The Pianist (2002), Roman Polanski

Poignant and to the point, Roman Polanski’s 2002 The Pianist, a truly modern masterwork that manages to blend the experience of millions of Jews into the story of a gifted Polish musician, delves deep into the core of Homo Sapiens, placing an awkward mirror in front of us.

the-pianist-2The horrific crimes committed by the Nazis during World War II serve as reminders of the human potential for evil. A potential, as Hannah Arendt understood, inherent in us all. For the Holocaust – or for that matter, any witch-hunt throughout the course of history – would not be possible without the willingness of good and ordinary people. Historical awareness might somehow give us the illusion of a distance between those people and ourselves, but it can’t prevent any of us from acting the exact same way if circumstances arise. 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

M (1931), Fritz Lang

As disturbing as it is thrilling, Fritz Lang’s 1931 M – with its tale of a child murderer causing panic in Germany – sets some groundbreaking rules for serial killer movies to come and asks difficult questions about society’s responsibility towards mentally unstable individuals.

m-2Fritz Lang’s 1931 masterpiece M not only subverts every storytelling rule that there is, but most importantly, it documents a crucial era in German history. In its prescience, the film depicts a society at war with itself, few years before it engaged in real battle with its neighbouring, powerful nations. The police state seems already in full force, even before the Nazis took control of the country and made sure every citizen spied on each other. By antagonizing such a society with a truly despicable – albeit a pitiable one – individual, the film plays a magnificent and ambiguous game. Continue reading

The Shining (1980), Stanley Kubrick

As its director’s own remarkable oeuvre touches the worst excesses of mankind through youth callousness, apes and their killing instincts and cynical warfare games, Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 The Shining suggests the worst horrors actually inhabits man’s own deep and hidden recesses.

the-shining-2From the outset The Shining was surrounded by controversy as its director not only rejected the script written by the author of the source material, but also changed the tale’s central thesis. As the film diverges quite a lot from Stephen King’s novel, one feels for him for the butchering of his story. The celebrated writer – whose several tales have been adapted to the cinema – let everyone know he disliked the movie. However, the fact remains that Kubrick’s film is a classic masterwork of horror cinema – even, of cinema, full stop – whereas King’s novel, although a great book, is nonetheless flawed as literature. Continue reading

Psycho (1960), Alfred Hitchcock

A quintessential horror movie and arguably the most iconic of all of his films, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 Psycho kills its protagonist half way through the story, replaces her with a mama’s boy and transforms itself from a mystery tale into a poignant psychological study.

psycho-2There is no shadow of a doubt as to Alfred Hitchcock being one of the greatest directors of all time. His films have by now transcended the realm of cinema and become part of a wider cultural milieu – icons on themselves. As the movies reach an ever-expanding demographic and their whodunnit aspect subsides, it gets harder to be shocked by their themes and storylines, slightly diminishing the experience of watching the films, but paradoxically also adding new undiscovered pleasures to it. 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

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

The Secret in Their Eyes (2009), Juan José Campanella

A thriller bathed in melodramatic undertones, Juan José Campanella’s 2009 The Secret in Their Eyes – which somehow attempts to depict the emasculation of modern man – cleverly constructs a puzzle that deals with the personal intertwined with the political in Argentina’s past.

the-secret-in-their-eyes-2It is obvious that The Secret in Their Eyes [El Secreto de sus Ojos] wants its audience to feel split between two different worlds. Both main characters are linked to a dichotomy – Benjamín in his contrasting attitude towards his homeland and Irene (the missing ‘A’ in the old typewriter and the wordplay between temo (I fear) and te amo (I love you)); and she in her Anglo-Spanish name. Perhaps less obvious is the fact that this ambiguous relationship is ubiquitous in South America. As Argentinians, Brazilians, Chileans et al display a Latin passion for their culture, they also feel a great contempt towards their politics. Continue reading

Deliverance (1972), John Boorman

A tense action tale mingled with a horror story, John Boorman’s 1972 Deliverance showcases – through the clash of urban sensibilities and rural stubbornness – the complexities and contradictions of defending nature (itself a magnificent foe here) against human greed.

deliverance-2At the end of Deliverance, there is a question that remains unanswered: What is more terrifying, nature or human nature? Do we feel safer in highly populated urban centres or isolated deep inside the woods? Would we rather be surrounded by people and far from wild animals in the city or away from human beings and protected by trees in the wilderness? When confronted by the story of these guys, it does not matter if we are urban types or rural sympathisers. For in the film we witness the worst of both worlds. Continue reading