Monday, August 20, 2007

FOREIGN CORRESPONDENCE: Getting to a List of the Best Non-English Language Films

Here we go again. It seems there is a group of about 51 bloggers, writers, critics who have decided to give the whole list thing another shot. This time organized by Edward Copeland, the group was asked to compile a non-ranked list of 25 favorite foreign-language films (not best, not all-time anything) in an attempt to come up with a large list, filled with a nice mix of, as Campaspe put it, “warhorses, interesting recent choices and a smattering of wild cards,” from which a final list would be composed. Confesses Edward:

“I see now why lists can sometimes cause such headaches. We had to decide things such as whether Sergio Leone's spaghetti Westerns were eligible (We decided no, since most people are only familiar with the English dubbed version and the American actors didn't speak in Italian.)… I also originally planned to have the eligible list consist of films that made at least 5% of all ballots, but soon realized that that would make pretty much every film that got at least one vote eligible, so I opted instead for films that appeared on at least three ballots.”

The only real criteria that the voting committee were held to, other than the requirement that the dialogue be in a foreign language, was the length of the film (features only, no shorts, and no documentaries—there went my vote for Tokyo Olympiad) and that it be released no more recently than 2002 (there went my vote for Goodbye, Dragon Inn). Otherwise, each voter came to her/his final 25 by any means necessary. Some voted for the foreign language films they had seen more than any others. Some declined to vote for films in a series (Kieslowski’s Three Colors trilogy, for example). Some held themselves to one film per director. And most voted for personal favorites over the recognized canonical films, unless, of course, those canonized works were their personal favorites.

When Edward had finally finished doing the heavy lifting last night, 122 films shook out of all those lists of nominees, 122 films that garnered at least three qualifying votes. I was somewhat surprised that, of the 25 I submitted on my original list, 16 actually showed up on that list of 122. However, for me the single most agonizing thing about looking at the lists of nominees I’ve seen, as well as the final list, is the sound of “D’oh!” that rattles in my skull when I’m reminded of a title that I wish I’d remembered but somehow didn’t. How could I have forgotten Roman Polanski’s Repulsion? Or Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil? (It was determined not to be enough of a documentary, I guess, to qualify.) Or George Sluzier’s The Vanishing? And I held back a vote for Suspiria based on the fact that I’d only seen the version that featured English language dubbing.

Other than those titles, though, the thing that is both exciting and embarrassing about participating in this enterprise is facing up to the block of Swiss cheese that is my experience with the history of films that originated in countries that aren’t primarily English-speaking. But rather than run from that, I decided that an essential element of taking part in this exercise, which has so far being enlightening as well as a ton of fun, would be to discover just how lacking I am when it comes to movies that are revered by others that I have not yet, for whatever reason, allowed myself to experience. (And yes, it is “allowed” these days, because most, if not all of the titles in contention are available on DVD.) But it’s not all about the gaps in knowledge—contributing to the list and sorting through also served, as it did for Jim Emerson and Jonathan Lapper and probably everyone, to one degree or other, to jog titles loose, some of which have languished in the memory for 25 or 30 years, and whet the desire to give them a fresh look (at the top of this list: Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, the Wrath of God and Wim Wenders’ Kings of the Road). And the fun has only begun—I was moved enough by Jim’s passion for Le Boucher that I ordered it sight unseen off of a Best Buy card I just got for my birthday. My mind is spinning at the seemingly endless list of films I have yet to see.

What follows then is a series of lists, all connected to Edward’s Foreign Language Film project. First, my own list, submitted for inclusion as part of the compilation of what became the List of 121:

