Directed by Kim Ki-DukSouth Korea | 2004
Kim’s women are endlessly stubborn and resigned, and they tend to stay that way throughout his narratives. His men are always looking for ways to “purify” them, to return them to a state of total submission. Note Yeong-ki’s murder and subsequent burial of his daughter by a lake; it is there, in the tranquility of nature (itself a stand-in for regressive purity), that he can finally cease to worry about her threatening his control. Granted, the scene is “only a dream”, but it seems a dream that Kim is waiting for to bleed into reality.
Directed by Eric RohmerFrance | 1967
Adrien’s hyper-articulate, context-heavy narration guides the dramatic action and offers an additional layer through which to scrutinize the discontinuities between thought and behavior, principle and impulse. Rohmer’s leading males are so self-assured, so certain that they are following the proper path, that it’s easy to fall into a trap in which they appear righteous and sympathetic. Yet as much as Adrien frames Haydée’s day-to-day behavior as manipulative, as if she’s playing a game with his emotions by sleeping around with Daniel and others, it’s really Adrien who’s the weasel, feigning affection and then slipping away with the exacting care of a great dictator.
Directed by Richard LinklaterUnited States | 1993
There’s something ritualistic about the way Linklater films the driving sequences from a head-on view (the same angle that would be employed as homage in That 70’s Show), as if the passengers are in the aisles of church and the road is their religious rite of passage. Beyond that, Linklater’s use of driving as a structural element in itself charges the film with relentless movement; if the activity in one car begins to grow tiresome (and it never does), cross-cut to another to see what else is going on. In its middle stage the film becomes a riotous collage of different characters, behaviors, and moods set against different moving backdrops.
Directed by Jesus FrancoItaly, United Kingdom, West Germany | 1969
It’s this free-flowing sense of style and identity that really makes Venus in Furs a treat. It might perhaps be a cinematic succubus, borrowing allusions, weight, and form from other works through some manner of infernal coupling, but it also fully encapsulates the excitement of counter-cultural cinema as it was emerging in this latter part of the 1960s- an art-form that was more free than ever before to travel where it saw fit, fuelling and deriving fuel from a larger society that was acting on the same impulse.
Directed by Ingmar BergmanSweden | 1963
The Silence doesn’t have a narrative form so much as an obscure musical pattern, which at a concise 92 minutes feels like a winding slow-burn towards a pensive climax. Bergman maps out the separate journeys of the three characters in this foreign land of “Tivoli”, a fictional town where the inhabitants speak an inscrutable language and go about their daily activities with mechanical precision. It’s logical to assume that the journey of each character is meant to intersect in some way, at least metaphorically, but Bergman keeps them self-contained, providing no recognizable motif with which to connect them. Instead, they’re arranged in counterpoint to one another in an almost free-associative manner.
Directed by Béla TarrHungary | 1984
The film’s best scenes are marked by these exchanges where an emotional subtext boils beneath the mostly calm dispositions of the two characters speaking. When the nurse’s partner shaves the face of the teacher – whose sexual behavior with the nurse he is only vaguely aware of – Tarr’s camera slowly circles the two, capturing the illicit bloodlust of the scene, the fact that he could dig right into the teacher’s face at any time. Furthermore, Tarr’s uncomfortably intimate sound design lays bare all the quiet breathing, grunting, and scraping, which uncovers an implicitly homoerotic tension as well.
Directed by Nicholas RayUnited States | 1954
Her appearance is silent, but it might as well have been accompanied by a lightning strike and peal of thunder, so dynamic and convention-upturning is Crawford’s presence. Her tacit, masculine strength instantly awes the men conversing about her down below. Speaking to the titular character who just rode into town at Vienna’s invitation, one of the locals meekly confides, “Never seen a woman who was more of a man. She thinks like one, acts like one, and sometimes makes me feel like I’m not.” Crawford immediately establishes Vienna’s liberated, aggressive demeanor, her wide eyes bulging with a combination of of authority, power and a lust she knows she can satisfy at any moment.
Directed by Lukas MoodyssonSweden, Denmark | 2004
[Moodysson’s] attempts to question “reality” on film is hinged entirely on an unqualified presumption of gonzo aesthetics being closer to truth or allowing for more insight than other, perhaps more traditional, means. Fundamentally there’s no reason within A Hole in My Heart to buy into Moodysson’s perceptions and there’s no denying that his film is no more or less fabrication than anything that preceded it. It does successfully highlight issues of perception but largely stumbles into the same potholes as that which it seeks to criticise – to use a rough analogy of road signs, A Hole in My Heart is a little like a protest sign noting a lack of warning for a dangerous bend that’s been placed in front of and obscures the actual sign warning of that bend.
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 David CronenbergCanada, United Kingdom | 1996
Vaughan philosophises further, allowing Cronenberg a quick jab at himself. Originally the character states that his field of interest is, “the transformation of the human body through modern technology,” but he later recants, stating that that was, “just a ruse.” His real interest lies in the explosive sexual potential of colliding bodies, of car accidents. No matter how you dress it up, Vaughan slyly insinuates, it’s really all about orgasms.
