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

Tabu (2012), Miguel Gomes

Evasive, suggestive and yet visually stunning, Miguel Gomes’ 2012 Tabu, this haunting dream of a movie dealing with memory and loss, inserts itself deep into the human soul, forcing us to ask: When is a person really seen for who they are and not for who they are perceived to be?

tabuThe weird beauty of young Aurora’s pet crocodile on the movie’s poster sets a hypnotic and yet appropriate mood for Tabu, Miguel Gomes’ beautiful film. For the story points to our pasts – perhaps, even beyond ourselves – and reaches the essence of what it means to remember. Where is the core of Aurora to be found? In the slightly paranoid old woman or the young and adventurous beauty? Time – inexorable and ruthless – transforms certainties. Traits that once seemed charming in youth acquire a sinister nature later in life. What in the past seemed cowardice, now might seem reasonable prudence. Continue reading

There Will Be Blood (2007), Paul Thomas Anderson

A cinematic masterwork of epic and far-reaching scope, Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2007 There Will Be Blood is a film that feeds off legends, allegories and origin stories, to then go on and create its own mythology about the American Century and the end of the dream.

there-will-be-blood-2The analogy between the plot of There Will Be Blood and the socio-economic history of the United States isn’t a difficult one to establish. The development of the country – and the subsequent social, cultural and technological progress set in motion by this – is the result of some morally dubious choices and dishonest manoeuvres. Rather more complicated, however, is to reconcile the negative aspects of such a society with the notion that this is the land of freedoms and opportunities. Continue reading

Volver (2006), Pedro Almodóvar

A magical realist fable in the guise of a crime story, Pedro Almodóvar’s 2006 Volver packs three generations of resilient Spanish women – who happen to be vulnerable and delicate as well – in a poignant and mysterious tale of forgiveness, reconciliation and redemption.

volver-2The melodramatic tone of Volver (which means to return) and the labyrinthine nature of the plot do not subtract from the impact the film leaves on the audience. This world populated almost exclusively by women, who while harming other women, also take comfort in the affection of other strong women, is rich in symbolism, metaphors and subtle meanings. Because the story is played out as a mystery tale, the full significance of things, hinted at the start, will be revealed only at its operatic end. Continue reading

City of God (2002), Fernando Meirelles

A visually and morally audacious picture, Fernando Meirelles’ 2002 City of God, this violent, frantic, sprawling and elliptical tale of crime and poverty in a suburban slum of Rio de Janeiro, poses tough, controversial questions about income inequality and social justice.

city-of-god-2How does one fight injustice in a just way? Try and escape a prison erected before you’ve even been born. What would you do to make ends meet? What moral limits you’re prepared to accept in order to feed, house and raise your family? Any at all? City of God [Cidade de Deus] depicts the lives of people who have been dealing with such tough questions all their existences. It is easy to moralise from afar. It is arrogant to criticise choices we don’t have to make. It is safe to point the finger when there are no crime lords around to slice it off. 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

Sideways (2004), Alexander Payne

A road movie through the vineyards of California, Alexander Payne’s 2004 Sideways, focus on two disappointed middle-aged men, who find solace for their frustration and anxiety in alcohol and sex, before they exorcise their demons and finally find their inner peace.

sideways-2Who needs sympathetic characters when we have Miles, a flawed, insecure and egotistical man? Who needs heroic behaviour when we have the privilege of observing Miles stealing money from his own mother? If you, instead, insist on having a traditional leading man with noble intentions look no further than Jack, an actor who has peaked more than a decade ago. If you’re looking for idealism, Sideways will disappoint; for it can only offer the most caustic and painful, down to earth, real life. Continue reading

In the Mood for Love (2000), Wong Kar-Wai

A visually imposing and thematically superlative film, Wong Kar-Wai’s 2000 In the Mood for Love, a deceptively simple story of random love, subjects viewers to a tough moral dilemma in dealing with the all too important question of how to keep one’s integrity after being hurt.

in-the-mood-for-love-2If there ever was a movie, beautiful enough to be displayed as a coffee table book, that had to be In the Mood for Love [Fa yeung nin wa]. Every single frame of Wong Kar-Wai’s film is a work of art; a poem made up of yellow, orange and red; a widescreen canvas, painted with flowering dresses and cigarette smoke. What’s most incredible about the movie is that its cinematography is not even the most significant aspect of its magnificent whole. Thematically, this masterpiece (definitively a 21st century Top 10 film) reaches unimaginable levels. Continue reading

Hidden (2005), Michael Haneke

A multi-layered parable dressed as a thriller, Michael Haneke’s 2005 Hidden, delves into the historical subconscious of the European colonizer, swims at the bottom of media manipulation, and when it comes up for air, with blood in its teeth, it does not offer any answers.

hidden-2By the end of Hidden [Caché], after Georges has been terrorized by events which climax with the suicide of an old acquaintance, he lies in his bed and envelopes himself in a blanket, almost as if trying to recapture some womb-like comfort. He lies in there but probably does not have a clue who’s made that bed. We, instead, can fathom that this feeling of angst and dread haunting him is, in fact, self-inflicted. Continue reading

Apocalypto (2006), Mel Gibson

A morality play disguised as an action movie, Mel Gibson’s 2006 Apocalypto, which courts controversy by raising issues on race, religion and politics, is mesmerizing as a visual spectacle and deeply satisfying in its depiction of familial love and sociopolitical opportunism.

apocalypto-2The Spanish Conquistadors have anchored their ships and are now approaching the beach, bringing with them the greatest gift God has given to mankind: Christ on the cross. Jaguar Paw and his pursuers stop on their feet, exhausted, and, mystified, stare at the horizon, unable to comprehend what those men and their floating vessels mean. These bloodthirsty savages, with their horrific sacrifices, have plenty to learn from Christian piety and the idea of original sin – a superior civilization is ready to enlighten them. Is it really?! What an utter nonsense! Continue reading