* Amarcord (1974; Federico Fellini; Italy)
* Au Hasard, Balthasar (1966; Robert Bresson; France, Sweden)
* Beauty and the Beast (1946; Jean Cocteau; France)
* Belle de Jour (1966; Luis Bunuel; France, Italy)
Death in Venice (1971; Luchino Visconti; Italy)
* The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972; Luis Bunuel; France)
Fellini Roma (1972; Federico Fellini; Italy)
Going Places (1974; Bertrand Blier; France)
* Ikiru (1952; Akira Kurosawa; Japan)
* In the Mood for Love (1999; Wong Kar-wai; Hong Kong, France)
In the Realm of the Senses (1976; Nagisa Oshima; Japan, France)
Kiki's Delivery Service (1989; Hayao Miyazaki; Japan)
La Cage aux Folles II (1980; Edouard Molinaro; France)
* M (1931; Fritz Lang; Germany)
Matador (1986; Pedro Almodovar; Spain)
* Nights of Cabiria (1957; Federico Fellini; Italy)
* Open City (1946; Roberto Rossellini; Italy)
* Pierrot le Fou (1965; Jean-Luc Godard; France, Italy)
Project A Part 2 (1987; Jackie Chan; Hong Kong)
* The Rules of the Game (1939; Jean Renoir; France)
* Seven Samurai (1954; Akira Kurosawa; Japan)
* Sonatine (1994; Takeshi Kitano; Japan)
* Tampopo (1986; Juzo Itami; Japan)
* Tokyo Story (1953; Yasujiro Ozu; Japan)
* Woman in the Dunes (1964; Hiroshi Teshigahara; Japan)

• denotes the titles that made it onto the List of 121

I think I was initially a bit surprised at how heavily the Japanese weighed in on my list, but that surprised waned when I looked at the titles, which are all essential movies for me. Even more surprising was the fact that I found room for three Fellini films, including one (Roma) that has stuck in my craw with far more insistence than I ever expected it would. Had I remembered Repulsion and Sans Soleil, however, it would have meant ciao to Fellini’s remembrance of the big city, as well as to Almodovar’s perversely delightful Matador. And before I get too many comments on the order of “What the fuck is La Cage aux Folles II doing in there?” let me explain that I think the late Michel Serrault’s brilliance in this picture has yet to be truly measured, due to the fact that it’s contained in what can only be described as a routine, programmatic sequel. But even within that starched plot, when Albin and Renato (Ugo Tognazzi) head for the Italian hills to escape from a bunch of hoods (doesn’t matter why), and Albin, living in luxury dressed as a female in France, is faced with the reality of an Italian peasant woman’s existence, and how Renato is exalted merely because his gender, it occasions a bolt of seriocomic empathy for him, and for the audience, that lifts Serrault’s already heavenly portrayal into even headier territory.

No, I was not surprised that La Cage aux Folles II did not make the cut. But in the spirit of creating as idiosyncratic a list as possible, and thereby creating a list that would inspire those of us who worked on it as well as those who might read it, I felt like it was a vote worth casting. Otherwise, my own list, while by no means even close to comprehensive (I forced myself to leave off The Seventh Seal, The Leopard, Breathless and a dozen other film-school friendly titles out of sheer familiarity and, and I said before, it’d just been too long since I’d seen some of them), strikes me as one of many reasonable places to start down the road toward appreciating the non-English language cinema.

And now, Monty, the I Confess portion of our program. Here are the titles that made the list of 122 that I have not seen. (Draw whatever conclusions about me based on this information that you will.)

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul
Amores Perros
Andrei Rublev
Army of Shadows
Ashes and Diamonds
Band of Outsiders
The Battle of Algiers
The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant
Black Orpheus
Celine and Julie Go Boating
City of God
Cleo From 5 to 7
Come and See
The Conformist
The Cranes Are Flying
Cries and Whispers
Day of Wrath
The Decalogue
The Earrings of Madame De...
Exterminating Angel
Eyes Without a Face
Forbidden Games
The 400 Blows
The Gospel According to St. Matthew
The Great Silence
Jules and Jim
La Dolce Vita
Late Spring
Le Samourai
Lola Montes
The Marriage of Maria Braun
My Night at Maud's
Raise the Red Lantern
Rocco and His Brothers
Sansho the Bailiff
Stolen Kisses
Story of the Late Chrysanthemums
The Tin Drum
To Live
Umberto D
The Wages of Fear
Wild Strawberries
Yi Yi: A One and a Two

That’s 51 movies! Jesus, it’s clear enough to me that I need to take about six months off and do some serious studying. Just at first glance, it seems that my experience with Truffaut’s films is the one most lacking, but really, it’s painful to look at any of those titles and think of the wonders I’ve so far denied myself. And in the case of Army of Shadows, The Conformist, The Decalogue and Pickpocket, these are movies that are sitting on my own DVD shelf—I have yet to make time for any of them.