Directed by Yoshishige YoshidaJapan | 1969
That Eiko’s mind should wander to romantic shots of cherry blossoms in full bloom to frame her thoughts on Osugi’s teachings suggests a passion for the anarchist’s philosophy that goes beyond mere political agreement. Indeed, what makes Eros + Massacre so singular is how directly it deals not with history but historiography, the study of how history itself comes to be. While we first fully meet Eiko in the nude in her bedroom, she first “appears” as the disembodied, interrogating voice using an actress to project questions at the daughter of Noe Ito…
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 Jane CampionAustralia | 1989
I previously stated that the film never had much of a stable axis, but Sweetie sends the film careening into the Sun. If Kay’s hardened exterior and cynical logic makes her the superego of the film, Lemon arrives as the uninhibited id, a childish glutton whose wide eyes suggest she’s always asking the world for a present for being good. She breaks into Kay’s house with her junkie and “producer” boyfriend Bob while Kay and Lou are away, immediately causing a fuss when the sister returns. Kay wants her gone, but Lou tries to be nice and allows her to stay, implicitly (and, later, explicitly) excited by the sexual dynamo that just entered his joyless life.
Directed by Darren AronofskyUnited States | 2010
One reason I think his more viscerally styled direction works here is that it balances well against the melodramatic bent to the narrative. Melodrama is a particularly apt description, because while it does refer more commonly to exaggerated plot and characters, it comes from the root “melos” meaning “music”. Both music and exaggerations play a prominent role in the film, and they’re the elements that situate it more in the realm of neo-classical fantasy as opposed to a more sober, objective perspective à la Haneke’s The Piano Teacher.
Directed by Roman PolanskiFrance, United Kingdom | 1992
Polanski’s consistent eye for formal daring serves him well through the transitions of the movie. He uses soft lighting and red hues for his first section, all sunlight and candles and cozy fires. Then, the mise-en-scène shifts: Oscar’s spacious apartment is initially inviting and elegant, but when he and Mimi retreat into this den to chase their lust, it comes to resemble a horrid brothel, dank with sex fumes and drying fluids. They cover the windows, casting everything in filthy brown. Every experiment into role-playing, domination and pain seems to suck more light from the place, until the only bright source of illumination is the computer monitor, mocking Oscar for his writer’s block. The grim shift suggests that Oscar starts to blame Mimi for his inability to write anything worth publishing, and every professional setback leads him to torture her further.
Directed by Frank PiersonUnited States | 2000
Like the good/bad issue in art, the entire case was built around exactly how human beings define two words, obscenity and art. Definitions of both are given in the film, but they utterly fail to help us (or anyone) in assigning such labels to Mapplethorpe’s work, relying instead on how people react to it… The same issue has followed pornography through its various trials, perhaps most famously leading to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart stating “I know it when I see it”. But what happens when we don’t know it when we see it, or when different people think they know different things after seeing it?
Directed by Lee Kang-ShengTaiwan | 2007
Tsai [Ming-liang] may direct scenes that almost play out like miniature movies themselves, but he always manages to keep the bigger picture in focus, and that’s a quality that can’t be said of Lee in this film, which never quite comes together into a coherent whole. Besides the blurry macrocosm, overall, Lee’s direction can’t help but feel like Tsai-lite in most respects. While there are many stunning shots, for example, Lee doesn’t have Tsai’s impeccable sense of pictorial framing, which is especially noticeable around the edges (always the toughest plane to account for with wide angle lenses). Most of the provocation feels perfunctory instead of inspired by a higher purpose, especially the Chyi plot which never gains any vitality and momentum.
Directed by Giorgos LanthimosGreece | 2009
From the awkwardness of Son’s test of his sisters’ virility in a bathtub three-shot, to a beautiful metal sink full of blood and tooth fragments, there are few frames in Dogtooth that couldn’t be ripped out and hung in a gallery. I also loved the early scenes—in retrospect, not so much as they were happening—where we see the characters at strange, cropped angles, acting in a monotone that’s cloying until the story helps us understand why no one in the film is particularly expressive. The camera joins in the dysfunction by showing us unsettling subject matter in ways that tell the brain things aren’t quite right.
Directed by Derek CianfranceUnited States | 2010
Cianfrance’s view here is a decidedly contemporary one, sensitive to the transient pleasures and euphoric thrills of falling in love but also fixed in a very specific context where the idea of lifelong happiness in a relationship has become impoverished in the face of widespread divorce. Blue Valentine dissects this harsh reality by centering in on a young married couple who are at the brink of marital collapse, staring into the abyss of a single life, but still grasping onto traces of an idyllic past. Limited in its scope, it’s nonetheless a powerful, brutal, unsentimental film, but one not without a poignant realization of a kind of historical optimism, the ability to turn to memory as a way of coping with a dismal future.
