“I also wanted to express the strength of cinema to hide reality, while being entertaining. Cinema can fill in the empty spaces of your life and your loneliness.” – – – – – Pedro Almodóvar
Time to explore the wondrous world of cinema. A bunch of us manic movie writers have taken great pleasure in aiding your journey of international film with this 100 selection of some of the finest works from all around the world from some of the greatest filmmakers. And many of these you haven’t even seen. We start with the first 10 of the 100 for this series. So pack your bags, check your passport, and grab your tickets. Come with us on what I hope is not a bumpy ride, but an inspirational one. So many cinematic destinations, it’s almost impossible to know where to start. As great a place as any would be to join the movie-making master of sunny Spain…
Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios / Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
Pedro Almodóvar – Spain, 1988
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown is hardly a case study for a serious bout of mental illness as the title might suggest. More accurately it depicts a strong, vibrant, funny, dramatic premise of a group of women embezzled in hysteria and bedlam. Wronged, jilted, inspired, reactive, somehow embroiled in terrorist activity, these women fill the screen with unadulterated cinematic swish. This is classic black comedy slash drama from the great Pedro Almodóvar. This is not only one of his biggest platforms to film cinematic success to universal audiences, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown is one of his very best – then, and still today.
His haywire plot is perfectly crammed into the film’s running time, the hectic mishaps many of the characters have to face enter and exit like an energetic play. Almodóvar of course is open about his love for other art forms like music and theater, both evident here as they are in many of his narratives. Women, strong women, are looking for answers and vengaence, inflicting their crazy impulses on th nearest target, even throwing records or phones out the window. One character even fails to hurl herself off the balcony. Featuring a frenetic, unforgettable cast of performers including Carmen Maura, Antonio Banderas, and María Barranco, Almodóvar writes and directs a true social gem – how many times can we say that about him? – – – – – Robin Write
Nise: O Coração da Loucura / Nise: The Heart of Madness
Roberto Berliner – Brazil, 2015
Beautiful film, beautifully shot, augmented brilliantly by beautiful performances — almost. The doctors. Why, oh why. Boy, talk about self-tackling. The script and directorial aspect do a fantastic job of not intentionally glorifying Nise but keeping her human in the eyes of the viewer. So far so great. Not a martyr and no pedestal with her footprints on it, something I always appreciate when watching true story dramas; objectivity through the inevitable entertainment individualism, AKA go heavy on the drama, light on the melo and let me decide how to feel. Even though it demands a certain degree of disbelief suspension on the audience’s part, this is still a significant, powerful movie, one I would gladly recommend to anyone regardless of their personal preferences in genre, language etc. No hesitation. – – – – – The Greek
Atanarjuat / The Fast Runner
Zacharias Kunuk – Canada (Inuit), 2001
Every ten years, the Toronto International Film Festival organizes a vote for Canadian film critics and filmmakers to determine the “best” Canadian film of all time. For the first time, the new champion is in neither official language (English or French), but acted, directed and written entirely in Inuktitut, the indigenous language of the Inuit. Based on legend, Kunuk’s labor of love sweeps us away on an adventure of Shakespearean complexity set in the vast and majestic Arctic. The plot, likely thousands of years old and kept alive through oral tradition similar to Homer’s tales, involves two brothers – Atanarjuat (Natar Ungalaaq) and Amaqjuaq (Pakak Innuksuk) – navigating their way through the social intricacies of their settlement, Igloolik. Jealousy, murder, power struggles and physical contests all culminate in a spectacular chase across the ice..running-for-your-life naked. What would be the logical doomed outcome in western storytelling, however, becomes a mythical tale of endurance and triumph.
Imbued with Inuit practices of shamanism, the narrative takes us places, mental and physical, where we have never been. It’s a solid reminder that there are thousands of untapped indigenous tales in the world, many in danger of extinction, which should be told. By saving those cultures’ oral histories, we enrich our own. Atanarjuat is a film like no other – original, authentic and icily exotic. – – – – – Steve Schweighofer
Les Rendez-vous de Paris / Rendezvous in Paris
Éric Rohmer – France, 1995
French screenwriter and director Éric Rohmer, whose familiar filmography spanned decades, was kind of in a league of his own as story-telling goes. Nobody really had the gravitas of allowing his chaacters to embrace the romantic world around them, and with it freely discuss their feelings, their urges, their theories of love. Dialogue that can’t be accused of being stylised or forced for affection or humor, more often lines spoken are on the same wavelength as our very thoughts or desires enveloped in attraction to others. With much of his scripts broken into chunks of plots, Rendez-vous in Paris marks, late in his career, a fresh take on the anthology film.