And then there’s the list of movies I would, if I could, cherry-pick right off the list and flick to the wayside:

All About My Mother (not top drawer Almodovar, in my book)
Amelie (I’m not a hater, but really…)
Chungking Express (the movie that kept me at arm’s length from Wong Kar-wai for 10 years, and nearly ruined California Dreamin’ for me too)
Cinema Paradiso (I’m this movie’s prime demographic, and even I thought it was too much)
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (A movie I love, but I had no problem leaving it off my list)
Das Boot (another one I like, but consider wildly overrated)
Dersu Uzala (This appealed to me as a college student more than some of Kurosawa’s other titles—20 years later, it seemed soggy and obvious)
8 ½ (I need to see this again, but I’ve remained unconvinced for a long time)
Farewell My Concubine (I honestly barely even remember this movie, outside of Gong Li)
Last Year at Marienbad (This movie was absolutely forbidding to me when I saw it in college; I need to see it again)
Nosferatu the Vampyre (I liked this movie, but I would have rather voted for Murnau)
The Red Desert (Antonioni begins to run awfully dry for me here)
Run Lola Run (I said this when it landed on the OFC Top 100—Whaaaat?!!)
Seven Beauties (I loved this in college, but I suspect I would think it was a piece of shit now—a good candidate for re-viewing!)
Y Tu Mama Tambien (I just don’t get it…)

And just in case the taste for masochism is getting as good for you as it is for me, here’s 20 other foreign-language films that I haven’t seen, that didn’t make the list, that I would love to see right now, in the order they came floating off the top of my head:

Shoeshine (Vittorio De Sica)
The Truck (Marguerite Duras)
Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quoi du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (Chantal Akerman)
Strozsek (Werner Herzog)
Floating Weeds (Yasujiro Ozu)
Lola Montes (Max Ophuls)
The River (Jean Renoir)
French Cancan (Jean Renoir)
Werckmeister Harmonies (Bela Tarr)
Berlin Alexanderplatz (Rainer Werner Fassbinder)
Confidentially Yours (Francois Truffaut)
Murmur of the Heart (Louis Malle)
Vivre sa vie (Jean-Luc Godard)
La Terra Trema (Luchino Visconti)
Police (Maurice Pialat)
Shame (Ingmar Bergman)
La Femme infidele (Claude Chabrol)
Femmes fatales (Bertrand Blier)
The Night of the Shooting Stars (Paolo and Vittorio Taviani)
Pepe le Moko (Julien Duvivier)

Okay, quite enough masochism from me. Here’s list of 122 nominees that you and I will be choosing from. If you want to cast your vote, choose 25 of the titles from the List of 122 and send them to before midnight CST, Sunday, September 16.

Be sure to check out the names that made up the nominating committee. And if you have a list of your own 25 and are looking for a place to post it, Jim Emerson is taking submissions, and please feel free to deposit them below for further discussion and fun!

Remember, the deadline is Sunday, September 16, midnight CST!


Brian Darr said...

Dennis, I think AMARCORD and actually made the cut, as did SATANTANGO (which you at first imply did, then didn't.)

If you voted for WOMAN IN THE DUNES, Odienator says he did too, and I know I did. That makes three, and I just left a comment for Ed to that effect.

My first conclusion upon seeing your list of never-seens is to recommend certain titles. Like L'ATALANTE, PLAYTIME (though only on a very large screen), CLEO FROM 5 TO 7, and any of the Japanese or Russian films you mention.

My second reaction is to list my own never-seens, which interestingly enough don't overlap all that much with yours: DAY FOR NIGHT, THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VERONIQUE, THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL, FORBIDDEN GAMES, THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ST. MATTHEW, THE GREAT SILENCE, SEVEN BEAUTIES, SHOOT THE PIANIST, SONATINE, STOLEN KISSES, TAMPOPO, TO LIVE, UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG, THE VANISHING, VIRIDIANA. Any of those you'd particularly suggest I make time for before the voting?

Finally, your list of cherry-picker targets and justifications reads almost like it could have been written by me, considering how closely we line up on many of these films (ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER, CHUNGKING EXPRESS, CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON are pretty much my reactions verbatum). But we definitely part ways on a few titles, most notably 8 1/2 and THE RED DESERT, which I may not have nominated myself, but am considering voting for on the final ballot.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

The asterisk definitely fell off Amarcord, but it has been restored. And when I mentioned Satantango near the end, what I meant to put in there was Werckmeister Harmonies. Both have been fixed. Thanks for the eagle eyes!

