April in New York City has been a philosopher’s month. Anthology Archives just wrapped up a series highlighting the works of French theorist Roland Barthes and author Albert Camus. Film Forum is currently screening Vita Activa: The Spirit of Hannah Arendt, closing on April 29, a documentary about the German-Jewish philosopher and her controversial public and private life. In the spirit of these events and the ideologies of their subjects, here are 50 films that present philosophical questions and arguments — films for seekers who have already digested the Baudrillard-isms of The Matrix and appreciate pop philosophy, but also want something more.
“If it is to last, art has to draw deep on its own essence; only in this way will it fulfill that unique potential for affecting people which is surely its determining virtue and which has nothing to do with propaganda, journalism, philosophy or any other branch of knowledge or social organization.” — Andrei Tarkovsky
From Senses of Cinema:
Instead of placing us in a visually imposing fantasy space, Tarkovsky stages his philosophical saga in the “real world”, and the ambiguities and field-tension he generates within that quite literally magical space makes us more aware, makes every detail of the landscape important. It makes the surroundings vivid. Soon we are searching the screen as the characters are, looking for traps, trying to evoke meaning out of a jumbled landscape.
“I’ll give you a choice: either put on these glasses or start eating that trashcan. I already am eating from the trashcan all the time. The name of this trashcan is ideology.” — Slavoj Žižek
From Jonathan Rosenbaum:
If Daffy Duck ever became a film critic informed by Lacanian psychoanalysis, this three-part English entertainment (2006) by Sophie Fiennes would surely qualify as his Duck Amuck. Theorist Slavoj Žižek, inside beautifully constructed sets matching various films’ locations, lectures provocatively and dynamically about 43 screen classics, often sputtering like Daffy himself.
“The mystery is in complete light. I don’t want night. I don’t want shadows.” — Alejandro Jodorowsky
Part of the phantasmagorical exploration of the Alchemist’s otherworld includes a circular room covered in oversized Tarot cards, painted symbols that Jodorowsky designed himself. Tarot was an obsession for the filmmaker and Zen masters were called in as consultants on the film, administering tablets of LSD while guiding the largely nonprofessional cast through physical and psychological exercises. Many of these exercises can be seen in the film’s final third.
“The unexamined life is not worth living, Plato says on line 38A of The Apology. How do you examine yourself; what happens when you interrogate yourself? What happens when you begin to call into question your tacit assumptions and unarticulated presuppositions and begin then to become a different kind of person.” — Cornel West
From the New York Times:
As a matter of academic training or departmental employment, not all are philosophers, strictly speaking, but they are all entertainers of big questions as well as earnest, often entertaining talkers. Part of the fun of “Examined Life” comes from watching these very intelligent people try to make themselves intelligible.
“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” — Ludwig Wittgenstein
Performances by Karl Johnson (as Wittgenstein Senior), Michael Gough (as Bertrand Russell) and Tilda Swinton (Lady Ottoline Morell) are impeccable, driving the action forward with economical gestures and humour. Swinton convinces as a much older, down-to-earth hedonist who, faced with one of Wittgenstein’s conundrums, replies, “How the bloody blue blazes should I know?”. She excels instead in wearing garish and extravagantly-feathered hats. And if one asks if Jarman’s films were sexist, one might answer as Maynard Keynes does to one of Wittgenstein’s questions, “That’s like asking why you can’t play a tune on a carrot”.
“Human beings share the same common problems. A film can only be understood if it depicts these properly.” — Akira Kurosawa
From Film School Rejects:
In Rashomon the blanks are glued together by its philosophy of human nature. The idea that humans are worse than fire, famine or plague — that they lie, steal, rape and kill selfishly and with little remorse — is the idea played with in Rashomon. The witnesses and audience are so bewildered by the tales of horror in the woods that the only conclusion they can draw is that humankind is the pits. The characters wrestle with the notion, and eventually they come to a different conclusion.
