Directed by Peter Brosens, Dorjkhandyn TurmunkhBelgium, Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, Mongolia | 1998
Movement – of Basaar’s spirit, of trains across endless panoramas, of traditional customs passing on to modernity – becomes the crux of the film. Brosens and Turmunkh reflect it in their fluid integration of visual motifs that recur throughout, such as shots from the window of a moving vehicle and static compositions of various herds (people, cattle, dogs) moving from one side of the frame to another. Within this framework, the lack of movement becomes equally substantial; a landscape, vast and unchanging, passes through the camera’s lens as if to represent a static force amidst all the movement, and thousands of dead canines are scattered across the desert and the sides of village roads, acting both as mementos for an old way of life and shocking reminders of collective guilt.
Directed by Lucrecia MartelArgentina | 2004
Martel’s cinema radiates the sense of multiple things going on just outside our and the characters’ consciousness(es), just beyond comprehension, which keeps her films at a near-constant level of anxiety, although it’s never quite clear how much of this feeling stems from concrete reasons within the film and how much is just a psychological effect she is able to conjure in her characters in an attempt to accurately reflect their jostled and transient states. Much of this uncertainty has to come from Martel’s totalizing, exacting audiovisual approach, which combines decidedly fragmentary compositions, aggressively elliptical editing, and atmospheric sound design.
Directed by Peter FlinthSweden | 2007
Director Peter Flinth and cinematographer Erik Kress do some amazing things making dreary skies, woods, and stone look more full of life than waning legend Ridley Scott did in last year’s ill-conceived Robin Hood update. Flinth and Kress never fail to evoke their ever-changing tones, switching up tender romance to the quiet menace of jealousy and betrayal to the dread of citizen soldiers squaring off against a seasoned army for the first (and last) time.
Directed by Craig BrewerUnited States | 2007
Sounds compelling, right? It is, but what made me nervous for the film so early on was the uneven acting from Timberlake and Ricci. I was surprised by Timberlake’s amateur-hour performance because of how well he did in Alpha Dog, which also came out in 2006. Perhaps it’s because he’s so used to conveying confidence that I didn’t buy him as a nervous, deep-South kid with war jitters. Even the way he vomited in the toilet before walking out the door rang false; he made jazz hands while gripping the bowl.
Directed by Terrence MalickUnited States | 2011
Malick’s grand ruse is his inclusion of the planet-forming/cell-division/dinosaur stuff. None of this has any thematic resonance with Jack’s story, unless you count the fact that, yes, all of the people in this film descended from cosmic goo. Some will argue that there must be some greater significance simply because it’s all mashed together with the main story; but I have no problem calling that out as nonsense. The proof lies in Jack’s story, a clichéd horror-behind-the-picket-fences yarn we’ve seen a thousand times before done in at least twelve more effective iterations. Malick again draws attention away from his problems by jumping around in time…
Directed by Terrence MalickUnited States | 2011
From an amorphous balloon of orange light in the center of the screen begins a series of Brakhage-like gyrations of color that culminate in a representation of the creation of the solar system that slowly morphs from abstraction to recognizable forms. Within this are certain blobs that resemble inner body fluids, perhaps an attempt to link the macro processes of the Big Bang to the micro processes of human birth. After a meteor strikes Earth, Malick drops in to observe the primordial stew of liquids and solids on the planet’s surface that eventually produce oceans and landscapes. The images created in this sequence – advised by special effects legend Douglas Trumbull, referenced from NASA, and shot using either 65 mm or the massive IMAX format – are impossibly high-fidelity, giving the whole sequence the uncanny sense of actually floating over this universal phenomenon rather than just witnessing cinematic images of it.
Directed by Bruno DumontFrance | 1997
While the title alludes to the religious, Dumont is primarily concerned with flesh. Lazarus’ resurrection was a miracle of flesh and subsequently Freddy’s development is informed by the same substance. Throughout the film he takes frequent tumbles from his moped, either through carelessness or scorn of care, and his skin is subsequently damaged and marked. These fresh wounds offer him avenues of inquiry into his own being.
Directed by Scandar Copti, Yaron ShaniIsrael | 2009
In spite of the film’s complex structure, the outstanding feature of the production is how down-to-earth and lucid the characters, relationships and action is. Copti and Shani did a smart thing by demarcating the sections by “chapter” title cards, which explicitly signal the shift in perspective focus. The greatest strength of this approach, as with many films of this type, is the richly textured portrayal that it’s able to present. There is no way to simplistically reduce and explicate the Middle Eastern conflict, as factors of ethnicity, religion, culture, and nationality are too densely entangled.
Directed by Chan-wook ParkSouth Korea | 2005
Reminiscent of Fritz Lang’s M and its famous ‘kangaroo court’ finale, the various parents involved, accompanied by Geum-ja and the detective who supervised her case, discuss the righteousness of an unofficial capital punishment… The parents let their base urges take hold, and directed by Geum-ja, they quickly agree to participate in the murder of Mr. Baek, each one taking a turn to inflict pain upon him. Though Lady Vengeance is easily the least explicitly violent of the trilogy, its underlying ideas easily make it the most unsettling.
Directed by Alexandro JodorowskyMexico, Italy | 1989
Jodorowsky revels in the terrain of baroque overstatement; when his characters are angry, they get very angry, and the same goes for sensations of happiness, sexual excitement and horror. All these elemental emotions are in feisty competition in Jodorowsky’s work, making them rather turbulent experiences that are difficult to engage with emotionally. But Santa Sangre includes exalted occasions when the kaleidoscopic tone collage comes to a steady halt, leaving in its wake scenes of rich emotional poetry, such as the harrowing devastation of Goncha after her Church is bulldozed and Fenix comforts her, or the plaintive and inevitable farewell of Fenix and Alma, which feels like a missed opportunity until the two reunite later in an equally lovely scene of romantic swooning.
