As of this year, the 90’s are officially turning into a 30th anniversary with each passing year coming up. Man, where has the time gone? Films in the 90’s were very hit or miss, Hollywood was making massive hits here and there with the likes of “Terminator 2” and “Jurassic Park” but were also getting lazier with the technological innovations coming about.
Independent films were really picking up major momentum with the likes of Tarantino and Paul Thomas Anderson coming in and revolutionizing the model of filmmaking as we know it. But the films I’m going to discuss today haven’t been highly remembered in the minds of moviegoers for one reason or another. But don’t keep it that way, all of these deserve to be remembered and recognized as some of the greats of their time.
1. Monsieur Hire (1990)
Have you ever met that person who stays to themselves, doesn’t talk, seems a bit odd in the normal perceptions of society, and you can’t help but wonder about them? I’m sure we’ve all met someone like that at some point, hell in many ways you probably are that person in some way. Monsieur Hire (Michel Blanc) is that man for the people who occupy the world of this film.
Monsieur is a lonely figure, his life is determined by order and process in which he burrows himself deeper into his own isolation. He lives alone and plans very specifically when he’s going to watch his neighbor Alice (Sandrine Bonnaire), a beautiful, blonde 22 year old girl who lives across the courtyard of the apartment complex he lives in. She never closes her curtains and he takes advantage: he watches her dress, undress, listen to music, read books, make love, and he watches all of this over and over again.
On one given night a murder occurs, witnesses say that they saw a slight man was running towards the building. Police come knocking at Monsieur’s door, they acknowledge his neighbors collectively said they don’t like him, and he admits that he can come across as odd to others. He’s perceived as the murderer because of his reclusive behavior by his neighbors, despite that there’s no evidence to support it. But the murder is actually second fiddle, what’s really important is the character study of Monsieur.
The two big questions we’re pondering through this whole thing is: what does Alice think of Monsieur? And what does he think about what she thinks of him? When I first heard of this film I had an idea in my mind of what Monsieur as a character would look like, and I have to say Michel Blanc fit the bill seamlessly to what I had imagined. He’s the kind of guy who seems like he’s lived in a basement his entire life, and every odd aspect of his posture to his selection of words align with what we expect an introvert to behave like. “Monsieur Hire” is one of the most fascinating character studies I’ve seen about a lonely figure and how others perceive him, he’s not a murderer but people believe in an instant that he is.
2. The Double Life of Véronique (1991)
Krzysztof Kieślowski was a director who never settled for anything less than exploring the human condition with a beautiful sense of spiritual forces at play. “The Double life of Véronique” deals with an idea I think all who watch it have felt at one point. The feeling of being alone yet feeling as though there’s someone else out there. In this film Irene Jacob serves as the connection between two separate lives: Weronika and Véronique.
In the beginning of the film a mother tells her little girl in Poland about the stars in the winter sky, at that same moment a mother in France is showing her daughter the details of the first leaf in the spring time. These two have never met, and never will, but through un-explainable forces they’re connected emotionally that bypasses geography. In one moment during Weronika’s life she burnt her hand on a stove, a few days later Véronique places her hand on a stove but moves it away just fast enough not to get burned. Now how did she know to do that? Years later when when they’re adults Weronika is a beautiful singer in a choir and Véronique teaches music.
One day as Weronika is walking through a protest site she notices a French tour group to which she sees Véronique, someone who looks exactly like her. A few days later as Weronika is singing her solo in a choir something comes over her and she collapses and dies. Next thing we see Véronique and she’s suddenly fallen into a sadness she can’t explain. She feels as though someone she knows has died, later on in the film she claims that she’s felt like she was in two places at once all her life.
What’s remarkable about Kieślowski’s film is how it never attempts to explain such events or feelings because how can it be explained? These are the kind of feelings that as much as we might try to understand we can’t fully grasp at it because they burrow so deep beneath our senses. There have been many stories of how twins feel a psychic connection from miles away when something happens. Is there a science to this, maybe, but we don’t know for sure. The center of what makes this work is Irene Jacob. Jacob was 24 when this was filmed and she clearly has a natural beauty and complexion most can only dream of. She’s filmed to just be, never to truly act anything. Kieślowski films Jacob just going through whatever emotions she may be feeling, happiness, sadness, anguish, or just thinking of what’s next.
The film itself is such a beautiful piece to look at. Distinct reds and greens offset by golden yellows, none of which take on any kind of symbolic purpose but add a level of beauty to its complex narrative. Many shots of Weronika or Véronique are shot with a mirror like reflection to split the individual in two, there’s them but there’s also a part of them that’s missing. As you can tell this is a hard film to decipher and I can’t explain all of it, nor do I wish to attempt to. Much like anything else in this grand story of life that we experience we simply need to revel in the majestic nature of it.
