Directed by Nicholas RayFrance, United States | 1957
The action scenes are grisly, unromanticized and terse, brutal slashes of explosions and shrapnel that have no glorifying outcome, only death. Even the early raid on the Nazi headquarters, the only out-and-out action setpiece of the movie, is too blistering (yet still classically shot) to be all that rousing, and the shot of a soldier busting a portrait of Hitler seems more a show of childish impudence than a victorious gesture. Throughout the film, the action filmmaking quotes, directly and indirectly, the same training exercises seen at the beginning of the film, making war into a sick game. Ray frames numerous shots to maintain suspense while robbing the film of its potentially inspirational power, his framing always emphasizing the isolation of the commandos instead of overpowering dedication and conviction.
Directed by Peter WeirUnited States, United Arab Emirates | 2010
It’s in the desert that the seeds of character development finally bear fruit. We see the group struggle to find water. Mister Smith spots an oasis to the east, but is begged by Janusz to continue south as he thinks it a mirage. After an arduous montage, there’s a brief respite at the oasis, merely a water well and a few skinny trees. The survival motif truly reaches harrowing levels after this, with some of the party dying before they leave the desert. One of these death scenes, in particular, is beautifully composed while heartbreaking and all by itself redeems the slow build-up. At this point, Weir’s characters have earned our investment in their journey, but, sadly, the reward for our patience is their agony and demise.
Directed by Billy WilderUnited States | 1953
Holden may have disliked the role, but Wilder had enough sympathy for both of them. It’s a common point that Wilder always felt like a Hollywood outsider, and that likely engendered his sympathy for outsider protagonists and anti-heroes. This is all the more evident in light of one of the key changes made between play and film; in the former, Animal played the role of comic relief as well as spy, while in the film Wilder transfers the spy-role to another character. It’s probably no accident that he chose to allocate it to the most archetypal “All-American good-guy hero” in a cast full of them…
Directed by Jean-Pierre MelvilleFrance | 1949
Holding to the perimeters of the room, the camera finds vantage points in the rafters, low on the floor, and even within the fireplace. As Robain and Stéphane sit, the camera adopts their position and glares upwards at the towering shape of Vernon. The low-angle lighting accents the angles of his face and finds a magnificent counterpoint in the soft-lit features of Stéphane – a countenance that surely ranks alongside Maria Falconetti’s in the annals of cinema.
Directed by Martin ScorseseUnited States | 2010
Shutter Island is full of directorial touches that only a wily veteran like Scorsese could pull off so effortlessly: his modulation between low contrast, desaturated frames and high contrast, highly saturated frames, for instance, or those visceral tracking shots that haven’t lost their power since his early films. Even if his average-shot-length has plummeted, his editing still maintains a muscular rhythm that most modern directors could only dream of maintaining.
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 Akira KurosawaJapan | 1949
The operation takes place in a small shack, and the intensity of it is palpable. The storm without, the leaking roof within, the pestering flies and the unbearable humidity add up to an uncomfortable situation. These irritants break the doctor’s focus leading him to cut himself and contract the disease. We have a brilliant interplay of light and shadow cutting across the lilly white uniforms of the nurses along with the various aforementioned aural stimuli. This scene is pure Kurosawa, practically a telescoping of his methods.
Directed by Akira KurosawaJapan | 1948
Born of the considerations of postwar Japan, Drunken Angel marks the first major breakthrough and the opening of an era for Akira Kurosawa. Many consider it to be his “first film,” in the sense that the distinct elements that color the oeuvre we know so well came together for the first time. It incisively and cohesively epitomizes an era of the human condition and it’s amazing the film turned out the way it did. It was filmed in 1948 during the occupation and, though there is no depiction of soldiers, the physical and social ruin of war is visible—in fact it forms the very fabric of the film.
Directed by Akira KurosawaJapan | 1946
Setsuko successfully embodies a character who evolves: from a mercurial object of worship in her youth to a fragile married woman and finally to a noble ascetic. Not only does Yukie age credibly over the course of thirteen years, but Setsuko’s physiognomy changes in accompaniment: her outer ferocity gives way to an uncertain sensitivity, but by film’s end there is a strength and moral resolve that glows in her aspect.
Directed by Joseph LoseyFrance, Italy | 1976
The sharp contrasts of the many-hued rooms, alternately bright and muted—as well as the contrast between Klein’s spacious, caprice-filled flat and the copper-green, rat-infested, facade-peeling decay of his double’s cramped apartment—signal an insular world that lacks a wider identity or purpose. France is an occupied country, but you wouldn’t know it from the private industry and nonchalance of Mr. Klein…
Directed by Sidney LumetUnited Kingdom | 1965
The prisoners of this film are on the same side as the prison administration; they are British soldiers deemed unsuitable for combat and sent behind the lines to be corrected. The treatment they receive by their own countrymen, by the officer-guards who are themselves in need of corrective drilling and the corrupt administrators who have quotas to fill is hypocritical, cruel and holds a mirror up to the whole war machine and its absurdities. In World War II, fighting was a perfunctory vocation. In The Hill, it’s all a business, a bureaucratic hill in the middle of the desert.