Directed by Andrei TarkovskySweden, United Kingdom, France | 1986
The Sacrifice is not afraid to risk absurdity itself in the radical nature of its structure – long slabs of real time combined with elusive, dreamlike montage – or in the extremity of its content, making it, and its creator, analogous to the central figure, a man doggedly tied to religious piety and opposed to modernistic tendencies. Somehow, the film’s most wayward ideas, spawned from lofty concepts about the limits of faith and reason, like the virtual reprise of a scene of levitation in The Mirror or the ten-minute-long house-burning sequence, a combination of cinematic grandiosity and improvisational vérité, work in the context of Tarkovsky’s consuming seriousness.
Directed by Anton CorbijnUnited States | 2010
Characters and settings are introduced like musical themes; Corbijn uses subtle repetitions to give them weight and to give the viewer the sense that the story is going somewhere even when it isn’t so obvious… If you look for them, the film is dominated by repetitions, most slightly reconfigured with each iteration. It lends a hallucinatory quality to events which may seem rather ordinary given the extraordinariness that films usually attach to spy intrigues.
Directed by Terence DaviesUnited Kingdom | 1988
Davies frequently subverts this, introducing sound but not cutting to the scene connected to it. Images and events frequently compress illogically, allowing Davies to explain them or connect them later on. This seems to mimic the associative nesting of memory, as scenes don’t unfold linearly in time but in the order in which one is associated with another, making the connections all the more suggestive. Davies also saves one of his finest moments for the transition between the film’s two main sections…
Directed by Terence DaviesUnited Kingdom | 1983
This is a film that moves time and memory like a knife through water, carving out a lifetime full of impressions… Death & Transfiguration has a paradoxical quality to it, full of polar opposites; it has an inner peace while still struggling against life, it’s rooted in the pain of the flesh but there’s also a spiritual grace to it, it’s full of despair, but it revels in the concept that hope can only be found in such despair. Here, the Trilogy ’s motifs seem to echo more subtly, but more loudly. The pervasive choirs of children, usually singing Christian songs, take on a haunting quality that lingers.
Directed by Lukas MoodyssonSweden, Denmark | 2002
Moodysson’s talent for instantly humanizing his characters is apparent from the get-go. Like the two girls in Åmål or the entire cast in Together, Lilya feels like an utterly genuine, 3-dimensional human being throughout. Many directors can feign naturalism with faux-documentary style film-making and faux-improvised acting, but often it just serves to highlight the artifice behind the production. Moodysson, even though he also uses the hand-held camera and improvisational techniques himself, realizes that the real truth doesn’t come from any quasi-realism, but from the core of the characters as portrayed by the actors.
Directed by Joel Coen, Ethan CoenUnited States, United Kingdom, France | 2009
Given the film’s thematic complexity, it seems almost trivial to return to the more plebeian forms of criticism, but Roger Deakins’ dreamlike, almost surreal cinematography deserves it. It brilliantly contrasts the comic book-like colors and geometry of suburbia in wide lenses and deep focus with the hazier colors and angles of Larry’s subjectivity and dreams in long lenses and shallow focus. This echoes the theme of Larry being cut off from objective reality by his distorted view of his life.
Directed by Michael MannUnited Kingdom | 1983
There are hints of power and beauty. Pulsations. This may be the prettiest thing Mann has ever directed, but unfortunately also the most vapid. It has everything in the world going for it. A handful of beautiful and capable male leads. Part-fantastical and nightmarish landscapes. Nazis. Occultism. The photographic talents of the prolific Alex Thomson. The presence of renowned comic book magician Enki Bilal, who contributes the look of the demon/deity Molasar…
Directed by Russ MeyerUnited States | 1965
The greatness of Mudhoney (and maybe Meyer in general) is that, even with its ostensible fixation on big breasts and female nudity, the real transgression lies in its “blasphemous” (but, actually, intelligent and provocative) depiction of liberal sexuality as something innately good and healthy, while the ascetic abstention from it fosters an infinitely more evil and animalistic version of humanity.
Directed by Anders Thomas JensenDenmark, Germany | 2005
In the end perhaps not every element here gels quite right but then again how often do you find a film that combines Nazism, racism, paedophilia, mental and physical handicaps, high violence and the shooting of a cat to great comedic effect and binds them all together to arrive at a positive message? Even for those of us who have indulged in a lot of films it’s easy to see that not much else could possibly fit that bill.
Directed by Joel Coen, Ethan CoenUnited States, United Kingdom, France | 2009
One possible interpretation among many is to conceive of A Serious Man as the Coen brothers answer to their critics, who for years have accused their films of nihilism or worse. The Big Lebowski and Barton Fink in particular are largely seen as something like apocalyptic sketches: the former portraying modern man after the idealism of the 60’s has all but disappeared and the latter suggesting that man is utterly corrupt and salvation is unattainable. The Coens have at last crafted a black comedy that both embraces and shuns their origins, while complicating them.
Directed by Tony StoneUnited States | 2007
In an ominous and symbolic act the warriors set fire to the makeshift church and Stone makes sure to give us a lasting image of the cross being eaten by flame. This is a triumphant moment for the pair, but it also signals a change. Shortly afterward Orn is captured by a native tribe, whom the Norsemen refer to as Skaeling, leaving Volnard to continue the trek alone.