“I have always postulated that we have to find a new way to deal with reality. It’s not so much facts that interest me, but a deeper truth in them — an ecstasy of truth, an ecstatic truth that illuminates us. That’s what I’ve been after.” — Werner Herzog
From Roger Ebert:
The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser is a lyrical film about the least lyrical of men. Bruno S. has the solidity of the horses and cows he is often among, and as he confronts the world I was reminded of W. G. Sebold’s remark that men and animals regard each other across a gulf of mutual incomprehension. The film’s landscapes, its details from nature, its music, all embody the dream world Kaspar entered when he escaped the unchanging reality of his cellar. He never dreamed in the cellar, he explains. I think it was because he knew of nothing else than the cellar to dream about.
“They say dreaming is dead, no one does it anymore. It’s not dead it’s just that it’s been forgotten, removed from our language. Nobody teaches it so nobody knows it exists. The dreamer is banished to obscurity. Well, I’m trying to change all that, and I hope you are too.” — Waking Life
From Film Comment:
Its overall structure resembles Slacker: It’s a tour of personalities rather than a story; and its “characters” are more likely to pontificate than converse. Babble reigns; linear narrative evaporates. And even though the film may seem to be nothing more than a series of discontinuous intro philosophy lectures, a grander theme gradually emerges.
“My basic view of things is — not to have any basic view of things. From having been exceedingly dogmatic, my views on life have gradually dissolved. They don’t exist any longer.” — Ingmar Bergman
The Seventh Seal and the other Bergman masterpieces that soon followed it — Wild Strawberries, The Magician, and The Virgin Spring — were as important to the development of world cinema as the New Wave in France or the work of Fellini, Antonioni and Bertolucci in Italy. Bergman’s work proved that essential philosophical and human issues could be explored on film and still reach a wide audience.
“In everything we do, a trace survives us.” — Derrida
From Scott Tobias:
What can be revealed about someone so stubbornly unrevealing? But as the film takes shape, the form and the subject develop a fascinating symbiosis, with Derrida cast as an active participant in the deconstruction of his own documentary. Normally the dirty little secret of vérité-style documentaries, the Heisenberg Principle — in which it’s the observer as much as the observed that reveals Reality — rattles the foundation of Derrida, and all other ideas spin off from there.
“If the doors of perception were cleansed, every thing would appear as it is: infinite.” — William Blake
From Austin Chronicle:
There is no dramatic plot to speak of; the camera instead follows the trio around the battlements as they exchange some of the most interesting and intellectually stimulating conversation I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing. Their topics range from Sonia’s theories on the relationship of man to his environment — on a sub-atomic level, no less — to politician Jack’s inability to come to grips with the “big picture.” There are two diametrically opposed schools of thought at work here, and it’s terribly engaging to see them at work on each other.
“Knowledge without action is vanity, and action without knowledge is insanity.” — Al-Ghazali
From Rotten Tomatoes:
Exploring the life and impact of the greatest spiritual and legal philosopher in Islamic history, this film examines Ghazali’s existential crisis of faith that arose from his rejection of religious dogmatism, and reveals profound parallels with our own times. Ghazali became known as the Proof of Islam and his path of love and spiritual excellence overcame the pitfalls of the organised religion of his day. His path was largely abandoned by early 20th century Muslim reformers for the more strident and less tolerant school of Ibn Taymiyya. Combining drama with documentary, this film argues that Ghazali’s Islam is the antidote for today’s terror.
“The first serious, poetic, tragic work in animation.” — Alexander Alexieiff
From Open Culture:
Setting to work in 1930, a Czech film-maker named Berthold Bartosch spent two years animating The Idea. Bartosch’s visual style remained true to [Frans] Masereel’s harsh, vivid lines. His version of the story, however, took a decidedly bleaker turn—one that was more reminiscent of the writings of his compatriot, Franz Kafka. Whereas Masereel believed that the purity of good ideas would overwhelm their opposition, Bartosch, working a decade closer to the Nazis’ ascendancy, was wary of such idealism.
“What sort of sacrifice are these vows of yours?” — Ida
From Maryann Johanson:
It is a harsh world here, the horrors of the war still fresh in the minds and memories of too many people and the restrictions of Communism too palpably present. Happiness sparks only occasionally and briefly, but the freedom we know is to come for Poland in the future is not even hinted at. Maybe that’s what Ida’s fate at the end of the film is suggesting? Is Ida a metaphor for Poland? Or is she just a young woman making a choice her small world has not truly equipped her to make?
