Top Five Films

By Guest Contributor Robert Arndt

November 13th, 2012

When I was asked by Here and Elsewhere to submit 5 films of my choice I found myself feeling like a child in a candy store who was asked to choose only one piece of candy. There are so very many films I would like to recommend, share and talk about, where would I even begin with my suggestions? And while there always seems to be a weight given to lists, we forget about what has been edited out – like so many things in history they wind up on the cutting room floor. Perhaps there should be lists of what not to view and what not to read. Anyway, I’m digressing…I have selected some films that have left an indelible impression on me. The following are a few films to consider for viewing:

Uzak (Distant)

Uzak (Distant)
Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Release date: 2002

This engaging film follows Yusuf who comes to Istanbul to look for work after recently losing his job. He comes to stay with his relative Mahmut, a pseudo-intellectual photographer who documents tiles. The characters are polar opposites in their education, culture and taste. However, they are similarly aimless, bored and living out tedious existences. There are some wonderfully considered scenes in this film and one in particular stands out where Yusuf is on the train and his leg subtly bumps against a female passenger beside him. She abruptly gets up and leaves her seat. You get the sense that this is all the human contact that Yusuf has ever known. The scene demonstrates his alienation, loneliness and sense of longing while aptly illustrating the language of cinema. The film on the whole thoroughly captures the banality of life, globalization and our repressed abilities to communicate.

Satantango

Satantango
Directed by Béla Tarr
Release Date: 1994

I have been quite captivated with Béla Tarr’s work since first discovering it years ago.  With the emergence of Hungarian and Romanian cinema, Tarr is considered a leading auteur and has directed a kind of film unlike anything I have encountered before. Tarr has garnered a lot of attention recently which can be attributed to his production of films counter to what we expect from popular Hollywood cinema. We have become accustomed to consuming short takes, fast cuts, thin plot lines and didactic summations at the end (the “wrap up moment”). If you can handle 20 plus minutes of slow tracking shots of a banal scene then you have found your match. I came across Béla Tarr years ago in Regina when I was visiting and I went to the library in search of something to watch. When I came across Satantango and read that it was 6 hours long, this was all the reason I needed to check it out. It was a viewing experience I will not soon forget and to this day I continue to talk about it. If you are into Béla Tarr do check out an interview he did with film critic Howard Feinstein. I wish more filmmakers and artists were as to the point, frank and uncompromising as Tarr appears to be.

The Seventh Continent

The Seventh Continent
Directed by Michael Haneke
Release date: 1989

The Seventh Continent and Benny’s Video are the beginning of where we will see what is to come with Haneke’s films. Haneke offers an unsettling portrait of the human condition and our failure as a society. It’s an unnerving experience at times to view his films. Take for instance The Piano Teacher – along with Funny Games it is the only film I have ever turned off. I could no longer allow myself to be manipulated and consume the very critique he was offering of American cinema. Perhaps this was his point. I find that he succeeds in a type of Brechtian model where the viewer is no longer a passive consumer but is enlisted as a participant to judge, evaluate and question.

The Seventh Continent is morose and methodically executed. It was reportedly inspired by true events. The film follows a family who commits suicide and it’s quite disconcerting to say the least that their child has no say in her will to live. There is no emotion portrayed with the exception of the child rightfully becoming upset in the last act. It’s the first act of the film that captured my attention and the reason I am citing it. Haneke was able to portray the monotony of human life through his framing and focus on objects as a scene unfolds. Through this he reveals the triviality of consumption and that the existence of things may have a use value more than life itself. Like all of Haneke’s films you end it feeling unsettled and wanting to make an appointment with your shrink.

The Spirit of the Beehive

The Spirit of the Beehive
Directed by Victor Erice
Release date: 1973

This film is considered a masterpiece of Spanish Cinema. Its cinematography is a stunning example of shooting during the magic hour, serving the film well in the delivery of Ana’s imagined ability to talk to a monster. This monster comes to her in the way of a mobile cinema that comes to the small Spanish village to show Frankenstein. Little Ana becomes transfixed by the movie and wants to see and or talk to the monster/spirit. Amongst Ana’s family is her sister Isabel, her mother Teresa and her much older beekeeper father, Fernando. The film is suggested to be a metaphor for the Francoist regime and the use of the film Frankenstein demonstrates the potential wrath of man’s imagination and creative spirit. I also see that Ana doesn’t carry the burden of having an ideological perspective that would weigh her from encountering the world first hand. The other characters are experiencing their life second hand – they wait for an oppressive judgement that they are trying to defer. Ana is able to find her monster and has a short, uncommunicative friendship with a republican soldier on the run. This is truly a lyrical and atmospheric film and I wouldn’t be surprised if Terrence Malick found it of influence. Ana Torrent perhaps gives one of the great performances by a child, on par with Jean-Pierre Léaud’s performance in Truffaut’s 400 Blows.

Sexy Beast

Sexy Beast
Directed by Jonathan Glazer
Release date: 2000

On a much a lighter note, I have decided to include the crime genre film Sexy Beast, directed by the acclaimed music video director Jonathan Glazer. This is Glazer’s first feature and in it you can observe the techniques he employed as a commercial and music video director. All of this is fine and he is able to draw out a wonderful performance by Ben Kingsley and Ray Winstone which is why I selected this film. The Pinteresque dialogue between Kingsley and Winstone is mesmerizing and Kingsley delivers a relentless, spray-filled, caustic and continuous barrage of expletives. In most films you don’t see this kind of dialogue delivered in this manner. The timing and pacing of this was perfectly executed by Glazer, Kingsley and Winstone (and the editing). It’s truly musical in the timing, pauses, crescendos, agitato, col pugno, etc. If you like oiled, aged, tanned skin you’ll enjoy what Glazer has accomplished with this crime film.

Robert Arndt is a Vancouver-based artist. Arndt’s work suggests a manner of reading the object/subject under a diversiform of presentations, styles, subjectivity, and institutional structures through art and cinematic history. His work shifts between performance, photography, film, video, text, and publications. Since graduating from Emily Carr Institute of Art + Design (now Emily Carr University), Arndt has exhibited and screened his work in solo and group exhibitions in Canada, the U.S., and abroad, including the Vancouver Art Gallery, Contemporary Art Gallery (Vancouver), Tracey Lawrence Gallery (Vancouver), and Artists Space (New York).


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