Dersu Uzala (1975), Akira Kurosawa

Winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, Akira Kurosawa’s 1975 Dersu Uzala – a sprawling epic played out in the Russian wilderness – works wonderfully as a metaphor for man’s paradoxical feelings towards the civilizing process and its trappings.

dersu-uzala-2Like the individual himself, society constantly struggles between the two ends of the civilizing spectrum. As it feels divided by such a battle within, it thus divides the people who it is made of. Romantics towards the misguided idea of the noble savage still exist, but none of them feel inclined to trade-off their modern comforts for a rough life. Because words and ideas are an abyss apart from actions and reality, we juggle moral platitudes and change nothing around us. Continue reading

The Thin Red Line (1998), Terrence Malick

A lyrical war movie to end all war movies, Terrence Malick’s 1998 The Thin Red Line, this epic and metaphysical film, asks the most essential of questions: Is war – such a primordial conflict resolution tool – as natural as the magnificent landscape shown on the picture?

the-thin-red-line-2Why does mankind need to reach the depths of despair in order to notice the precious nature of life and to contemplate what’s beyond the mundane? Perhaps, it is this paradox that makes war stories especially poignant, with such a rich array of feelings and emotions that seems to encompass humanity’s whole range of meanings. Thus the actuality of war poses a great conundrum to our species as it encapsulates primeval aspects of mankind’s psyche, and as such serves us with the tools to search for and reach the sublime. Continue reading

Battleship Potemkin (1925), Sergei Eisenstein

Communist propaganda disguised as art, Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 Battleship Potemkin – a truly iconic film in the entire history of cinema – must be seen and understood as a piece of film-making in itself, and not only as the product of a specific era, aimed to awe and persuade. 

battleship-potemkin-2Looking back to the past with the benefit of hindsight is a wonderful thing… Being far removed from the actions and the emotions of a certain period in time – especially if it is a controversial one – allows great insight into what once might have been taken for granted. With communism long gone, and the cold war consigned to the history books, the narrative within Battleship Potemkin [Bronenosets Potyomkin] can be finally understood allegorically – seen past through its propaganda veneer. Continue reading

Aguirre, Wrath of God (1972), Werner Herzog

A film-antidote to the idealized idea of the conquistador, Werner Herzog’s 1972 Aguirre, Wrath of God, as brutal and visceral as it is, the movie nonetheless presents us with an insightful vision of both positive and negative sides of paradise and European madness over it.

aguirre-the-wrath-of-god-2Intellectuals from the Northern Hemisphere have always been fascinated by how the other half bear their existences. Classic fictional works like Joseph Conrad’s 1899 Heart of Darkness, Werner Herzog’s 1972 Aguirre, Wrath of God [Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes] and Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 Apocalypse Now share key conceptual points that shed some light on how the rich see the rest of the world. The search for paradise lost – by itself a worrying and naïve quest! – usually follows mad men on boats facing up to mighty rivers… Continue reading

High Plains Drifter (1973), Clint Eastwood

With an amoral, enigmatic and thought-provoking character at the centre of its mythical tale, Clint Eastwood’s 1973 High Plains Drifter treads ambiguously towards good and evil as it intertwines past feelings of guilt with a thirsty for revenge and pathetic cowardice. 

high-plains-drifter-2Although the supernatural aspect of High Plains Drifter manages to add a further layer of meaning to the already ambiguous story, it is as a morality play that the film excels. As it deals with universal themes such as honor, honesty and courage in a microcosm of humanity, the movie wisely illustrates how little difference there is between this isolated, frontier town, at the threshold of civilization’s moral certitudes, and our modern, ever-changing, media-centred existence. What a magnificent and unconventional masterwork! Continue reading

Rashomon (1950), Akira Kurosawa

Philosophically profound as well as thematically challenging, Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 Rashomon touches not only on cinematic history and the confluence of Eastern and Western traditions, but also on the age-old and important matter of the nature of truth and its elusiveness.

rashomon-2Forget for a moment that this film revealed to the world one of the greatest masters of cinema, or that its title became a common term to describe contradictory interpretations of a single event. For now, just give a passing thought about truth, its nature and how elusive it really is. Kurosawa’s choice to tell lies reinforced by images that suggest the truth already elevates the movie to a different level of philosophical depth. Rashomon [Rashômon] is indeed a true masterpiece. Continue reading

The Deer Hunter (1978), Michael Cimino

Sandwiching the horrors of war between two dramatic opposites within a three-act story, Michael Cimino’s 1978 The Deer Hunter – a truly compelling tale of friendships gone awry – is the film which surely helped to propel the careers of its superstar actors to the stratosphere.

the-deer-hunter-2By the end of The Deer Hunter, when these close-knit friends sing ‘God Bless America’ around a bar table – longing for the safe haven of the past – they have been through a poignant arc in their lives. Though the three men who left for Vietnam somewhat return home, only one of them stays halfway sane; the other two are either dead or reduced to a traumatized child. During the movie’s three hours, these people mature so dramatically, almost becoming different men and women, as to infuse the picture’s last scene with so much ambiguity. Continue reading

Paths of Glory (1957), Stanley Kubrick

A cynical perspective on military motivations, Stanley Kubrick’s 1957 Paths of Glory, with its themes of moral corruption, undisguised hypocrisy and absurd vanity, astonishes and outrages in equal measure, for its outstanding storytelling and unbearable injustice.

paths-of-glory-2Usually understood as an anti-war film, Paths of Glory seems unduly reduced to a moralistic and doctrinaire tale. Colonel Dax, the audience’s alter ego, is indeed an honourable and dignified man, who nevertheless remains a military man to the very end. He even becomes outraged when his superior suggests that his quest for justice is in reality an artifice to get a promotion. However, as dignified as he may be, Dax never questions the bureaucratic structure or the raison d’être of his organization. The movie fights through some very dense philosophical issues. Continue reading

McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971), Robert Altman

A poignant tale wrapped inside a sublimely unconventional western, Robert Altman’s 1971 McCabe & Mrs. Miller casts the unlikely idealist hero against the powerful push of corporate America, under heavy snow and thunderstorm rain and flying bullets and hot fire.

mccabe-and-mrs-miller-2Leisurely paced and unafraid to let real life chaotic nuances interfere with the storytelling, Robert Altman’s masterpiece McCabe & Mrs. Miller will enthrall anyone ready and willing to run away from clichés and tired twists. The fact that the film is arguably its director’s masterwork says it all, since Altman made several great movies. Direction, photography, soundtrack and especially the performance of the two leads, makes this oddly superb film as perfect as it can get. Continue reading

Gone with the Wind (1939), Victor Fleming

Thematically controversial and visually arresting, Victor Fleming’s 1939 Gone with the Wind, isn’t exactly the most accurate of motion pictures, but the scope of its storytelling, and the psychological insights it displays about a flawed but compelling heroine, are admirable indeed.

gone-with-the-wind-2How does one defend a 75-year-old movie that sugarcoats aspects of a nasty legacy in American history? Obviously, one doesn’t – one can’t! In fact, the film does not need defending – unless one, not only has a chip on their shoulder, but lives and sleeps with one at all times. Well-educated people will know that slavery was actually brutal (12 Years a Slave, anyone?). Why does a work of art must agree to certain degrees of accuracy? What kinds of responsibility does a picture bear towards the truth? Is it really so insensitive to love the film for those dresses, those vistas and those characters dazzling in Technicolor? Continue reading