“When I was on The View, Barbara Walters was asking me about the blood and stuff, and I said, ‘Well, you know, that’s a staple of Japanese cinema.’ And then she came back, ‘But this is America.’ And I go, ‘I don’t make movies for America. I make movies for planet Earth.'” – – – – – Quentin Tarantino
Kimi no Na wa / Your Name
Makoto Shinkai – Japan, 2016
Mitsuha and Taki wake up one morning to find they are in the other one’s body. Sure, that premise has been done countless times before, but Makoto Shinkai, Japan’s current animation wizard, breathes so much life into Your Name that you’d believe it had never been done before. Shinkai and his incredible creative team make suspending disbelief as easy as pie. And why wouldn’t you believe it? Experiencing two people getting to know each other before they even meet in person is the stuff of modern romance. Forced to live the life of the other and, after the obviously initial bewilderment, make it their mission to fulfill their destiny and find each other.
Basing the screenplay on his own novel, Shinkai is firing on all cylinders with Your Name. The characters of Mitsuha and Taki are compelling on their own, but given their colliding world’s – rural vs urban Japan for example – the whole thing just becomes more magnetizing with every scene. So invested in their journey, Shinkai takes you to the brink of despair, and the open arms of joy. The animation is breath-takingly beautiful, everything from a sliced tomato or cell phone to that trademark comet-lit sky, details that only add to the overall wonder. A masterpiece. – – – – – Robin Write
Jean-Jacqus Beineix – France, 1981
An opera star is subject to blackmail as she fears the only existing recording of her voice will be released for the world to hear. Diva, a part of the “Cinema du Look” movement (in which aesthetic is of focus) is two hours of paradoxically vibrant noir atmosphere. Part thriller, part romance (mainly a romance between a boy and the titular diva’s music), Jean-Jacques Beineix’s oft forgot film is one in which not a single shot couldn’t be framed and mounted as cinematographic artistry. With soaring soprano performances, seedy gangsters, and thrilling chase scenes, it’s an odd, surprisingly cohesive, can’t-miss film. – – – – – Ian Nichols
Ang-ma-reul bo-at-da / I Saw The Devil
Jee-woon Kim – South Korea, 2010
Going into this film I was not prepared for the amount of violence and gore, but after the opening five minutes I was hooked on the suspense and tension of this cleverly crafted fim by the director of The Good, The Bad and The Weird. The film opens with beautiful Joo-yeon (San-ha Oh) who has a flat tire on the snow, she calls the tow truck to help her and calls her beloved fiancé Kim Soo-hyeon (Byung-hun Lee), who is a secret agent, to kill time. Out of the blue, a man offers to help her and Joo-yeon refuses. But the man breaks her car, abducts her and dismembered her body in horrific fashion. Her father, who is a retired chief of police, gives the data of the four prime suspects to Soo- hyeon. Soo-hyeon hunts the men down, until he discovers that that Kyung-chul (Min-sik Choi) is the killer.
The young cop venges make the killer suffer as Joo- yeon did. Soo-hyeon becomes a monster and begins a cat-and- mouse game, capturing and releasing Kyung-chul wounded many times. But the serial-killer is the personification of evil and makes Soo-hyeon regret for not killing him when he had the chance. Ang-ma-reul bo-at-da is a brutal South- Korean thriller with a story of revenge. The plot follows the creepy line of Western serial killer films like Se7en, but Kyung-chul makes John Doe look like an amateur. This film is not for those who are of a weak stomach, there’s one brutal scene involving fish hooks and bare feet that will make even die-hard horror fans wince, but it isn’t quite like anything else I have seen. Its visually stunning, with well shot and edited action scenes which make a nice relief after the blockbusters from Hollywood. – – – – – Bianca Garner
Vivre sa vie / My Life to Live
Jean-Luc Godard – France, 1962
Jean-Luc Godard’s Vivre sa vie, the film in twelve scenes, expands the longevity of the French New Wave he helped establish. We’re notified in the simplest of ways on-screen of each episode and what it entails – Nana wants to leave Paul; a Record Shop; A cinema, where Nana watches La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc; questioned by the police; a sidewalk; a hotel. And it flows with such a compelling natural flair, Godard could achieve this even through his experimental shots, scatty editing, panning left and right, generally breaking the rules. I say those all complimentary of course.
Nana, as portrayed by the beautiful Anna Karina, allows her money problems to take the leap from mother and wife to prostitution. But the film is hardly about family, fortune or fame, rather a splendid visual poetry anthology, one which is directly linked to a moment of tragedy. But you wouldn’t know it, Karina illuminates the screen, as she openly expresses her thoughts in and out of various cafés, or even dancing around a billiard table as though not a care in the world. At one moment, Karina looks right at us. Godard has the balls and talent to almost interrupt his own films. But his huge respect and love for movies is clear as always, with references to then recent releases Spartacus and Pickpocket. And how many of you caught the cinema where Truffaut’s Jules et Jim was playing? – – – – – Robin Write
Y Tu Mamá También / And Your Mother Too
Alfonso Cuarón – Mexico, 2001
Long before the Academy Award success of Gravity, Alfonso Cuarón directed the sensually vibrant and unconventional Y Tu Mamá También. Tenoch and Julio, played by Diego Luna and Gael García Bernal, coincidentally embark on a road trip with an older, attractive woman, Luisa (Maribel Verdú). As easily as the story could’ve progressed as a dense foreplay to social dynamics, it instead creates a compelling line of character study, both with Luisa’s search for inner peace and with Tenoch and Julio’s adolescent approach to sexuality, life, and truth. Set in the escapism of a rural Mexican landscape, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki finds a warm essence in Cuarón’s vision, giving us the gift of a transfixing, intimate voyage.