I had opportunities to see L'Atalante AND Playtime theatrically (Tati was in 70mm even), and I just frittered them away. But I will take your recommendations seriously.

I am stung with red-faced humility the more I look over that list of haven't-seens. I went into making that list with enthusiasm, and now I'm kind of unsettled about the whole thing! That said, if I have any credibility left, I'd gladly recommend Day for Night, which I only just caught up with recently, Shoot the Piano Player, Sonatine, Tampopo, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg The Vanishing and Viridiana all without a single reservation.

As for Fellini and Antonioni (I resisted the urge to finish the line from the song from Hair), I have dangled that Criterion disc for 8 1/2 in front of myself for a long time now. I just remember being so unimpressed when I saw it as a student-- and this from the man who had three Fellini films on his list, including one that few find very impressive. But I feel as though I really need to see it again, and that goes for L 'Aventtura, L' Eclisse and most certainly The Red Desert, none of which I've seen in about 25 years. And 8 1/2 does feature Claudia Cardinale, so there's really no excuse, is there?

Edward says he's already recieved 25 votes! Wow. I'm looking forward to the final vote!

Brian Darr said...

Dennis, it may be perverse to say so, but I think one's critical credibility in many ways actualy increases once these kinds of blind spots are put out in the open. It's just history, not critical faculties, that are being scrutinized, and it's not as if you haven't been watching films. I'm sure you could pick out at least 51 films that you've seen but hardly any of the other contributors have. If you were going around yelling things like "Film X is the greatest film about World War II from the Russian perspective!" without having seen Come and See or the Cranes Are Flying, it would be one thing. But your writing is always endowed with a certain humility about the outer limits of your knowledge, to go alongside your strong point-of-view, and an admission list like this fits perfectly into that ethic.

We may not have identical (or even similar) viewing histories, but from most signals I've observed reading you over the years (it's been nearly two since I found this blog, I think) I've come to realize that our tastes are often quite similar, once I factor in my generally-less-enthusiastic feeling about most horror films. At least, films you like and don't like often end up corresponding to those I do and don't, from my perspective. I'm not sure if it works so well the other direction. (Speaking of, did you ever get a chance to see Virgin Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, and if so did you think I was crazy for obsessing over it?) So I really take your recommendations of those seven films seriously, just as I did your recommendation to see Revenge of the Cheerleaders last month. Which I loved.

Anonymous said...

Well, I feel a little better about the movies I haven't seen, particularly since I've seen both "Come and See" and "The Werckmeister Harmonies", so take that, why don't you! Though I really do need to see "Come and See" again, and "Harmonies" may have scared me away from Bela Tarr forver.

I'm a little confused about the criteria for this list, specifically the rationale for disqualifying Sergio Leone. "The Great Silence" made the list (I've seen that one, too! What a crazy movie...try to go into it as cold as possible), but as far as I'm aware the undubbed version of that is as unavailable as Leone's films. Is it because none of the actors spoke English, unlike in Leone's films? Also, had it been made before the cut-off year, would "Letters from Iwo Jima" have been eligible?

Greg said...

We had nine films in common. I knew you were smart.

That's quite a list of unseens. I think all of us look at the list and think, "Wow, there's a lot of titles here I haven't seen" but don't have the guts to list them all. I, of course have seen every film on the list at least seven times. Except for that statement being a complete lie, it's totally true. I just don't want to list the ones I haven't seen (not as masochistic as you or courageous) but there are plenty.

Everyone touts Playtime and I listed it on my 25 so I clearly agree but... BUT I think Roger Ebert in his great movies review was right in saying that the first time you see it you might not like it but it prepares you for the second time when you start to flow with it. It's all about rhythm. If you like Altman's Nashville you'll like Playtime. If you don't like that kind of "narrative" it won't be a good experience for you. For me, I have it on DVD and from time to time watch it in bits and pieces, like listening to a favorite song from an album rather than the whole thing. I have a favorite moment that I will be writing about for one of my future "Just a Moments" but I'm not saying which.

I think Viridiana is a great film but Bunuel isn't for everyone. It's odd but powerful. As for Truffaut, Shoot the Piano Player is one of his few sixties films that I have never liked or felt was very good but I haven't seen it in so long I could be completely wrong. If you see it soon, let me know what you thought.

Jeffrey Hill said...

Dennis: I'd admire your courage in posting your "haven't seens." Nothing to be ashamed of. All it means is that you have some movie enjoyment ahead of you.

