the most complex entry in Bergman’s already convoluted filmography: as Alma and Elisabeth begin to merge into one individual entity both psychologically and phisically, memories of tangible and human tragedies continue to emerge from the past (the passion of Christ echoed in the unnerving first scene of the film, then the contemporary horrors of Vietnam, then the killing of the Jews during the second World War) as a nihilistic interpretation of life begins to unveil in front of the camera. God is absent, people are hurt and regretful, and trust is nowhere to be found… and all innocence is lost.
4. Stalker (# 207 on IMDb top 250)
The second Russian film to make the list is “Stalker”, by Andrei Tarkovsky. The “Stalker” (Aleksandr Kaidanovsky) is a man that willingly guides his clients to the “Zone”, a sentient area of the Earth scattered with the remainders of lost human civilization now officially closed off by the government. Along with a “Professor” in search of scientific knowledge and a “Writer” in need of inspiration, the nameless “Stalker” embarks on the search for the Room, a mystical environment that is said to fulfill one’s unconscious desires and aspirations.
A philosophical voyage into unknown lands, “Stalker” is a modern and surreal tale of life and death, filled with cryptic dialogues and imaginative set design and cinematography. Tarkovsky himself once wrote: “The Zone doesn’t symbolise anything, anything more than anything else does in my films: the zone is a zone, it’s life, and as he makes his way through it a man may break down or he may come through”.
3. Touch of Evil (#224 on IMDb top 250)
The movie opens with one of the most famous tracking shots in the history of film, following the planting of a time bomb on a car in Mexico until it explodes moments after passing the U.S. border. As police forces investigate the crime, Vargas (Charlton Heston), a Mexican drug enforcement official, joins the team. Things go sour when Vargas accuses police captain Quinlan (Orson Welles) of planting evidence to find a culprit, causing the captain to resume his drinking habit.
Orson Welles directed this noir classic in 1958 with an all-star cast, including Janet Leigh, Charlton Heston, Marlene Dietrich and of course Welles himself in one of the most iconic roles in American cinematic history. An inspiration for many filmmakers to come because of its aesthetic force and complex camera work, “Touch of Evil” continues to live on through countless cultural and technical references in many great films, including Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Boogie Nights” first long tracking shot and “In Bruges”, where Welles’ film plays a major role in one of the most intense scenes.
2. La Haine (#235 on IMDb top 250)
Shot in a staggering black and white, “La Haine” tells the story of three friends living in a Parisian banlieau. The lives of Vinz, Hubert and Saïd are changed forever after a riot turned into a clash between the immigrants and the police leaves their friend Abdel hospitalized in a coma. Paranoia and conflict ensue when Vinz, a Jewish and angry teenager, retrieves a gun that went lost during the riot and swears he will kill a cop with it if Abdel dies. When the three decide to go to Paris by train to visit Abdel, things take a turn for the worse.
Containing some of the most powerful images and lines ever put on film, “La Haine” is a political and direct account of everyday life in the ‘90s banlieus, when director Mathieu Kassovitz wrote the script in order to celebrate Makome M’Bowole, a Zairian immigrant that was shot while handcuffed to a heater inside a police station in Paris.
The film itself was shot in Chanteloup-les-Vignes while riots were still raging, and is dedicated to all those who died during its production. The director chose to film in an almost documentary style, making the often oniric scenes stand out even more, all leading up to one of the most brutal and shocking finale in world cinema to date.
1. 8 ½ (#236 on IMDb top 250)
Federico Fellini is an almost mythical filmmaker, with “La Dolce Vita” (1960) being his most loved and recognized masterpiece. “8 ½” is yet another great film of his, in which Marcello Mastroianni plays Guido Anselmi, a film director struggling with his own ideas and lifestyle while desperately trying to finish an uninteresting sci-fi movie.
While its premise may look pretty straightforward, “8 ½” is a brilliant metacinematic film that also manages to reflect Fellini’s view on politics, religion, sex, and obviously life and art as a whole; in fact, Guido Anselmi basically represents Federico Fellini himself. With the narrative blurring the lines between reality and imagination, this magnificent and unforgettable work of art definitely is among the most interesting movies Italy ever had to offer.
Author Bio: Fabio Mauro Angeli is an Italian communication student with a deep love for the Seventh Art. He continues in his film studies while working on his first screenplays and short movies, hoping to one day make it to the director’s chair. He enjoys pretty much every kind of movie, with “Once upon a time in America” being his absolute favourite (for now!).