This French drama examines a brief, fictionalized time period in the life of Professor Kant, looking more at the great thinker’s odd, obsessive lifestyle than his philosophies.
“I have to believe in a world outside my mind. I have to believe that my actions have meaning, even if I don’t remember them.” — Memento
From the Village Voice:
Memento may be a stunt, but it’s a remarkably philosophical one. The movie is a tour de force of frustration, a perverse tribute to the tyranny of cinema’s inexorable one-way flow, and in effect, an ad for a home DVD player. It’s also an epistemological thriller that’s almost serious in posing the question: How is it that we know ourselves? . . . Memento may be a Möbius strip, but it snaps like a slingshot in jolting you back to linear time. Now where was I? It’s a punch line for all the movies ever made.
“At this point in the history of the cinema and the public, only a film which incites a certain reflection can be touching.” — Eric Rohmer
The multifaceted, deeply personal dramatic universe of Eric Rohmer has had an effect on cinema unlike any other. One of the founding critics of the history-making Cahiers du cinéma, Rohmer began translating his written manifestos to film in the sixties, standing apart from his New Wave contemporaries, like François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard, with his patented brand of gently existential, hyperarticulate character studies set against vivid seasonal landscapes. This near genre unto itself was established with his audacious and wildly influential series Six Moral Tales. A succession of jousts between fragile men and the women who tempt them, the Six Moral Tales unleashed onto the film world a new voice, one that was at once sexy, philosophical, modern, daring, nonjudgmental, and liberating.
“I will have spent my life trying to understand the function of remembering, which is not the opposite of forgetting, but rather its lining. We do not remember. We rewrite memory much as history is rewritten. How can one remember thirst?” — Chris Marker
“This is the story of a man marked by an image of his childhood,” begins La Jetée (1962), one of the most instantly recognizable and acclaimed short films ever made. Using only still photographs, voiceover narration, sound effects and music, it tells the story of a World War III survivor whose vivid memories make him the subject of time travel experiments. In only one shot of the film — that of “the Woman” opening her eyes in the morning — does the image move. Through such deceptively simple means Chris Marker explores the paradoxes of time travel and, on a deeper philosophical level, the relationships between image and memory, and word and image.
“I try not to interpret things of the world into a single meaning. Rather, I try the opposite.” — Kim Ki-duk
From Digital Fix:
As the film’s title suggests, the film charts the progress of a Buddhist disciple over the course of his life, the four seasons representing different stages in his life, with the “…and Spring”, representing the eternal repetition of the cycle. In this respect, the film’s structure is the model of simplicity and the film itself, with minimal dialogue, is similarly clear and purposeful – each sequence and its import is clearly readable in the images and situations. The photography is simply ravishing, or rather it is the scenery that is the most notable aspect of the film, the photography itself is not the most imaginative or original, relying too often on stock shots of a misty lake, a tree and the floating monastery with leaves draped in the foreground to frame the image – but the film undeniably does look stunning through all the seasons depicted.
“Significance is inherent in the human body.” — Julia Kristeva
From Film Comment on director Jean-Daniel Pollet:
Born in 1936 to an haut bourgeois family, Pollet studied political science in the mid-fifties in Paris, where he frequented the Cinémathèque Française and fell in with two groups of Young Turks: the Cahiers crowd and those attached to the avant-garde literary journal Tel Quel. Friendships and creative alliances were forged, most notably with writers Jean Thibaudeau and Philippe Sollers, and Pollet would describe himself as “the younger brother of the New Wave.” The link between the worlds of literature and film would become a constant feature of his work. “All that remains is for this New Wave extremist to learn how to tell stories or to get by without them,” Cahiers observed. “In any case, Pollet is certainly the one whose future orientation seems the least predictable.”