Rendez-vous in Paris tells three different stories, but of the same time, nature, location, and of course, the themes of romance and wearing your heart on your sleeve. “The Rendezvous at 7 P.M.” allows us follow a female student who finds out her boyfriend is cheating on her, then “The Benches of Paris” is a collection of meetings between a young woman and a teacher, seemingly both from different worlds but drawn to each other, and finally “Mother and Child 1907” focuses on an artist who takes it upon himself to declare his instant attraction to a girl he has never met. The behavior we witness is naturalistic and candid, characters speak as though we still haven’t quite figured out love and all of its repercussions. Which we indeed have not. – – – – – Robin Write
Babettes gæstebud / Babette’s Feast
Gabriel Axel – Denmark, 1987
Lovers of both food and cinema are served a delectable feast with this 1987 Danish masterpiece, which landed Denmark their first Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Based on the short story of the same name by Danish author Isak Dinesen, the pen name of Karen Blixen of Out of Africa fame, Babette’s Feast is a decidedly simple tale, but therein lies its irresistible charm. In a remote village on the coast of Jutland in 19th-century Denmark, deeply-religious sisters Filippa (Bodil Kjer) and Martine (Birgitte Federspiel) are tasked with overseeing the town’s ageing and dwindling congregation, after the death of their preacher father.
One stormy evening, a knock on their door marks the arrival of Babette Hersant (Stéphane Audran), a refugee from the revolutionary war in Paris. Offering to work for free, Babette becomes the sisters’ cook and housekeeper for the next 14 years. When a surprise lottery win awards Babette with 10,000 francs, she offers to prepare a lavish seven-course French banquet for Filippa, Martine, and the village’s crotchety occupants. The sisters, so devout in their avoidance of such forbidden pleasures, reluctantly accept. Assuming Babette will return to Paris once the dinner is done, the sisters view the feast as the final farewell to their devoted servant. While the feast may appear as a display of Babette’s appreciation to the sisters for taking her in, it ultimately serves as a beautiful act of self-sacrifice. Come for the intoxicating feast. Stay for the emotional impact. Bring the tissues. Bon Appétit. – – – – – Doug Jamieson
Lásky jedné plavovlásky / Loves of a Blonde
Milos Forman – Czechoslovakia, 1965
When you’re young, impressionable, maybe even growing up in changing times, the attachment to, and attention of, others could well be as important as love itself. Andula craves the affections of a romantic alliance, and in fact, she is not asking for much. Her mundane factory job passes the time and earns her a petty living. When the town sees fit to try and accompany the huge population of women by organising a kind of dance gathering with visiting military men, Andula and her like-minded girl friends find themselves further unlucky in any potential love. Andula draws the attention of a musician in the band, Milda, and although they spend the night together, her efforts will be wasted in the end.
The film is sprinkled with genuine comedy too, middle-aged men making fools of themselves, flirtatious self-defence training results in a sharp kick in the shins. One of the finest moments has Milda and both his parents in the same bed, so the visiting Andula can sleep over amicably, and the family bicker back and forth. It is perfectly funny until we see Andula overhearing her poor reception through the bedroom door. The late, great Miloš Forman directed his movies with such personality, and Loves of a Blonde is a prime example. By no means a tragic love story, this depicts just some of the stumbling blocks many encounter on the road to coming of age. Co-written with Jaroslav Papoušek, Forman’s execution both on the page and screen is bittersweet and honest, not at all hindered by the wonderful Hana Brejchová’s vulnerable poise in the lead. – – – – – Robin Write
Himizu / Themis
Sion Sono – Japan, 2011
This 2011 Japanese drama / thriller / romance / drama (a real blend of genres) is based on a manga of the same name by Minoru Furuya, and is directed by Sion Sono. If you are wondering what the title means, the word himizu is the Japanese name for a species of mole. Set in a dystopian future, where an earthquake and tsunami has wrecked Japan, two teenagers from abusive households befriend each other, Sumida runs an old boat shack and as a strained relationship with his father (who wishes the boy had died so he could have claimed the life insurance) and Keiko’s mother has made a homemade gallows (complete with fairy lights) so she can kill her daughter. Keiko is in love with Sumida, and their tragic relationship is reminiscent of any teen drama, but this is far from Fault in their Stars.
