Chinatown (1974), Roman Polanski

Both an homage to and a re-working of classic film noir cinema, Roman Polanski’s 1974 Chinatown, a technically superb and multi-layered film about the corruption of politics and morals, stuns its protagonist to the core of his self when he opens a Pandora’s box of shamelessness.

chinatown-2Compare the smiling and radiant face of J. J. Gittes – like the 1930s sunny Los Angeles itself – at the beginning of the film, when he is talking to the allegedly Mrs Mulwray, with the horror at the end, after he has witnessed the reach of human depravity. Never has a private eye been taken for such a ride or taken so many things for granted. The magnitude of the transformation in the protagonist’s face mirrors the disparity between the world before the 1970s and the prevalent cynicism of nowadays. Continue reading

Sunset Blvd. (1950), Billy Wilder

Simultaneously dark, caustic and humorous, and yet all too real, Billy Wilder’s 1950 Sunset Boulevard, one the greatest of its director’s many masterpieces and arguably the finest film noir of all time, remains fresh as a portrait of desperation, delusion and dependence.

sunset-boulevard-2Sunset Boulevard is not only one of the finest film noirs of all time but also, arguably, the greatest and darkest movie about Hollywood to ever appear on the silver screen – a master class by a filmmaker who has made an incredible number of great films. But despite the movie’s focus on the film industry, the story of Sunset Blvd. deals with universal themes and the human condition. In every corner of every city in the world there’s always an aspiring (and yet needy) artist ready to sell his soul to the first devil who offers enough choices to change his life. Continue reading

Double Indemnity (1944), Billy Wilder

A pivotal, quintessential and seminal work of film noir cinema, Billy Wilder’s 1944 Double Indemnity, with the preeminent femme fatale at the centre of its story, parades a collection of immoral behaviour and provides a realistic and yet bleak opinion on the human condition. 

double-indemnity-2Is the sexy and conniving Phyllis, with her beautiful legs and pretty anklet, simply the object of male desires and nothing else? Is she a cardboard-type  character, who flirts, seduces and schemes like the devil, but has no dimension beyond this stereotypical representation of the blonde woman? Is she empowered or disenfranchised by such a representation? Interesting questions raised by this masterpiece of a film. Continue reading

Fargo (1996), Joel & Ethan Coen

A tale of desperate greed and callous indifference, the Coen Brothers’ 1996 Fargo – a film-noir negative with impressive snowy landscapes – follows a naïve salesman, who sets in motion a trail of brutal violence, which is dealt with by a heavily pregnant County Sheriff.

fargo-2Is Fargo the worst-case scenario of a true story about the American Dream gone terribly wrong? Which is the more contentious term in the precedent sentence: true story or American Dream? Some might find that both expressions are highly inadequate to describe the film. For it is widely known that the mentioning of truth at the beginning of the movie is a joke and that the tale that follows is more of a nightmare than a dream. However, it is similarly possible to hold the view that, in fact, the film showcases the truth about a society and its system of incentives taken to its logical conclusion. Continue reading

The Ox-Bow Incident (1943), William A. Wellman

A western with no action or a play with cowboys, William A. Wellman’s 1943 The Ox-Bow Incident tells the sad tale of three men facing the possibility of execution by the mob, where reason and compassion are overlooked in the name of impulsive, angry and swift ‘justice’.

the-ox-bow-incident-2It is not a coincidence that Henry Fonda’s character Gil Carter in The Ox-Bow Incident represents the audience’s alter ego and challenges the mob rule mentality, as he would do the same fourteen years later in Sidney Lumet’s classic 12 Angry Men. Fonda as an actor is perfect as the cool and rational human being who is capable of seeing things as they should be seen. Note here, not necessarily seeing thing as they really are, for that would imply that society, and especially American society, is just, and yet human beings are sometimes misguided. Continue reading

No Country for Old Men (2007), Joel & Ethan Coen

An intense noirish western that deals with substantial moral questions, the Coen brothers’ 2007 No Country for Old Men, with its cynical view of modern America, subverts hero-worshiping in the form of a hideously atypical villain who is indestructible as a superhero.

no-country-for-old-men-2It seems odd to call No Country for Old Men a western. It certainly looks like one. The story takes place in Texas and several elements of the film – the orange-tinted landscape, the cowboy-type hero, the brutal violence – all point to, arguably, the most American of all genres. However, westerns usually are moral tales with archetypes dealing in honour and personal justice. The Coens’ film is rather more ambiguous.

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Mulholland Dr. (2001), David Lynch

Arguably the most conventional of his ‘perplexing’ films, David Lynch’s 2001 Mulholland Dr., a fairy tale with a twisting end, is nonetheless an atmospheric unsolvable jigsaw: dreamlike in its mood and narrative; bleak and austere in its view of human nature and show business.

mulholland-drive-2For over a decade viewers have been trying to unravel the mystery behind Mulholland Dr. A movie which asks viewers to consider differences and similarities between dream and reality is intrinsically playing an ironic game – for, among all art forms, film is the most oneiric one. It is, after all, through lies, artifice and make-believe, that cinema tries to tell the truth. And given that the representation of a dream on the screen is arguably no different from the representation of reality, Mulholland Dr. can play between these two poles and generate genuine disorientation.

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Taxi Driver (1976), Martin Scorsese

One of the seminal works of the American New Wave, Martin Scorsese’s 1976 Taxi Driver, a noirish masterpiece about loneliness and alienation with a powerful ambiguity at its core, raises morally important issues without ever leaning towards clear-cut or sanctimonious answers.

taxi-driver-2Is Travis Bickle a deranged man with psychopathic tendencies or an avenging angel with noble purposes? Are Bickle’s racism and misogyny utterly distinguishable from the other characters’ or purely a reflection of their time and place? Is he really an outsider or simply an extreme representation of that society’s darker side?

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