Directed by Catherine BreillatFrance | 1988
The result is a film that plays out like a psycho-sexual chess match between two humans who don’t even know the rules of the game (or, in the case of Maurice, has discovered that the rules have changed). I’m inclined to believe Maurice when he says that he isn’t really drawn to young girls, which makes his attraction to Lili something beyond his conscious control. Lili’s confusion is much more understandable given her age, but she remains a compelling enigma throughout, forever complicating our understanding of her and her relationship with Maurice because the dynamics themselves are ever changing.
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 Ingmar BergmanSweden | 1966
The film borrows bits and pieces from the entire period that precedes it, taking the milieu of Glass Darkly and the suggestion of insanity, the epistolary laden motif of Winter Light and the female/female relationship of The Silence. But Persona also piles on a multitude of levels, including the element of modernistic, cinematic self-awareness, that metafictional recognition of the director pulling the strings. It also adds glimpses of an outside world that Bergman largely ignored in his preceding trilogy, namely images from the on-going Vietnam war.
Directed by Susanne BierDenmark | 2002
Where love and affection is involved everyone is basically something of a slave, young and old alike, and knowledge or experience can’t really diminish vulnerability. On that note the handling of sexual elements within the film was also wonderfully upfront with a sensuousness generated in the briefly glimpsed moments of passion. It’s a serious indictment of the industry, although not a surprising one, that portrayals of sex that actually mirror reality are so hard to come by.
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 François OzonFrance | 2000
Their relationship is both mordant and passionate, mirroring the relationship Leopold had with his prior female flame in which the two took unabated joy in having sex and unabated grief in their colloquy. Their worst traits quickly bubble to the surface, and by the third act they’re doing almost nothing but intentionally pushing each other’s buttons. They obviously (and restlessly) love each other, but their inability to communicate signals an inevitable breach. Surfacing too are themes of power and exploitation which put to rest any doubt that this is Fassbinder country.
Directed by David CronenbergCanada | 1975
No other director has so thoroughly dedicated himself to giving you the creeps… or gone about it quite the same way. Name another director who can film a hot nurse stripping out of her uniform in such a way as to freak me right the fuck out. No one—not Carpenter, not Miner, not Craven—has Cronenberg’s ability to smear the messy results of outraged biology across modern civilization’s smug, placidly domestic face… and do it all on the cheap.
Directed by Ingmar BergmanSweden | 1963
The language barrier shapes all discourse in the film. In this world there is an unavoidable silence between the protagonists and all those around them. Words have little power and they are a scarcity throughout. Gesture and props might allow them some function in communicating with the locals but no true connection can be forged, not even as Anna finds some manner of sexual solace with a waiter (Birger Malmsten) she meets nearby. The sex, though fevered and shrouded in erotic shadow, is nonetheless anonymous and ungratifying.
Directed by Christian MolinaSpain | 2008
It certainly doesn’t take long to get to the sex, and, indeed, very early on we’re introduced to a montage that takes us through Valére’s life from her first sexual encounter with her boyfriend up until her present life with liaisons like Hassan (Pedro Gutiérrez). It does this with a perpetually moving camera which sweeps through locations—kitchens, cars, bathrooms, bedrooms, etc.—and finds Valére making love in a variety of ways and positions in each. This was certainly a promising opening in its ability to strike that balance between sex that’s sexy, but tasteful, relevant to the character and story, and at the same time is finding a way to express that cinematically.
Directed by Noah BaumbachUnited States | 1995
The film’s lack of music in its main sections emphasizes this tonal amorphousness, and their dryness has the paradoxical effect of making the film seem both more authentic and yet more affected. One can’t help but feel that the dialogue frequently seems very written—almost calling attention to itself in its unnaturalness. Yet, as Josh Hamilton once said in an interview (paraphrased): “When I read the script I thought, ‘Yes! This is how my friends and I talk’, but it was only in retrospect I realized I merely wished we were that witty.” But the film has an emotional realness that overcomes the overly-self conscious script, which is still funny and likable in its own right.
Directed by Nagisa ÔshimaJapan, France | 1976
If you combine Japan’s history of erotic art with its contemporary view circa-1975, Japan’s sociopolitical context post-’35, the legend of Sada Abe and Nagisa Ôshima, a renegade director known for being antithetical and even hostilely controversial to Japanese nationalism and mainstream views, one will have the necessary background for approaching In the Realm of the Senses. Such a thorough sociocultural historical context is rarely needed to approach most films, but for one this controversial and provocative, one that breaks taboos both within its own time and, perhaps, even more so today, it’s helpful to analyze it with an eye that’s both wider and deeper. It’s helpful because looking at In the Realm of the Senses and only seeing explicit, pornographic sex is akin to looking at Apocalypse Now and only seeing explicit, gratuitous war.
Directed by Bong Joon-hoSouth Korea | 2009
Bong Joon-ho goes to great lengths, including the aforementioned scenes, to express the intimacy, the oneness, of mother and son. The profundity of which may be fathomed in the fact of sleeping together; it is even, and most strongly, to be found emanating from her face. Kim Hye-ja dominates this character, and by extension the entire film, with her face—and especially her eyes—more than anything else.