I went through a Jean Renoir spell where I got everything Netflix had & the one I never did watch was The River. For some reason, the idea that it was a French film about the South put me off. About every month I see it on my shelf and deliberate putting it in. Some movies are like that.

I'm heartened to see Tampopo on your list & the selection list. I was afraid it would be forgotten.

Finally: Dersu Uzala soggy and obvious? I guess if you're going to criticize a film, might as well be poetic. I have a soft spot for it, though.

Brian Doan said...

Great lists, and great piece about what's sure to be a fun project. Let me second Brian's suggestion to see L'Atalante as soon as possible, and also suggest Band of Outsiders, and all thhose truffauts you haven't seen.

Jeffrey-- are you sure you're not thinking of the southerner? The River is set in India. And while it's far from my favorite renoir, it's certainly worth seeing-- very beautiful and contemplative (I've never seen the southerner either, incidentally-- Renoir's Hollywood period is kind of a blank for me, other than the last half-hour of This Land Is Mine, which I caught on TCM. I'd really like to see his diary of a chambermaid, if we could get a R1 DVD).

Edward Copeland said...

Because of my original error that left Woman in the Dunes off at first, there are actually 122 titles.

Anonymous said...

I think it's groovy that we both have Beauty and the Beast and M on our lists and so many similar directors. Some the films you listed such as Belle de Jour, Rules of the Game and In the Realm of the Senses came very close to being on my own list.

And do give 8 1/2 another try! You're older and wiser now and I think you would enjoy Fellini's personal look at his own life.

Out of the films you haven't seen yet I highly recommend The Great Silence, Le Samourai and Rocco and His Brothers. After seeing the types of films you enjoy and coming across the various film posters that pop up in your blog sidebar, I can almost guarentee that you'll really enjoy all three of thosefilms. I'd almost be willing to bet that one or two will become favorites after you see them.

I also believe you're a Coppola and Scorsese fan so Rocco and His Brothers is a must. Both directors have based their entire film careers around that one movie in my not so humble opinion.

I really need to see some Bresson and more Bergman, Many of my favorite film bloggers like yourself have their films listed and I feel pretty clueless about them. We all have black holes in our viewing habits and of course there are only so many hours in the day and millions of movies to watch. I love that you have a Jackie Chan flick and some anime on your list! Tampopo is one of my husbands favorite films too. I expressed surprise to him about it making the final cut and he told me to shove a sock in it. We like sharing opinions in our household even if we don't always see eye-to-eye on everything. Ha!

Anonymous said...

I also forgot to mention that Pierrot le Fou is one Godard film that I haven't seen and I want to see it SO DAMN BAD!

Jeffrey Hill said...

Cinephile: you're right. Thanks for that correction. Actually, The River is also on my shelf, unwatched, next to The Southerner.

And thanks to this thread, both films have been moved next to my DVD player. See, one man can make a difference, Dennis. Your post is an inspiration.

Also, I guess I'll have to give Le Samourai another chance, as I found it pretty dull at the time. I must have missed something.

RC said...

i totally feel you when you talk about feeling like your film knowledge is like swiss cheese.

i have some catch up to do before i turn in my 25 film ballot, and evne then i'll be lacking many many films from the list.

this is a fun experience thought to stretch my film viewing.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Brian: One of the things I enjoy most about writing my blog is the sense it often gives me of the joy of the journey still to come. I think that was a primary motivation behind posting all those haven’t-seens—to get me kick-started toward filling in some of the gaps—but it was also to provide some sort of context for myself in this whole foreign-language film parlor game we’re enjoying so much here. Yet I admit to getting pretty twisted up about revealing the vastness of my shortcomings (where’s David Niven when you need him?)-- after they were already posted, of course. You really cut to the core of what it was that made me feel posting those lists was important—I felt I would have more credibility in revealing those places where my cinematic education needed bolstering, in reveling in the fact that there’s so much I have left to see and to discover and get excited about, in inviting you all to be part of my own journey through film history.

As for Virgin, I'm afraid it suffered the same fate that Army of Shadows and The Last of Sheila are enduring right now-- Netflix rentals that are languishing on my shelf for upwards of three months because this summer I've barely had time to look sideways, let alone see many movies. I've made it out to theaters, strangely enough, more often than I can sit down to a DVD, because whenever I'm home I'm either studying, reading textbooks or, if I'm lucky, writing for the blog. But I have not given up on Virgin-- I have some credit that I got for my birthday, and I was thinking of diving into some unexplored territory and buying it and, on Jim Emerson's recommend, Le Boucher. When I finally do see it, I promise I will check in.

