2011 was probably the biggest year for me and movies. I saw my first films from directors who are now among my favourites, such as Ingmar Bergman, Krzysztof Kieslowski, and Jean-Luc Godard. I learned a lot from them, and they helped me shape my love of cinema today. Recently, Stevee at Cinematic Paradox wrote a list of things she learned from movies released in 2011. I’m going to change things a bit and make it ten things I learned from any movie I watched through the year. Let’s begin:
10: Japanese prostitutes keep pet monkeys.
Film: Inland Empire (2006)
Teacher: A young Japanese woman
Towards the end of this 3-hour David Lynch magnum opus, Laura Dern is stabbed by a crazy woman with a screwdriver, collapses on a Hollywood boulevard next to a black woman, a Japanese girl and a pimp, and dies slowly as the Japanese girl tells her the story of a diseased prostitute and her pet monkey. A very bizarre and uncomfortably long scene, it is one of many memorable moments from this fantastic festival of freakishness.
9: The underpass is not safer.
Film: Irreversible (2002)
Teacher: Monica Bellucci
After storming out of a party when her boyfriend makes annoying remarks, Monica Bellucci is told by a prostitute that it’s safer to take the underpass rather than a taxi. Bellucci finds out the hard way how wrong the prostitute is in the most disturbing display of sexual violence in cinematic history, as she is raped for a long time and then has her head smashed into the concrete floor by a pimp named Le Tenia. Wouldn’t you rather take a taxi?
8: Lots of people want to hit on Tom Cruise.
Film: Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
Teacher: Tom Cruise
Throughout the course of Stanley Kubrick’s final film, Tom Cruise’s character seems to emit a charge that makes people respond to him sexually. Though he isn’t dressed provocatively, a group of football players think he’s gay and react violently. A woman whose father has died suddenly latches onto him. A young woman being sold as a prostitute jumps to him for safety. A prostitute is disappointed when he decides not to have sex with her, even though he’s still paying her. And after being apprehended for sneaking into an orgy, the master of the house orders him to get naked. These are among many strange responses he gets on the streets of New York during this mystical, intense, brilliant film.
7: If you take abuse your kids, one of them will kill themselves and the other will become bitter and hostile.
Film: Festen (1998)
Teacher: Thomas Vinterberg
In this Dogme-95 tale of the ultimate dysfunctional family, we see a family reunion on the 60th birthday of the patriarch, soon after his daughter has committed suicide, one of his sons has become silent and bitter, and the other is violent and hostile. As the birthday celebration goes on, one son Christian attempts to bring to light the truth of what happened when they were kids in this stunning, revelatory film.
6: Sven Nykvist is and always will be the best cinematographer of all time, forever.
Film: Winter Light (1963)
Teacher: Sven Nykvist
I can’t really name one single movie that taught me this, but during my umpteenth viewing of Ingmar Bergman’s indescribable masterpiece Winter Light, it finally dawned on me what a huge motherfucking genius the cinematographer Sven Nykvist is. He does things with the lighting and camera position that are simply genius. There is one brilliant moment in Winter Light where the camera slowly zooms in on an actor’s face as all the light around him goes completely white and he whispers a beautiful line. Heavenly.
5: Belgian housewives lead empty lives.
Film: Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975)
Teacher: Delphine Seyrig
In this starkly minimalist, deathly quiet 20o-minute film from Chantal Akerman, we follow three days in the life of a housewife as she completes the daily chores and Akerman shows us everything with incredible detail; she allows it all to unfold in slow pace, making the film’s violent ending even more shocking.
4: Lars von Trier can shoot a baby without making it look gratuitous.
Film: Dogville (2003)
Teacher: Lars von Trier
If you’ve seen LvT’s three hour examination of small town life in America, you’ll remember how it ends. Not with a whisper, but a bang. After being raped, tortured, abused, spat on and disgraced by every member of the town of Dogville, Grace (Nicole Kidman) gets her revenge. One iconic image from the film’s ultra-violent ending is kids and a baby being shot by gangsters. And you know what? As absolutely abhorred as I am by the image, Lars von Trier gets into your hand and makes you feel like in a way, they deserve it. That’s how clever von Trier is. He can manipulate your emotions in a really amazing way.
3: If you get lost, there’s really nothing else you can do but walk.
Film: Gerry (2002)
Teachers: Matt Damon and Casey Affleck
In Gus van Sant’s best film, Casey Affleck and Matt Damon have no choice to do anything but walk and hope they come across something. As days pass and things become more bleak, van Sant communicates his message that being lost in the desert is far less interesting than most movies make it out to be, even if you do have someone with you.
2: Isabelle Huppert has an unnerving face.
Film: The Piano Teacher (2001)
Teacher: Isabelle Huppert
Isabelle Huppert is a beautiful woman and probably the greatest actress of all time, but in The Piano Teacher she manages amazingly to make herself look unattractive, creepy, disturbing and downright terrifying. There are several scenes in which director Haneke’s camera manages to highlight this brilliantly, especially the final scene when she commits an ultimate act of disturbing self-harm.
1: Don’t litter.
Film: Code Unknown (2002)
Teacher: Michael Haneke
The key act in Michael Haneke’s Code Unknown occurs in the first five minutes, when a young man named Jean throws a paper bag into a beggar woman’s lap and is apprehended by a black man for what he has done. This sets off a series of shots that reveal more about the lives of those involved and the consequences of the action, which leads to a series of disturbing events, including Juliette Binoche being terrified and a Romanian woman being deported. In short, don’t litter; you don’t know what will happen.
Those are ten things from movies I watched this year. What lessons did you learn from movies you saw?