Cuarón’s film is a classic venture through human desire and growth, blending the men’s immaturity with Luisa’s niche here to eradicate that, at the expense of their shortcomings. It’s as funny as it is sexual, and it never downplays its strengths to conformity. The characters are enthralling, the visuals are romantically daring, and the story is as great as that feeling of dancing to sweet, sweet Spanish music. Y Tu Mamá También revitalizes sexual virtues and complications that challenge the characters to face their own identities and blind spots, securing it as a staple in foreign cinema. – – – – – Jessica Peña
Tu Dors Nicole / You’re Sleeping Nicole
Stéphane Lafleur – Canada, 2014
Stéphane Lafleur’s remarkable little gem Tu Dors Nicole slipped through the net of the mainstream audiences, which means you have likely not seen it either. The film suggests to you that it might be a coming of age tale, with the girl at the center of it a little miss know-it-all. Not the case actually. Nicole has the whole house to herself for the summer, and although she gets to hang out with her best friend Véronique, her lifestyle soon resembles that of an average, domestic adult. She even has an uninteresting job.
These blatant observations, and the slow tide of self-discovery, make Nicole a fascinating character. Actress Julianne Côté is inch-perfect, somehow contributing to the breezy tone of the film, while offering a genuine branch of emotion. Lafleur’s execution makes for a perceptively funny, down-to-Earth modern fable. Truly gorgeous to look at too, cinematographer Sara Mishara shot the film in crisp black-and-white, and uses the space to casually draw attention to the more everyday objects. An effective technique for sure, adding some quirky gravity to Nicole’s journey. – – – – – Robin Write
Pixote: a Lei du Mais Fraco / Pixote
Hector Babenco – Brazil, 1980
Life as a street kid is a dismal situation all on its own, but when you add predators such as corrupt police, brutal prison guards and organized crime, mere survival is a challenge. Babenco uses a loose documentary style – a kind of Brazilian neo-realism – in his adaptation of A Infância dos Mortos by José Louzeiro (Children of the Dead Ones) to tell the story of the very young Pixote and his life as a mugger and drug mule. It begins in prison and ends on the street, obviously a snapshot of a never-ending cycle of abuse.
The film is not without its tender – even humorous – moments as Pixote establishes relationships with others of his kind, but the shocking aspect is how quickly the kids learn to think opportunistically and stop at nothing, even murder, to keep their lives on track and body and soul together. The 11-year-old child actor who plays the lead, Fernando Ramos da Silva, came from a poor neighborhood similar to the one portrayed in the film but managed to join a theater group where he got a break by being selected for the film. As life would have it, however, he died in a police shoot-out eight years later. The film put Babenco on the map as far as North American cinema was concerned. He went on to direct At Play in the Fields of the Lord, Ironweed, and Kiss of the Spider Woman, for which he received an Oscar nomination for Best Director. – – – – – Steve Schweighofer
El Clan / The Clan
Pablo Trapero – Argentina, 2015
Thoroughly engaging, the lens keeps its focus on the family at all times, not once relying on the victims’ hardships to bid emotional appeal. No, in El Clan, the villain is evil because he just is, motives and reasons don’t matter; if anything, they would only have served as a distraction from the simplicity and pure horror of the premise. An ordinary man, like you and me. Your father, your teacher, your neighbour. Who just so happens to be wired that much differently. Without any background to even allude to a behavioural buffer or an excuse of any sort, Arquimedes Puccio takes centre stage simply as a bad man, doing bad things, willing to stop at nothing to get what he wants. And that is exactly why this true story becomes so effectively terrifying. As a sidenote, the ending left me slack-jawed, much like Miss Violence’s opening scene. If you know what I mean. – – – – – The Greek
Italiensk for begyndere / Italian for Beginners
Lone Scherfig – Denmark / Sweden, 2000
While the Danish cinema movement Dogme 95 tends to favor the more bleak, serious, harsher tones on film, Italian for Beginners is a rare thing in that field – a comedy. Utilizing the handheld camera and natural lighting, this straight-laced romantic comedy does harbor some dramatic elements. For starters, there are a number of deaths, although form triggers of the plot rather than a basic for it. There’s also issues of estranged family members, alcoholism, disability, abuse.
However, take my word for it, Italian for Beginners has much to smile about. Written and directed by Lone Scherfig, the film brings together a mixed bunch of adults by circumstance and, indeed, chance. There’s a whiff of love in the air as they interact, firstly via the beginner Italian class of the title, but then embark on a trip to Venice. Here, bonds are strengthened and disagreements are patched up. It’s a fine film, unlike many other of the romantic or comedy genre, crafting some genuine chemistry between the players as well as sporting a personality of its own. – – – – – Robin Write
Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni / In This Corner of the World
Sunao Katabuchi – Japan, 2016
In This Corner of the World kind of blew me away when I saw it, and comfortably made my own top 10 films for 2017. It’s a Japan-set wartime animation feature that manages to charm, enthrall, and move. Following young Suzu, the film combines her love for drawing and the turbulence of war in some quite stunning scenes. Its tone also blends the horrors and wonders of war through the eyes of the young, while portraying an everyday world with all its pleasantries and routines. And in the character of Suzu we have a spirit-lifter amidst all the bedlam.
A beautiful film throughout, visually thrilling, colorful and expansive. Making something positive from the food rationing, the evacuation procedures, also demonstrating Suzu’s love to just watch the world drift by. Further hardship befall the family, and by the time the war is over, so much is lost, both materially and spiritually. The film, though, ends on a strong note of re-building and a sense of a peaceful time. The final credits encapsulate this, a young girl growing up before our eyes, learning to create garments the way Suzu did. A wonderfully hopeful close. – – – – – Robin Write