This month, a number of our critics share their 10 favorite titles from the Criterion Collection in celebration of the Barnes & Noble Criterion Collection July sale.
10. Fellini Satyricon
Fellini perhaps is the only director thus far to have an imagination large enough to depict the absurdity, violence, and comedy of ancient texts to their most literal extent. Fellini Satyricon is a film that I imagine would make even Werner Herzog blush given its lavish production design and passion for the grotesque.
Shortly after clicking play on Persona, one of the first thoughts I had was “this is like Under the Skin, but in the sixties”. I was struck by how modern and how different Persona felt than watching any other film from the time and moreover, any other Ingmar Bergman film. Persona demands engagement from its audience and tempts us to ponder about the meaning behind the film. I believe, as I do for Under the Skin, that Persona could have been released in any decade and audiences would still be struck by how unique and spellbinding the film is. Persona is a film that evades replication or mimicry in any form, and for that reason is timeless; it perhaps demonstrates most just how brilliant Ingmar Bergman really was.
8. My Dinner With Andre
Rarely does a film that openly aspires to be thought-provoking actually succeeds in being so. My Dinner With Andre is the rare exception, the film’s brilliance in dialogue eclipsing the work of dozens upon dozens of indie directors who seek something original in the meanderings of their characters. Almost the entirety of My Dinner With Andre occurs in a diner where two characters, Andre and Wally, fictionalized versions of Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn themselves, talk about their work in theater, life itself, and everything in between, culminating in a clash of worldviews that, like any discussion held between close friends, cannot possibly be resolved in one dinner alone. Yet one dinner is all the time we share with Andre and Wally, and what we make of it is ultimately a reflection of our own personhood.
7. The Night Porter
It often isn’t wise to take the advice of a provacateur, but Lars Von Trier’s praise for The Night Porter can hardly be said to be unfounded. The film tells the story of a romance between a Jewish woman and a Nazi officer (Lucia and Max, respectively) that bloomed during the former’s imprisonment in a concentration camp. The Night Porter is set years after World War II, in 1957, when a group of SS officials attempt to erase their involvement as part of Nazi Germany and Lucia meets Max by chance, Max now a night porter at a hotel. Max is forced to continue his role as both tormentor and protector of Lucia, and flashbacks from during the war cast light on the catalyst of their relationship. I think back often to The Night Porter, the film becoming a litmus test for how I perceive troubled romance storylines or films that relate to Nazi Germany ranging from titles as disparate as Phantom Thread and Phoenix.
6. Wild Strawberries
Wild Strawberries is perhaps Bergman’s closest capture of a genre film, the film a road movie and slice-of-life of an elderly professor, and as a result contains a deceptively simple plot: Professor Isak Borg travels to be awarded the degree of Doctor Jubilaris, he meets a few people on his travels, he is awarded the honorary degree. Done. Yet the film holds its power through a number of dream sequences that have been studied by many a film historian. There’s something new to see in each rewatch as we become more and more acquainted with Borg and see how he comes to assess his life choices- consciously and subconsciously- through his journey. Wild Strawberries can also be cherished since it is at a crossroads in Bergman’s filmography. It is a film that captures the idyllic image of Sweden and youth one last time before Bergman commits fully to intense religious questioning.
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