“I know I’ve never completely freed myself of the suspicion that there are some extremely odd things about this mission.” — 2001: A Space Odyssey
The plot is not so much of structure but rather of events or moments in time that are united by the appearance of a large black monolith. It appears before prehistoric man as he is learning to hunt and then disappears before returning once man has perfected space travel. The advancement into space is peppered with moments of humour using well-known brand-names as part of this futuristic vision including the now defunct Pan-Am. Otherwise it’s an exercise in spectacle and even in today’s world of CGI, it’s safe to say that the effects are still very impressive.
“I know that we’re each of us a separate human being, Brandon, with the right to live and work and think as individuals, but with an obligation to the society that we live in. By what right do you dare say that there’s a superior few to which you belong?” — Arthur Laurents
From Roger Ebert:
Alfred Hitchcock called Rope an “experiment that didn’t work out,” and he was happy to see it kept out of release for most of three decades. He was correct that it didn’t work out, but Rope remains one of the most interesting experiments ever attempted by a major director working with big box-office names, and it’s worth seeing this week during its revival at the Fine Arts theaters.
“The increase in value of the world of things is directly proportional to the decrease in value of the human world.” — Karl Marx
From Jeffrey M. Anderson:
Charles “Charlie” Chaplin (1889-1977) is still the most famous person in the world. That’s thanks to the universal appeal of motion pictures, to which the stage-trained Chaplin took like a fish to water. He instinctively adopted a universal persona that appealed to nearly every living, breathing creature on the planet. That in itself is not such a big deal now that just about anyone can get their mug on some second-rate reality show. But Chaplin went one further: he did it with consummate artistry and poetry.
“Love is simply the name for the desire and pursuit of the whole.” — Plato
From Barry Woodcock:
Un coeur en hiver, which translates literally as A Heart in Winter, was Claude Sautet’s penultimate film, made eight years before his death in the summer of 2000 at the age of 76. Despite debuting in 1960 with a crime melodrama, The Big Risk, Sautet later became known for his social studies of middle-class and middle-aged life, often focused on unusual relationships. Un coeur en hiver is no exception as the film is based around a romantic triangle.
“If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.” — René Descartes
From DVD Talk:
Rossellini finds the same kind of hero in René Descartes (Ugo Cardea), the subject of his two-part 1974 effort, Cartesius. The man who uttered the immortal phrase, “I think, therefore I am,” is like an engine of reason, a human machine that is constantly seeking newer and better ways of understanding. The film follows him from his school days to his joining French society, on to war in Holland, and beyond to visit scholars all across Europe. In each environment, Descartes engages the thinkers of the day, challenging the ideas of our perception and trying to find a balance between the religion that fires a man’s soul and the science of provable truth.
“Murder can be a chain, Mary, one link leading to another until it circles your neck.” — The Stranger
From Senses of Cinema:
The Stranger is generally regarded by Orson Welles aficionados as a standard thriller done for money, undertaken to prove to studio executives that he could work within the system (it had been four years since his last directorial effort). He even said as much in interviews, and criticised the studio for cutting approximately 30 minutes from the beginning of the film that he wrote himself. Admittedly, The Stranger is not in the same league as, say, Touch of Evil (1958), but the film does have its merits. It is a tightly-plotted and well-acted thriller that bears Welles’ unique stamp, in spite of it being a director-for-hire project.
“It may be you fear more to deliver judgment upon me than I fear judgment.” — Giordano Bruno
From Rotten Tomatoes:
Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) was one of the pivotal thinkers of the Renaissance. A Dominican friar in Italy, he left the order and taught widely throughout Europe. Among the ideas he taught were the inexpressibility of any ultimate truths and the complete relativity of ordinary truth. He also taught religious tolerance. For these and other deviations, he was burned at the stake by the Inquisition. This lavish Italian film takes up his story after he has returned to Venice from meetings with European heads of state and teaching sessions at the great universities.
“Action cannot destroy ignorance, for it is not in conflict with or opposed to ignorance. Knowledge does verily destroy ignorance as light destroys deep darkness.” — Adi Shankaracharya
From Alternate Movies:
The movie is the biography of Shankaracharya. Born in the [Indian] state of Kerala, he becomes a monk at an young age and travels north, in search of knowledge and truth. [This] was a time period when Hindus were giving importance to rituals and forgetting the all prevailing, one god. It was also the time period when Buddhism was on the raise. Shankaracharya forms a new school of thinkers preaching the Adhvaitha philosophy. Through his new philosophy and teachings he changes the views of many scholars and religious people.