And I couldn't be happier that you loved Revenge of the Cheerleaders! I don’t remember you mentioned what you thought of it on HOFB, and I was hoping that wasn’t your polite way of saying "nay." The big dance number in the soda shoppe was filmed at a restaurant we here in the office frequent occasionally called Papoo's Hot Dog Show-- it's just down the street, and I was thrilled-- thrilled-- to think that Hasselhoff once sashayed there! There was just something so disarming about the whole crazy movie that I just found irresistible! Again, thanks for writing this morning, my friend.

Bill: I’m a little unclear about the exclusion of the Sergio Leone movies too. Actually, it seemed clear enough—no one I know has ever seen the Italian soundtrack for the film, except those brief added scenes on the recent DVD, so I figured, okay, it’s in English, for all intents and purposes, so no go. But then The Great Silence makes the cut, a movie I understand to be recorded in English as well. And Matt has both The Good, The Bad and the Ugly and For a Few Dollars More on his list at The House Next Door-- perhaps they were not on the list he actually submitted to Edward.

Jonathan: Wow, have you got me intrigued about Playtime. I’ve never heard anyone describe it in that way, and as you may know, a comparison to Altman, particularly Nashville, is going to do nothing to cool my level of intrigue. Glad to see we lined up as well as we did on our original lists. Seems like we’ll have a better chance of getting together productively over those than our Dodgers and Red Sox will have of meeting in the postseason, at least as far as my swooning boys in blue can do anything about it. Blaaahh…

Jeffrey: I didn’t mean to sound as dismissive about Dersu Uzala as I think I did. It’s a beautiful movie to look at. But I just found it, upon encountering it again about five years ago, one of Kurosawa’s least convincing movies—the whole brotherhood of man theme seems a little forced, especially coming from the director who made High and Low, Yojimbo and Ran. I don’t mean to say avoid it, or that it’s bad—it just seemed so much less than the others of Kurosawas I’ve seen, and certainly much less than the sum of its widescreen frames as I assessed it in college.

And I wonder what you and Cinephile, or anyone else, would make of Renoir’s Swamp Water, another of his American period films, this one starring Dana Andrews. I rather liked it lo those many years ago, and of course I’d love to see it again, but I don’t recall seeing it around much at all.

Cinebeats: Having been fairly well drenched in Visconti during my final year at Oregon (I saw Ossessione before I ever saw either versions of The Postman Always Rings Twice, and I even saw Ludwig, The Damned and Conversation Piece), I’m not sure how I missed Rocco and his Brothers, or La Terra Trema either. But I did, damn it, I did. Needless to say, you’ve made me regret missing it even more, as well as strengthen my resolve to find it quickly. Also The Great Silence and Le Samourai! Kiki’s Delivery Service wasn’t the first Miyazaki I saw (that would be My Neighbor Totoro), but it’s the first one that completely seduced me, and though I’m not sure it’s the achievement that Spirited Away is, I couldn’t leave it off my list. And as for In the Realm of the Senses, that was an important movie for me in that it was the first time I ever saw hard-core sex on screen, and I feel lucky that it was in a serious movie rather than Deep Throat or Behind the Green Door. (I got to those soon enough.) Oshima really captured an aspect of Japanese eroticism, it's passion, fear and romantic fatalism, that is riveting and unlike anything I'd ever seen-- I can't think of anything to match it since I saw it in 1977. Of course, I hated it the first time I saw it, because I wasn't in any fashion ready to deal with what it was about. But hey, that's what growing up and compiling foreign-language film lists are for, right?

(Oh, and I just remembered another movie that I’m really pissed about forgetting until now—Paul Schrader’s brilliant Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters. Have you seen this one? I have a feeling you’d really like it.)

