Review 2006: Graduation Day!

F asks:
I've kindly been given a subscription to LoveFilm and while I have a few things I'd like to see I want to make the most of the opportunity and see films I wouldn't otherwise. I have a largely uneducated interest in foreign film, particularly French and Italian - any recommendations? No horror please, just interesting and beautiful films you think are worth watching.

First of all, welcome to LoveFilm (the European Netflix), which is finally creeping out of its Fight Club-like obscurity and becoming the rental company of choice for the film fan. Well alright the service can be maddening sometimes, you'll only rarely get the film you really want but the whole of the global film history is available to you (apart from anything which isn't available on dvd) and it's going to be a wild ride. Again, I say, welcome.

Secondly, I love this question. I love this question because I've almost already answered it. Earlier in the year, a friend's girlfriend asked pretty much the same thing and I spent that night drawing up a list. I decided that rather than simply dropping in those films which everyone expects you to have seen, I'd include the interesting and beautiful films that I thought were worth watching. And that's what you've asked for here. As it turned out ...

It's a bit long.

I originally posted it on here mid year and looking through there's not one I would change, although I have added a couple I've met since. It is an ecclectic mix, although the high proportion are French because for many years most of anything released here has heralded from that great nation. I have to admit to there being a void in my knowledge were the Italian cinema industry should be but we have ways and means which'll be described afterwards. Anyway, here is the list and just for you as well as flagging up the films I've really loved with a *, those with a (h) are the horror films so that you can avoid them...

8 Women
20:30:40 *
400 Blows
L'Apartment *
A Very Long Engagement
Aimee and Jaguar
Amelie *
Amores Perros
Bande A Part *
Battle Royale
Belle Epoque
Belleville Rendez-Vous
Betty Blue *
Blue Gate Crossing *
Bob De Flambier
Closely Observed Trains
Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon
Etre Et Avoir
Fairwell My Concubine
Un Flic
French Twist
Goldfish Memory
Goodbye Lenin!
He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not
House of Flying Daggers
In The Mood For Love
In This World
Intimate Strangers
Jean De Florette/Manon Des Sources
Jesus of Montreal *
Jules Et Jim
Kitchen Stories
La Règle du jeu
La Reine Margot
Last Life In The Universe
Like Water For Chocolate
Look at Me *
Love Me If You Dare
Ma Vie En Rose
No Man's Land
Partie De Campagne
Place Vendome (pictured)
Pot Luck * (l'auberge espagnole)
Le Gout des Autres
Red Lights
Rome, Open City
Run Lola Run
Shaolin Soccer
Show Me Love *
Summer Things
Survive Style 5+
Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter And Spring
Take Care of My Cat
Taxi *
Taxi 2 *
The Dreamers *
The Hairdresser's Husband *
The Horseman on the Roof
The Last Metro
The Man Without A Past
The Motorcycle Diaries *
The Seventh Seal
The Umbrellas of Cherborg
The Russian Dolls *
Three Colours Blue *
Three Colours White
Three Colours Red *
Three Seasons (1999) *
Throne of Blood
Trilogy - One / Two / Three *
Un Coeur En Hiver
Un Flic
Une Liaison Pornographique
Wild Strawberries
Wings of Desire
Y Tu Mamma Tambien
Zatoichi *

So actually, no horror, which could mean that my mate's girlmate had the same request. Although to be honest once you've seen Ringu, Ju-On, The Name of the Beast, The Eye and Audition everything else seems a bit derivative.

There are a couple of crossover films - which might be considered English Language in a certain list, and it's far from complete. I'm sure there are omissions which will have other film fans bristling. What only one Almodovar they'll be saying. Where's all the Truffaut gone? Which is why I'm also going to throw in some hints and tips. Sorry if any of this is too obvious or unhelpful:

Don't expect many happy endings. I think it was Godard who said that if the film has a happy ending people will remember the middle. Give them a surprise and they'll walk away talking about the ending. Expect curve balls and surprises. But sometimes that can be the good thing because just when you expect the suicidal homeless prostitute to kill herself finally and violently, the rich bloke she met in a café earlier in the film will sweep her off her feet.

European filmmakers tend to adhere to something called the auteur approach which means that many of their films will have similar concerns and have a similar style. American examples would be Woody Allen or Steven Soderbergh. If you like one of their films you'll more than likely enjoy everything else although be wary of artistic development - I love Jean-Luc Godard's early New Wave films but as time's gone on he's become increasingly more obscure and abstract stretch what might be considered a narrative to its limits to the point that I find is most recent stuff unwatchable. Oddly enough, play the casting game too. Actors like Emanuelle Beart or Irene Jacob or Jean Reno have been very astute over the years in working with some of the really great directors and if its good enough for the ... Be wary of Gerard Depardieau though - he's the Michael Caine of France and has made some real stinkers over the years.

What I've tended to do lately is really scrutinize the synopsis that appears on the site and if the story doesn't seem attractive you're probably best steering clear. The main problem with getting this stuff through LoveFilm is that you'll have been to work had a shitty day and if you're not careful they will have sent you a masterpiece from Bergman's particularly depressive period. Uplifting stuff in a 'I'm glad my life's not like that' kind of way but not the sort of thing to be looking at when all you want is a bit of escapism.

I'd imagine I'd get shouted at by some of my peers for that last sentence but I'm working from bitter experience. If you see something you think you'd like to see but don't think you'd like to see any time, keep it noted down somewhere and surprisingly maybe your local library has a copy. If you're at uni, you might even have access to a language centre connected to that school and often they'll allow anyone to borrow the material or watch it there if they have the facilities.

French Heritage films are great. You really haven't seen a costume drama until you've seen them do it - whereas the British do the small intimate chamber stories, the French are generally all about the big sweeping melodramatic gestures, autocracy getting the chop and what not and the budgets are generally massive. I suspect the reason that Sofia Coppolla's Marie Antoinette was booed at Cannes is because she was riffing on one of their beloved genres more than the apparent misunderstandings about French history. Pick up some books on French Cinema and there will be a massive section about Heritage films but the funny thing is that although as with everywhere else they share cast members and directors and even writers with other styles of filmmaking, they're a law unto themselves. As usual, the wikipedia is a good place to look for more information and recommendations. I've included a couple in the list above.

Now, to address the Italian film void and everything else ...

Look at BBC Four's website. They're pretty selective and haven't broadcast many bad films not even for contractual reasons. Many of the things I had to watch for my film studies course were recordings from their broadcasts. They also generally have an introductory essay which will give you a flavour of the film and also a list of suggestions for further viewing.

Also the list of Oscar nominations. Amazingly, there aren't that many bad choices amongst the winners, and looking back into the past some really seminal films have been chosen. But basically if it looks boring and a haul, it probably is.

The Wikipedia. The entries for French Cinema and Italian Cinema are a mine of information and individual film entries have links to database websites like the Internet Movie Database and Rotten Tomatoes so that you can see what the film is really like. Time's precious and thirty seconds glancing through this can save you two and a half hours screen time spent with some insufferable people café hopping in Marseille who you'll just want to smack. To save time just these are the links to just the film lists for France and Italy. The metaentry for World Cinema is here.

I hope that is of some use. Anyone else got any ideas?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm glad I could give you an easy question and thanks tremendously for the advice, it's incredibly useful.