“In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion.” — Albert Camus
From Adam Cook:
This short film from director, Marcell Jankovics (responsible for the visually stunning Fehérlófia), is a simple yet striking retelling of the classic story of Sisyphus, who is forced to roll a boulder up a hill for all eternity. It is the stark black and white animation that leaves the greatest impression in this brisk animated short. Using an elegant yet incredibly expressive painted black line it constantly shifts to capture Sisyphus’ eternal struggle. It is amazing how such a simple artistic choice can convey so much, whether it be the bulging muscularity of the doomed figure of the ever growing boulder, the film has a refreshingly simple dynamism.
“Theirs is the moment… nature, infinite silence.” — The Turin Horse
From the Village Voice:
The Turin Horse is Tarr’s fifth film since 1988’s Damnation, which began his collaboration with the novelist László Krasznahorkai, a writing relationship that seemingly consists of mutually reinforcing each other’s sense of the end. Much like Tarr’s grinding long takes, Krasznahorkai’s novels ward off dilettantes with their pages of brick-like text written without the respite of paragraph breaks. Krasznahorkai’s 1999 War & War contains a novel-within-a-novel whose author cannot find a prospect of peace for his characters anywhere in the whole of human history. A similar conclusion — that is, that man lives in a worst-case scenario—has been reached by one of the few visitors to the homestead in The Turin Horse, a neighbor who drops by to deliver a monologue about doomsday: “Everything, everything is lost forever.”
“What interested me most was the result of their actions and to see how far you can go when messing with people’s minds and making them believe the things that you want them to believe. It’s a very dangerous thing to do and I hope my film provokes reactions from people because in the film it is obviously too late. Sooner or later this had to explode.” — Yorgos Lanthimos
From DVD Talk:
It’s rather astonishing to see how seamlessly director Yorgos Lanthimos keeps Dogtooth in line. What could’ve easily been insufferable performance art is instead alive with dense thespian nuances and enthralling passages of pure behavior. While I’m sure the film can be absorbed as some form of political allegory, it’s more magnetic as a study of psychological disease and perhaps the ultimate statement of parental control.
“I think it is more powerful when you realize someone has a dark side.” — Juan Carlos Fresnadillo
From A.O. Scott:
Luck, in this world, is a commodity to be stolen, hoarded or traded. But the acquisition of it, and the lust for more than one’s share, has a corrupting, soul-destroying effect. At the heart of the philosophical puzzle Intacto constructs is the theme of survivor guilt, as suggested by Sam Berg’s past and the unhappy life of Sara (Monica López), a police detective physically and emotionally scarred by the car accident that killed her husband and daughter. Her pursuit of Tomás gives the film both its element of film-noir suspense and an undertow of grief and compulsion. For some of the gifted, testing the limits of luck is not so much a thrill — as it is for Alejandro (Antonio Dechent), a retired bullfighter whose profession proved insufficiently dangerous — as the enactment of a death wish. For Berg, Sara and Tomás, survival might be less a blessing than intolerable evidence of cosmic injustice.
“The question that I explore in 3-Iron, as well as Spring, Summer, is in some ways about this world we occupy and whether it’s real or not and how we can actually understand what we’re doing here. And by no means am I presenting any answer as a right answer of any kind, but rather really raising a set of questions that the audience can debate in some way. I do believe that there are different points of view that are just as valid as mine.” —Kim Ki-duk
From Sam Adams:
Insufferably precious except when it’s gut-churningly violent, Kim Ki-Duk’s near-wordless fable is three parts syrup to one part blood. Jae Hee plays a transient with a flair for B&E, but instead of larcenous, his motives are anal-retentive. He wipes, dusts, washes and folds, then snaps a picture of himself in his now-sparkling surroundings. Not all domestic dirt can be removed with a vigorous scrub, however. When a couple returns home midmakeover and the husband starts beating his wife (Lee Seung-yeon), Jae grabs the husband’s golf clubs and long-drives him almost to death. What girl wouldn’t be charmed? The crunching sound of ball hitting bone doesn’t stop Kim from pouring on the treacle, as mute burglar and traumatized wife go on a vicarious-living spree, moving from house to house until their time inevitably runs out. Rather than muting the movie’s cloying tendencies, Kim’s low-key presentation throws them into sharp relief, tempting you to fill the quiet with exasperated screams.