Finally, keep an eye out for Pierrot le fou at a Bay Area Landmark Theater near you. I’m disappointed that the Landmark Web site lists only upcoming dates in Atlanta, Seattle and St. Louis. Needless to say, see this one on a BIG screen if you can. Enraptured wasn’t a word I was prepared to use to describe my experience with this movie, but that’s exactly what I was—filled with delight from start to finish. It doesn’t hurt that Belmondo and Karina seem like the most beautiful people on earth as they traipse through the fractured pop landscape Godard concocts for them. I kept thinking that had I seen this movie when I was 19, at an age where I might have been even more susceptible to its preposterously seductive tale of aimless, beautiful people on the run, stealing cars, occasionally killing someone, themselves marked for death, I dare say it might have had the power to change the entire way I thought about movies. (On the other hand, as precocious as I tended to be about foreign films when I was young, I may have just dismissed it out of hand, necessitating a rediscovery of it at my current decrepit age anyway!) Instead, I’ve just had to settle for thinking that the movie is a masterpiece that I’m so glad to have had the chance to take in on the big screen. (I tend to be less patient with Godard on DVD, which is why I regret having missed the recent reissue of Contempt.) Pierrot le fou is the most playful and alive of Godard’s movies that I’ve seen, one that delights in the sporadic musical interjections and cinematic allusions of A Woman is a Woman while seeming to point the way toward the more didactic, theoretical future that lay in store for the director. It is simultaneously ahead of its time, yet in its way a perfect pop culture snapshot of the tumultuous, sensual, anything-goes sensibility of the era in which it was shot. And I really like the connection that critic Andy Klein made in his recent review of the reissue:

“I have frequently suggested that Richard Lester was the one who brought Godard’s style into English-language cinema. Only now do I realize that the influence may have worked both ways: Pierrot was made about a year after the release of A Hard Day’s Night, and its combination of shattered narrative and sheer energy – the way in which it is, first and foremost, a romp – seems a step beyond Godard’s prior work.”

Now, there, Kimberly, is a comparison that makes the movie seem even more up your alley! Oh, and tell your husband thanks for getting my back on Tampopo!

Brian Doan said...

I haven't seen SWAMP WATER, but now I'm intrigued, and want to track it down. And even if you haven't watched LAST OF SHEILA yet, I think it's so cool you got it from Netflix-- I'm a big Stephen Sondheim fan, and I'm very curious to see what his screenplay for this film is like (might have to go move it up in my queue). And let me-- second? fourth? fifth?-- the various salutes to you for including Tampopo, a wonderful film.

Jeffrey Hill said...

Dennis: Alas, Swamp Water is not available to me at this time. I sorta rely on Netflix, which, incidentally, I just checked for any new Renoir - and there are some new titles due to be released.

Re: In the Realm of the Senses - I suppose I'm still too shocked to appreciate it. And, I must confess, I'm still taken aback by that Yukio Mishima movie as well (saw it a long time ago before I ever read his novels - which are also disturbing.)

Re: Tampopo - it's the greatest ramen westerns of all time.

Anonymous said...

Dennis, I thought you might be interested to know that I got Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast and Kiki's Delivery Service as gifts for my neice (now 10). Good luck with the unseen films. I have eight I haven't seen and will probably not be able to see two of them because they are not available on R1 DVD.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Peter: My girls (7, 5) love Miyazaki, especially Kiki, Totoro and Spirited Away. And I hope they'll be half as receptive to Cocteau as they have been to Disney!

Edward Copeland said...

The lack of availability of some titles is distressing. (I'm particularly vexed that it appears there's no way to get a hold of Celine and Julie Go Boating, which I'm ashamed to admit I'd never even heard of until I started this survey.) I think the lack of access explains some omissions, especially the films of Satyajit Ray.

Andrew Bemis said...

Dennis, I have a feeling Stroszek would be right up your alley.

Greg said...

But Ray is available on DVD, if not all at least his biggest known works like Apur Sansar. I think that directors simply go through cycles. I remember Ray being huge in the seventies and eighties (my Analyzing Films textbook from '83 has a whole section on Ray and the Apu trilogy)and then he slowly fell away. I'm sure his notablility will rise again. Very few directors(Welles, Hitchcock)don't go through cycles.

Think about how tired you become as a teenager or twenty-something of hearing about the "great" music or movies from the generation before you. You eventually reject it to claim your own ground. Eventually as you age, you come to see that there is great music and movies from several generations.

When I first started studying film intensely and reading things like "Analyzing Film", movies like The Godfather and Lawrence of Arabia while well liked could be found nowhere on "greatest of all time" lists. The generation compiling those lists preferred small intimate portraits from the likes of Ray, Bergman, Godard et al. Then the next generation, mine, starting ranking things like The Godfather and Lawrence of Arabia and while the giants like Welles were able to hang on a lot of the filmmakers like Ray got left in the dust to our collective regret.