3. La Belle Noiseuse (1991)
Many people often say that art is a reflection of life. “La Belle Noiseuse” is probably the film, more than any other, that personifies this. Revolving around an aging artist whose abandoned the art form for many years but finds the will once more when he encounters a young couple, one of whom being a young artist himself. Life and art are continuously intertwining together in this moment in time. Many years ago, he stopped painting his wife because it threatened to destroy his marriage. Now many years later he’s now going to finish the painting with the girlfriend as his new model. But through all of this, the confrontation of life that used to be and the art being made now is proving how the artistic process is harder than we could ever imagine for those who pour everything they have into it.
The sections of this film where the old artist is making the framework of the portrait are long, but my word are uniquely captivating. With every detail put into this we feel a level of enchantment, knowing that one piece at a time a life long gone is coming back together. I’m not going to pretend like this is an easy movie to sit through, clocking in at nearly 4 hours requires a lot of patience and understanding. But if you’re mentally durable enough for it, it’s really a one of a kind experience.
4. One False Move (1992)
“One False move” fits in place with many of the great crime thrillers but what separates it from most is how it starts as a thriller and ends as a human story. The events that unfold are a result of the people and who they are, not chases or action scenes.
The film opens up in brutal fashion where Ray (Billy Bob Thornton), Pluto (Michael Beach), and Fantasia (Cynda Williams) brutally murder six people in Los Angeles and head off with money and cocaine, and start moving towards Houston, Texas. LAPD Detectives get in touch with the Star City Police Chief Hurricane Dixon (Bill Paxton), the highest ranked officer in his small town.
Unfortunately not much of anything happens in his home town so he’s clearly out of his league compared to these two officers. The only reason he’s thrust into this is because this small town is where Fantasia’s family lives and the belief is that they could stop by her old house. Dixon is a likable guy even if he is naive, he’s the kind of guy who knows everybody in town and resolves issues peacefully with words. He hasn’t had to pull his gun out in the 6 years he’s been working, upon meeting these detectives he’s amazed and admits he thinks he can make it big in the city one day. Of course they don’t take him seriously. But his knowledge of the town runs deep and is ultimately what’s going to help him with this case more than the detectives ever could.
The main strength of the film is the relationships each character has with one another. These are real people who move across our screen and they struggle and cope with real situations that delve away from the usual murder/drugs story. I haven’t even scratched the surface of telling you what this film encompasses and I dare not ruin it, simply put this film is a revelation.
5. Fearless (1993)
I have to say, if there’s ever been a film that I think comes as close to simulating what I think of when I think of this phenomenon and how it affects one who suffers through it, it has to be Peter Weir’s “Fearless”.
It starts out with a real blast, a plane has crashed and there’s only a select few who survived. One of the survivors is Max (Jeff Bridges), when we first see him he’s carrying a baby and leading a group of people to safety. He appears to be in a daze, doesn’t even seem to be aware that he saved people. He lingers off, takes a taxi to a nearby motel, and looks at himself in the mirror. He’s alive, and he knows he’ll never feel the same again. He goes around trying to feel something, he lies on the ground and looks closely at the dirt he gets on his fingers. He finally returns home but he’s not quite right, he isn’t the loving husband and father he apparently was. His wife and son don’t even seem to recognize him anymore.
His behavior is odd to say the least, but he’s almost always well-mannered even when he’s being horrible. He admits to his wife that he feels a love for another survivor, Carla (Rosie Perez). She lost her baby son in the crash but miraculously survived, he takes her for rides and walks around with her talking about life and death. According to Max they’ve already died and came back from it. Is this the result of a snapped mindset, has he lost his way, was there some kind of mental breakdown he suffered? We don’t know but somehow it’s as if he’s invincible, impervious to fear or danger as he walks into oncoming traffic and stands tall on the ledge of a building.
This is one of Jeff Bridges greatest performances, he walks a fine line between life and death through this whole film. One moment after another he’s tempting fate just trying to get any kind of feeling back again, it all culminates one too many times for him as he gets closer to the crossroads of his destiny. A balance between his end and his beginning. Peter Weir has been a great director for a long time, and there’s many films to his repertoire from “Dead Poets Society” to “The Truman Show” to “Master and Commander”. But this is a film that’s lost in his filmography much of the time, a real shame because it’s what I consider his best.