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

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

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

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

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

The Godfather (1972) / The Godfather – Part II (1974), Francis Ford Coppola

Two superb masterpieces, comparable to the first sequence of films made by Orson Welles, Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 The Godfather & 1974 The Godfather – Part II are real landmarks in the history of American cinema and turning points in the country’s image of itself.

the-godfather-2In 1945, on his daughter’s wedding day, Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando), who is the boss of a New York criminal clan, hears requests from selected guests. Some want justice; some want a role in an upcoming movie; some just want to pay their respect. As the Don’s third son, Michael (Al Pacino) returns from serving his country in World War II and brings his girlfriend Kay Adams (Diane Keaton) to meet the family, we get acquainted with all the family members. These are: first and second sons, hot-headed Sonny (James Caan) and weak-minded Fredo (John Cazale), daughter Connie (Talia Shire) and adopted son, trusted lawyer and consigliere Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall). ooooo ooo godfather-diane-keatongodfather-talia-shiregodfather-john-cazalegodfather-vito-childgodfather-marlon-brandogodfather-robert-de-nirogodfather-al-pacinogodfather-james-caangodfather-robert-duvallWhen a crime lord invites Don Corleone to join him in the emergent drug market and he refuses, an attempted murder fails to kill him. Michael, thus far an openly outsider and the only college-educated of the children, suggests the assassination of the two men responsible for their troubles. After killing the drug baron and the crooked, ‘on his pay roll’ police officer, Michael flees to Sicily, in Italy. When Sonny is killed in retaliation for the previous murders, the Godfather arranges a meeting with the other crime families of New York to establish a cease-fire. As Michael is allowed to return to the USA, he becomes the new Don. Soon after Vito Corleone dies, on the day of his sister Connie’s baby’s baptism, Michael Corleone orders the death of every single of his enemies, the bosses of the other criminal families. Continue reading

Serpico (1973), Sidney Lumet

A classic whistle-blowing and myth-bursting tale, Sidney Lumet’s 1973 Serpico, the agonizing story of an honest cop battling corruption within the New York City Police Department, showcases how greed trumps dignity every time at every level of human endeavours.

serpico-2This 40-year-old tale of one guy against the system is surely nothing new to modern audiences, right? Who really does not know that the police force is a corrupt and self-serving organization? Since the release of the movie, audiences have become cynical and don’t normally buy this idea that cops patrol our cities ‘to protect and to serve’. It would however be a mistake to see the film’s value in such simplistic terms. For the story of Serpico is less about revealing corruption in the police force and more about the struggle one man faces when he chooses dignity and the consequences it has on his self. 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

Stalker (1979), Andrei Tarkovsky

A subtle science fiction masterpiece, Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 Stalker, this visually stunning and enigmatic film about human curiosity, spiritual fulfilment, hope and desire, goes on an existential quest, which will delight some and infuriate others in equal measure.

stalker-2The divide between plot-led and character-driven stories creates misunderstanding and hostility among film-lovers. What for one group is a nuanced and detailed tale, for another is nothing else than a boring and overlong story. What some people admire in certain Hollywood blockbusters is seen by others as mindless and bloated entertainment. A further chasm is created by a third group of films – allusive, metaphorical and imagery-preoccupied ones – made by true auteurs like Malick or Kieslowski, and especially, Russian master Andrei Tarkovsky. Continue reading