“I want to confess today the sin I’ll commit tomorrow. One sin atones for another.” — The Conformist
From the New York Times:
That Bertolucci is aware of the fact that the equation of politics with sex is extremely complex is apparent in his having changed the Moravia ending in such a way that the entire film is ultimately modified by ambiguity. It is also apparent in Bertolucci’s cinematic style, which is so rich, poetic, and baroque that it is simply incapable of meaning only what it says — and which is, I think, a decided improvement over Moravia’s sometimes tiresomely lean prose.
“The genesis of the idea for me was this: what if I make a time travel story that becomes a crime story, and in that crime story, what if the innocent guy and the villain and the guy who pulls the strings from the darkness are all the same? What if we push the ambiguity of crime stories like The Postman Always Rings Twice, for example, by putting in a time machine that makes the good guy the villain at the same time.” — Nacho Vigalondo
This bogeyman scenario sounds familiar enough, but Vigalondo’s aim is to flip over horror cliches. Hector wanders into a laboratory whose resident scientist, played by the filmmaker, instructs him to hide in a giant vat. Never mind that white liquid inside. Never mind that this place looks like a set from “Doctor Who.” When Hector hops in, it’s night. To his bewilderment, when he crawls out, day has broken.
“I’m not a philosopher. Drama always deals with the conflict between good and evil, and this film is no exception to that.” — Michael Haneke
From Scott Tobias:
Haneke implicates everyone but himself: The sadists are presumably desensitized by the media (they call each other Beavis and Butt-Head); the victims’ symbols of wealth (golf clubs, a cell phone, a high-tech security system) are turned against them; and, most pointedly, the audience is indicted for its bloodlust. There’s perversity in paying admission to get harshly scolded, and is not for the squeamish, but this may be one time to step up and take the licking you deserve.
“If you know that I am an unbeliever, then you know me better than I do myself. I may be an unbeliever, but I am an unbeliever who has a nostalgia for a belief.” — Pier Paolo Pasolini
By the late 1960’s, the ideologies of the Modern era — Darwinism, Marxism, and Freudianism — had become just as dogmatic in practice as the Christianity they replaced. Everything about being gay was contrary to these doctrines. Homosexuality was at best an evolutionary abnormality, at worst a threat to the survival of the species. In Marxist thinking, homosexuality was a decadent bourgeois practice, destructive to reproduction and therefore the creation of young workers. Freudians saw it as an immature state of psycho-sexual development, and there was a time when psychologists were the leading voices encouraging official discrimination against gays. So Teorema is doubly subversive in its suggestion of the erotic as a means of divine release from the strictures of dogma — the dogmas of Christian nationalistic capitalism, and the dogmas of atheist psychoanalytic Communism.
“Dying is very difficult.” — Ikiru
From the Village Voice:
There’s Ikiru (1952), [Kurosawa]’s grand existentialist weepie, with earnest-ugly favorite Takashi Shimura playing a sick bureaucrat who wants a reason to live before dying. Were it the only film Kurosawa ever made, his name would be rightfully engraved on film history.
“To be in chains is sometimes safer than to be free.” — The Trial
From Eye for Film:
‘Kafka-esque’ is a word describing a paradigm that probably goes beyond its genesis in the work of that author. Orson Welles is not fanatically faithful to Kafka’s story. But he is probably more faithful to the spirit of it than any other ‘Kafka’ movie you could imagine. Welles – who felt this was the best movie he ever made – evokes the feeling of menacing, disorientating bureaucracy, of the senselessness of our existence, of inexplicable and inescapable threat. He pegs this to the Kafka story. Energises it with the frightening paranoia of Anthony Perkins (fresh out of Psycho). Renders it with one of the most remarkable dystopian landscapes ever created. And – what I like best – maintains the timeless alarm call of Kafka’s work, allowing it to pass to successive generations.