People have a natural tendency to latch onto what's new but the more specific crime committed when people start ranking current filmmaker's works as among the greatest ever is the ignorance or non-appreciation of the fact that any new generation of filmmakers owes much of its greatness to the fact that they stood on the shoulders of the giants before them.

As a result I tend to exhalt older films much more than recent ones. By older I mean 40 to 50 years at least and by recent I mean anything in, say, the last 20 or 30 years. I just think it takes a couple of decades at least to really know if a work of art is holding its own. Probably why I don't put too much stock in current critical evaluations of movies.

Ray will return because the next generation will re-discover him and separate themselves from the previous generation by exhalting him. Let's hope.


P.S. For those who follow baseball did you see that score? Texas 30 Baltimore 3 OUCH! 30 points? Were they scoring runs or touchdowns?

Tim K. said...

Dennis: I know this has already been brought up several times already, but I just wanted to thank you for posting the list of movies you haven't seen. I'm in my fifth year of teaching a high school film studies class, and am constantly privately embarrassed by all the canonical films I haven't seen. I now hate myself a little less. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

@Edward: There's a BFI edition of Rivette's "Céline et Julie" available here: To enjoy it, you need a little something every self-respecting cinephile should have, though: a code-free DVD player. ;)

Anonymous said...

I have only seen nine of the fifty-one films on your "admission" list, but I have to take a moment to tout "The 400 Blows" and "Rififi", two of my all time favourite desert island pictures in any language.

I also wanted to comment on the absence of Michael Haneke from the list... Did "Funny Games" (which I am also a fan of) irk too many viewers? Is he too contemporary for consideration? (not if "Amelie" is there) Perhaps "Cache," "71 Fragments...," and "Code Inconnu" are not amongst the absolute best foreign language films, but I'd have expected at least one to be short-listed...

The Wrong Box said...

Hi Dennis,

Good article. But I have to wonder if, maybe, the reason it never occurred to you to put [i]Repulsion[/i] on your list is that the film is, in fact, in English?

D. said...

Dennis: I went for 25 that made me laugh, or cry, or think, or go "Wow!!" Although I have seen many of the acknowledged "Classics," I have much
more populist than cineastic tastes. But I know you of all people would want to see THAT kind of list, so here's what I entered over at
Scanners - enjoy!
-- Dan Aloi
These are the memorably great ones:

1. Diva - Bieneix
(I am truly shocked that no one polled so far has chosen either this
or 'Betty Blue')
2. Le Mepris (Contempt) - Godard
3. Grand Illusion - Renoir
4. Days of Being Wild - Wong Kar-Wai
5. M - Lang
6. 3 Colors: Blue - Kiezlowski
7. L'Avventura - Antonioni
8. Band a Parte (Band of Outsiders) - Godard
9. Elevator to the Gallows - Malle
10. Men With Guns - Sayles
11. Antarctica - Kurahara
12. Purple Noon - Clement
13. Vagabond (Sans Toit Ni Loi) - Varda
14. Abre Los Ojos (Open Your Eyes) - Amenabar
15. Fallen Angels - Wong Kar-Wai
16. Memento Mori (Yeogo Goedam)
17. Nine Queens
18. Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner - Kunuk
19. Infernal Affairs - Lau/Mak
20. Jesus of Montréal - Arcand
21. Talk to Her - Almodovar
22. Week-End - Godard
23. Y Tu Mama Tambien - Cuaron
24. Persona - Bergman
25. Betty Blue - Bieneix

A word on remakes:
My list includes five films remade for U.S. audiences
Purple Noon, adapted from a Patricia Highsmith novel, and remade by Minghella (as The Talented Mr. Ripley, the novel's title)
Antarctica, made stupider by Disney (as Eight Below)
Abre Los Ojos, made weirder by Crowe (as Vanilla Sky)
Infernal Affairs, which impressed me well before I heard it would be
remade by Scorsese (as The Departed)
and Nine Queens, remade somewhat pointlessly (as Criminal). -- it may be too recent? I didn't check the date of the original. Oh well.
I avoided including other, better-known movies I liked first as foreign films (La Femme Nikita, The Vanishing, Insomnia) in my 25.