Wrote these a while back in the midst of summer for an article that I now cannot remember. The heat was blazing and my air-con weeping, hitherto these feverish thoughts remained in drawers of my mind up till now, too warm to the touch.
As I fidget by the window on this cool autumn night, stranded by words that seem to swirl in my chest instead of the blank page in front, I re-read these feverish thoughts, and they stirred me. Like fragments of lost memories newly discovered, I remembered the way hair stuck to the back of my neck as I scooted closer to the fan, tousling aside wrinkled sheets. I remembered staring at the screen so hard that when eventually I blinked, my breath slid out of my throat, like a small bird.
As with any top ten list, the following is deeply meaningful and really meaningless.
These are the films that have shaped my experiences of cinema profoundly, and for that I am grateful.
Chronological by year in no particular order:
CITY LIGHTS (Chaplin, 1931)
A film that brightens the gloomiest of days. Idealistic and whimsical, yet rooted in the very desires that drive our human existence: to see and to be seen. A true fairy tale, one I never tire of reliving.
LATE SPRING (Ozu, 1949)
A tale of parental love and familial devotion has never been told finer. A quiet story, even by Ozu standards. Frame by frame Setsuko Hara’s face speaks of a beauty that sustains and follows, while Chishu Ryu’s gaze returns a wisdom that beholds and releases. Love is unspeakable. Love is generous. Love is faithful. Love is to follow, to trust, and eventually, to let go. A purer filmmaker there is not. Ozu is truth. Ozu is grace. Ozu is life.
UMBERTO D. (De Sica, 1952)
My second criterion that arrived on a winter night with a note from a dear friend: “Grace, this one may bring a tear.” It did. A simple story about a simple love between a man and his dog, and in all the world there is no room for such simplicity and love. Emotionally devastating in its inevitability: when we reach the end of our ropes, how do we survive in an indifferent world with dignity?
SANSHO THE BALIFF (Mizoguchi, 1954)
The most beautiful melodrama ever existed on film. Motion poetry.
AU HASARD BALTHAZAR (Bresson, 1966)
A happy life requires us to find courage to accept the good when bestowed, and dignity to bear the bad when imposed. A lifetime told in the first five minutes, and then again and again and again. Bresson mystifies with his eye and in certain moments, I feel like I am standing right in the midst of the iris.
SCENES OF A MARRIAGE (Bergman, 1973)
An exhausting film that leaves in its wake as much damages as rewards. Bergman cuts and peels and digs and prods and when it feels like no more damage can be done and no more words can be said there is always one more wound, one more revelation, and everything remains the same, and never the same. I have not seen a more honest and truthful depiction of the relationship between a man and a woman. To watch is to understand what we are capable of; to live is to go on holding that knowledge, till the end.
THREE WOMEN (Altman, 1977)
Robert Altman! Robert Altman. What else is there to say? A true humanist who paints women in generous, multi-hued strokes. Hypnotic and free, perfectly casted and delivered, this is a story conceived in a dream and borne into another. The canary yellow, Shelley’s eyes, Sissy’s hair… I can’t get them out of my mind. The desert feels like a breeding ground for fantasies and horrors, cascading of dreamy strangers who arrive in the middle of the day and steal your heart, looking for a place to stay.
PARIS, TEXAS (Wenders, 1984)
A lone man appears; he is crossing this desert. The opening line from Sam Shepard’s poignant script encapsulates the soul of the film and its man, who is silent in his suffering and universal in its language. I remember everything from the first time I saw this: the road, the man, the boy, the girl, and most of all the light, so much light. Glow of the projector, warmth of celluloid, flickering of street lamps in the night, fading dusk across a highway overpass, desert sun, and that blue light in a small anonymous room, bathed across a man’s face as he started one of the greatest monologues in cinema, about these two people who loved each other and were once very happy. Wenders has the eye of an outsider and the soul of a poet. There will be no safety zone.
DAYS OF BEING WILD (Wong Kar-Wei, 1990)
WKW’s most intimate and personal film, and my favorite from the master of lush nostalgia and romantic longing. Harboring youthful seeds of themes that become fully matured in his later works, this is an achingly beautiful vision that feels urgent and necessary. Bracketed by two perfect scenes and peppered with shots of rolling blue-green rainforest that sway along Los Indios Tabajaras’ dreamy, haunting guitar riffs, here lies a youthful ode of passion to those days of being wild that is unforgettable.
Inspired (and humbled) by the Sight & Sound 2012 poll
YIYI (Yang, 2000)
Life in entirety. The world feels a little more lost every day without Edward Yang’s lens around. A one, and a two.
This article is originally published in the Far-Flung Correspondents feature column on rogerebert.com
TAKE THIS WALTZ (2012) materialized out of a humid summer day in Toronto and made me tremble and fall in love… with who or what I’m not sure; the city yes, and maybe the idea of the in-between.
There is something incredibly delicate and beautiful about the thought of in-between: of that space of the possible, of movement, of choices being sought and yet to be made, of freedom and abandon and all the stuff that dreams are made of, but yet to solidify. It is a place of alchemy. Some call it a moment – a fleeting moment.
But how fleeting can a moment be? How long can flight of fancy last before running out of steam? How long can possibility behold, before crystallizing into another hard, undeniable piece of reality? What will we do with those pieces of reality? What will we do in the bubble of those moments, knowing full well what awaits us outside of them? These are the questions asked by Sarah Polley’s second directorial feature through its sun-drenched and color-bursting lens of Toronto, and it is luminous to watch.
Somewhere in southern Ontario, in the midst of a frozen parking lot on an early winter evening, there existed the most beautiful sunset.
Entire sheets of sky washed in throbbing ambers, golden pinks, and exquisite violets. Expanding, stretching, over masses of metal cubes that lay dormant below. Deserted shopping carts tremble in the wind. Dark figures huddled in layers of black shuffle slowly toward alien-size concrete structures. Street lamps suddenly appear, like rescue beacons on a forgotten mission, flood lights after a finished game; Except they stand in a field instead of a street, guarding temporary passages in place of permanent fixtures. Everything is fleeting. The silence is deafening. Humongous words glow with concepts of our collective destiny: Home, Food, Beyond… There is nowhere to be and no one to tell. The moment is beautiful. It was there and then it was gone.
Werner Herzog’s INTO THE ABYSS, Ann Hui’s A SIMPLE LIFE, Jafar Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtahmasb’s THIS IS NOT A FILM, Steve McQueen’s SHAME — all examples of masters at work who are fully in control of their craft, even in dire circumstances.
Here are my brief thoughts on the four films in Part II of my article for UK’s The Spectator Arts Blog. Two are exerpted below.