“I think a plan is just a list of things that don’t happen.” — The Way of the Gun
From A.V. Club:
McQuarrie’s dialogue sings with quotable bits of pulp, but what’s surprising about it — and different from the Tarantino also-rans — is how often it circles back to philosophical ideas, and probes the minds of those who choose to do wrong.
“When the child was a child, it was the time of these questions. Why am I me, and why not you? Why am I here, and why not there? When did time begin, and where does space end? Isn’t life under the sun just a dream?” — Wings of Desire
From Noel Murray:
Wings Of Desire enchanted audiences 15 years ago with an unselfconscious brandishing of arty pretension and shameless sentimentality, and odds are good that the film would still strike a chord with just about anyone’s inner undergraduate. But what’s most impressive, especially given Wenders’ inability to make a succeeding movie as nimble and inspired, is how Wings Of Desire‘s ideas flow and cohere organically. The angels may have been an afterthought, but the way they provide a clear path into the realm of abstraction remains undeniably divine.
“The thing is, I can’t reach out with my hands. I can’t touch things. And when I do touch things, I feel nothing.” — The Fire Within
When he shot The Fire Within in the spring of 1963, Louis Malle had already established a strong reputation. Incredibly precocious, he won a Palme d’Or at the age of twenty-four, at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival, for the underwater documentary The Silent World, photographed and codirected with oceanographer Jacques Cousteau. One year later he anticipated the French New Wave with Elevator to the Gallows, scored by Miles Davis and starring a young Jeanne Moreau, who also starred in his next film, The Lovers, which won a Special Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival in 1958 and created a scandal with its explicit eroticism. His follow-up, an audacious 1960 adaptation of Raymond Queneau’s farcical novel Zazie dans le métro, further proved his fondness for literary sources, and 1962’s Vie privée created a stir by featuring Brigitte Bardot in one of her more complex roles.
“Because we don’t know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well, yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number, really.” — The Sheltering Sky
From the Washington Post:
In a move open to interpretation, Bertolucci puts Bowles himself in the movie as a semi-surreal, Chorus-like narrator. Is it a desperate attempt by Bertolucci to gain artistic blessing? A calculating move to heighten credibility? A vanity concession to Bowles? Whatever the answer, it’s lovely to have him on screen, in much the same way addict-writer William Burroughs gave authentic zest to Gus van Sant’s “Drugstore Cowboy.” Bowles’s gentle, avian features, the obvious wisdom of his years and his distinctive presence are practically worth the price of admission.
“I don’t think you should feel about a film. You should feel about a woman, not a movie. You can’t kiss a movie.” — Jean-Luc Godard
From Strictly Film School:
Godard’s futuristic vision is presented through an odd synthesis of gangster noir, romantic melodrama, and pop culture, resulting in a subtly humorous, accessible, and highly original film. The levity of the film is tempered by minimal lighting (literally keeping Alphaville residents in the dark), inexpressive actors, and unexpected violence, creating a sense of incongruity and imbalance. Lemmy Caution target practices on a nude centerfold picture, held in place by an unfazed (and heavily tranquilized) Seductress. Henry Dickson, unable to adjust to life in Alphaville, is encouraged by a tenant to commit suicide. Public executions are performed on an Olympic-sized swimming pool, with swimmers performing an aquatic ballet after retrieving the body. Alpha 60 has dehumanized the residents by fostering complacency: supplying mind-numbing drugs, outlawing emotions, and limiting sources of information (words are routinely removed from dictionary “bibles”). Instead of Alpha 60 evolving to emulate the complex behavior of its creator, humans have adapted to the limited capacity of its logical governor. Together, Lemmy and Natascha set out to find the missing men — bringing chaos to the carefully constructed world of Alphaville — and in the process, discover the infinite possibilities of independent thought and human emotion.
