5. Blue Is The Warmest Color
It does not take much from a filmmaker to direct a film that exposes darkness and depravity in our world. It takes everything from a filmmaker to depict the more wholesome qualities of life. There are seldom few films- Forrest Gump and the next film on this list are the only two that quickly come to mind- that I can think of that provide such warmth and comfort that Blue Is The Warmest Color does. The film is a romance, a coming-of-age film, an expression of first love that actress Adèle Exarchopoulos portrays superbly, herself becoming both the youngest and first actress who would win the Palme d’Or, an honor shared with her co-star Lea Seydoux and director Abdellatif Kechiche. Blue is the Warmest Color isn’t without its flaws- particularly in regards to LGBT representation- and I will not attempt to provide some ignorant defense of the film in regards to its inadequacies. Acting, the cinéma vérité style of cinematography, and prideful portrayal of life in France are other aspects of the film that are worthy of admiration. At 180 minutes, Blue is the Warmest Color is a hefty film to take in but not one minute of the time overstays its welcome.
4. The Great Beauty
There are few films that equal the visual splendor of Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty. The film is a near two and a half hour exploration of Rome, of superficiality, of ignorance, of self-contradiction, and finally of liberation. Jep Gambardella is an aging socialite who is a one-hit wonder in the literary community. Jep has never been able to bring himself to write a second book after he became bathed in lights, wealth, and the bourgeoisie lifestyle. Jep examines his life in The Great Beauty as Sorrentino manages to delve into themes of purpose, meaning, and religion in a crafty manner- through visual display of both life’s excesses and humility. In addition, the undercurrent of life in Rome and the eccentricities of the city form a subtle subplot to Jep’s story.
3. I Am Curious (Yellow)
When you think about it, a coming-of-age story seems to be the perfect avenue for creating a meta-cinema story. The tension, angst, and disorientation experienced by youth as part of their personal development echoes that of the clashes of meta-cinema. I Am Curious (Yellow) is part-documentary, part-fiction and explores a turbulent time in international history, the 1960s. Its director, Vilgot Sjöman, set out to push the boundaries of what could be shown and expressed in cinema leading this film to be at the center of a US Supreme Court case relating to obscenity. Yet today, Sjöman’s film hardly seems obscene in comparison to shows like Game of Thrones or movies like Happiness. Today I Am Curious (Yellow) can be appreciated for what it is- an exploration of social class, morality, and sexuality through the eyes of a theater student who is also Sjöman’s lover. Apart from the director and his lover appearing as themselves in the film, I Am Curious (Yellow) breaks the fourth wall numerous times and even features an original interview with Martin Luther King, Jr.
2. Winter Light
Winter Light may very have been the film that piqued my interest in studying film. It is a rigorous exploration of a pastor’s existential crisis as he grapples with the question of God’s silence. Why does God allow horrific events to occur if he is all powerful? The question is one that Bergman explored in a number of his early films and is explored perhaps most thoroughly in Winter Light. At 81 minutes, Winter Light is one of Bergman’s shortest films and it is amazing what he can accomplish within such a short time window. Winter Light offers a lot to digest in that time from its brilliant use of light, its breaking of the fourth wall, and its immense performances and depiction of internal conflict.
1. Au Hasard Balthazar
Au Hasard Balthazar is a look at suffering and resilience from the eyes of a young girl’s beloved donkey. The film chronicles the life of the donkey as he passes from owner to owner, often abused by those in his company. Unfortunately, the same can be said for our young heroine. As my first exposure to Robert Bresson, Au Hasard Balthazar struck me because of just how different Bresson’s approach to acting is as shown in the film. He primarily casts unprofessional actors and instructs them to seldom emote- they are slates onto which we empathize, enabling a great connection to form between us and Bresson’s characters.