The film’s brutal use of violence especially towards its young actors (Shôta Sometani and Fumi Nikaidô) makes for some uncomfortable viewing but it is these young actors which make the film so compelling, especially considering how much repressed trauma and rage they have to contain within their performances. The original manga “Himizu” did not have any elements of the earthquake disaster of March 11th 2011, and a script was already written in early 2011, however director decided to add the earthquake disaster into the story, making it the first film released that directly dealt with the subject. The end result is a tense, melancholy drama which shows the beauty and tragedy of young love. – – – – – Bianca Garner
Darbareye Elly / About Elly
Asghar Farhadi – Iran, 2009
Three couples heading for a three-day break, bringing along the kids’ kindergarten teacher in an attempt to matchmake with their single friend, doesn’t scream high drama. But this is Iranian, depicting a culture very different from many of ours. And directed by the masterful Asghar Farhadi. This are middle-class Iranians, with values and morals. A trip to the Caspian Sea beach ought to be a vacation, a means of escaping much of the drama of their lives. But unfortunate lies, whether with good intentions or not, can have dire consequences. And About Elly turns the major issues resulting from such minor deception inside out. And it’s a relentless, gripping journey, the kind Farhadi is renowned for.
The transformation of the group dynamics, given these are family and close friends, is extraordinary to witness. Bit by bit they snap at each other, lay blame, ask searching questions. All the while their search for the somehow missing Elly leaves a puzzling, worrying aftermath. Farhadi gets the best out of his acting ensemble, that’s a given, directing their interactions with such brisk, over-lapping dialogue and reactions. The space of the shore-side house closes in. We, the audience, are drawn into the bedlam. And as the lies are revealed, the film draws to a powerful conclusion, whether it is the outcome you craved or not. – – – – – Robin Write
120 battements par minute / BPM (Beats per Minute)
Robin Campillo – France, 2017
Sometimes a movie doesn’t need much character development to make an impact. The ensemble cast of Robin Campillo’s AIDS activists in 120 Beats Per Minute all work together to be the same voice. Campillo tries to create a force that resonates more in message than in any of the conventional, dramatic sparks you might find in a Hollywood drama. This is one of the most political movies to come around in quite some time. There isn’t any attempt here by Campillo to tell a story as much as to give us a bird’s eye view of activism at its most passionate and, yes, sometimes militant.
If anything, the closest we have to a story is when one of the main characters starts dying of AIDS and Campillo switches the last half hour of the film on this character’s fight to survive. The brilliantly edited finale takes your breath away and pummels you with its raw, humane power. 120 Beats Per Minute isn’t bringing anything new to the game, its brilliant moments lie in the humanity that exists in people wanting to make a difference in the harshest of times. – – – – – Jordan Ruimy
Evrydiki BA 2O37 / Euridice BA 2037
Nikos Nikolaidis – Greece, West Germany 1975
Experimental art films may become less about narrative the deeper you are willing to go. By definition, they are not for everybody of course. Marking his very first foray into filmmaking, Greek director Nikos Nikolaidis claimed Eurydice BA 2O37, a black and white surrealist picture, to be his best film. Before watching the film for the very first time, my wife, also a Greek, told me the tale of the Greek myth involving Eurydice, Orpheus, and Apollo – from which Nikolaidis’ debut transcribes to celluloid. A modern take for sure, the movie has some alarming, eye-glueing moments – dry-humping toys, and reverse vomitting are just two of the sequences that force a frown. And these non-spoiler revelations are hardly negative viewpoints, there’s certainly provocation of some deep thought on the levels of creativity.
In truth, with its innovative, illuminating vision and style, Eurydice BA 2O37 is something of a splash of water to the face, even forty years on. The portrayal of a disturbed soul, a swirling mind, as Euridice (a lens-hugging Vera Tschechowa) battles her demons and emotions while marooned from a Greek regime. What is real or what is mythical can switch at the blink of an eye. Which is unlikely as you can rarely take your eyes off the screen. Cinematographer Giorgos Panousopoulos captures every inch of imagery beautifully, be it the height of isolation or the depths of intimacy. Maya Deren would have been proud for sure. – – – – – Robin Write