“Nobody thinks in terms of human beings. Governments don’t, so why should we?” — The Third Man
From Jonathan Rosenbaum:
The Third Man is wonderful entertainment, as it was designed to be, and there are certainly moments in it that deserve to be called artful as well as stylish; foremost among these are the first appearance of Welles, carefully plotted by Reed, and the final shot, which is 35 seconds longer in the Korda version and was conceived by Reed over the objections of Graham Greene, who scripted a more conventional happy and romantic ending (though he later admitted Reed was right). But even these virtues don’t give it the art or style of Welles’s own pictures; it has only superficial aspects of his art and style.
“Why are there beings at all, and why not rather nothing?” — Heidegger
A chief joy of watching, and rewatching, this film is discovering narrative and generic threads. It’s as if the final cut distills all of Kiewsloski’s provisional edits into one concentrated dose. One example: The Double Life of Véronique has no business not being a horror film. Like many a good chiller, the film’s premise derives from superstition, in this case the folk belief that each of us has an identical double somewhere in the world, and that seeing one’s alter ego is a harbinger of death. Veronika and Véronique (both played by Irène Jacob) almost meet, when the latter takes a trip to Krakow, where Veronika is living. As Veronika walks through a square she catches a glimpse of Véronique inside a passing bus, and notes the resemblance; Véronique, busy photographing demonstrators in the square, is oblivious. Not long after, Veronika dies while singing in a concert, succumbing to a heart condition shared by both women.
“This great evil, where’s it come from? How’d it steal into the world? What seed, what root did it grow from? Who’s doing this? Who’s killing us, robbing us of life and light, mocking us with the sight of what we might’ve known? Does our ruin benefit the earth, does it help the grass to grow, the sun to shine? Is this darkness in you, too? Have you passed through this night?” — The Thin Red Line
From Close-Up Film Centre:
In this regard, Malick is performing the function of the artist, of the poet during what Heidegger called ‘destitute times’, when the world is voided of mystery and depth, as language, thought and representation themselves are put to merely instrumental ends. Heidegger accorded to poetry and art an important and specifically restorative function. The poet’s task, as Heidegger insists in What Are Poets For? is to reveal what metaphysics has obscured: the presencing of Being through the use of evocative, poetic language.
“The pain and suffering — it’s all there. It’s there in the world, so it’s in the world of the movie.” — Abel Ferrara
From Austin Chronicle:
Ferrara’s universe argues for a kind of lapsed-Catholic existentialism in which the act of being human absolutely requires a personal relationship with evil (we are all addicted), but the act of being human also means that our power to reject evil must overcome our impulse to submit. Mere silence or acquiescence is collaboration with evil and in this sense it becomes impossible to cite one individual’s guilt for the My Lai massacre without also holding responsible an entire nation’s addiction to its war machinery and combat mentality.
“All of my pictures, from a certain point on, are concerned with resisting entrenched power.” — Masaki Kobayashi
“It’s not my fault that I’m Japanese . . . yet it’s my worst crime that I am!” The words are those of Kaji, hero of The Human Condition, but in their anguish and existential despair, they also speak for the film’s director, Masaki Kobayashi, whose own experience closely paralleled that of his protagonist. Like Kaji, Kobayashi found himself caught up, and unwillingly implicated, in his country’s wartime aggression. The Human Condition — nine and a half hours long, four years in the making — can be seen as one of the most monumental acts of personal expiation in all cinematic history.
“I’d give my life to be dead.” — Cemetery Man
From Zev Toledano:
Soavi outdoes his mentor Argento with beautiful cinematography and style as well as a near-surrealistic plot. Unfortunately, he also suffers from Argento’s lack of coherency, dubbing jobs and mediocre acting. Dellamorte works in a cemetery where the dead come back to life after seven days and have to be sent back to the grave with a bullet (or other sharp object) in the head. His quirky, moronic assistant (who vomits on girls he loves) helps him keep this a secret so that they won’t lose their jobs. Things get out of hand as the assistant falls in love with the Mayor’s dead daughter’s decapitated head, and an accident involving a bus-load of boy scouts floods the cemetery with new bodies. The centerpiece is Dellamorte’s love interest who keeps coming back from the dead in different shapes and forms until he gets sick of love and death and tries to escape, leading to a provocative existentialist and surreal ending.