RoboCop is one of the few films I remember from my early youth. When I was in sixth grade, I had a friend whose grandfather had a movie theater at home in Mexico City and he took us there and showed us the film several times. I was just blown away. I loved the rhythm, the intensity, and the honesty. Everything was straightforward but meaningful and deeply felt. The actors were unknown to me and so ordinary that it made it all so real. This was also probably the first time in my life that I realized that sound in cinema could be so important. I could hear every bolt in the machine moving, and it was the first time I realized that what I was hearing was actually artificial sound, which was what made it all so real.
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
I have to say, there’s never been a film by Buñuel that I didn’t like and that hasn’t moved me very deeply, that didn’t make me laugh and probably cry too. The first time I saw this I remember being confused but thrilled, and I wondered what the point of the absurdity was. But when I saw it again, I realized that the film wasn’t absurd at all—it was about the absurdity of life, but it wasn’t absurd. It was a completely reasonable, intelligent, and clever film that was making fun of how ridiculous we are. It’s hilarious, and it shows very elegantly how stupid we can be.
What I love about Tati is that the things that are funny are always secondary, not on the surface. In American comedy, you build up to the summit of the joke, and the joke is the central element. But Tati has a unique type of humor that always leaves a place for the viewer. If something isn’t funny for you, you don’t have to laugh, and that’s all right. You might even pass without noticing. The antipode of this attitude for life is American stand-up comedy. Here you are permanently directed—there’s no way out; you have to laugh and there might even exist recorded laughter in case you didn’t get it. Tati is the exact opposite. His comedy just unfolds as things actually happen in life. His situations are so direct and clear, you don’t have to be witty or have a sense of irony or sarcasm to get them; you just have to have a sense of observation.
Carl Th. Dreyer
Gertrud is so interesting because it’s a film that seems to be so close to literature, so bare cinematically, austere in every sense apart from words. There are so many of them, and the events are completely dramatic and constructed. But Dreyer, being one of the best filmmakers in all of history, manages to make a truly cinematic film. Everything that you hear and everything that you see transcends its significance as information and becomes meaningful in itself. It starts feeling like you’re experiencing life, not just living sentimentally in someone else’s drama. I think it took ten years to make the film, and it shows—not in how spectacular it is but in how everything is so subtle and so well designed, so well prepared. Everything has a reason, and that reason makes the film strong and unique, and you can feel that without anything being pushed.
À nos amours
I remember the intensity of Pialat’s acting. His power is so overwhelming and economical. All of the language in the film is incredibly straightforward, very open and transparent. I’ve only seen it once, twenty years ago, but I remember that it was completely opposite of what I just said about Gertrud. Instead of transcending itself, it’s just so clearly present, like a statue right there in front of you.
Army of Shadows
Le silence de la mer
Melville is a very, very dear filmmaker for me because I feel he suffers when he’s making a movie. He puts a lot of effort into it. I have a feeling that it doesn’t flow very naturally, but that’s exactly what I like, that he’s working and putting in so much of his own feelings and vision in a way that’s complicated for him. In Le silence de la mer, which is one of my favorite films ever, he creates this feeling of intimacy not through dialogue but through a space, a certain type of light, and the sounds of a specific place. How is it that, with a film, he can make you feel the weight of a living room and the solace it can give? It’s all about nostalgia and reminds me of the way I think of places in the past. I can imagine that Melville must have been an intense and passionate person, especially given how he deals with the past and his memories.
Army of Shadows is done very intellectually and very elegantly. He’s always so classical—not in the sense of rules but in the sense of proportions and elegance, like something Greek and old. That’s a quality that belongs to people who were living during the Second World War, people from another era with an aspiration for a better humanity.
The Fire Within
I love Louis Malle’s films because he’s always inventive in his own way. He’s not trying to be anybody else or copy any kind of fashion; he’s trying to give us something he believes in. In The Fire Within you feel this French, fifties-sixties kind of atmosphere: there’s always piano music by Satie and this feeling of desire for something grander, more powerful, more passionate. I felt that way as a teenager and a younger adult, always thinking life was never as intense as I wished it could be.
Five Easy Pieces
Five Easy Pieces is inventive, very funny, very fresh, and just a joy to watch. Probably one of the funniest moments in cinema I’ve ever seen happens when they’re driving with the two girls they’ve picked up, and one of the girls just keeps saying negative things about trash and filth. I love that Bob Rafelson had such freedom that he didn’t mind going deeper and deeper and repeating a joke. You feel that he doesn’t need to go fast just because there’s a producer telling him the joke has been understood and we need to move on. The moments are meaningful in themselves, and if you’re enjoying them, why not carry on? This is what Rafelson does, and I find it incredibly funny. But at the same time, it’s also deep. I would say that the last sequence at the gas station is probably one of the best endings in the history of cinema. This is the film every beatnik would have loved to make. It perfectly expresses this feeling about living intensely but without a sense of purpose, not knowing where you’re going.
Brian De Palma
As I said, I love filmmakers who struggle, and I’ve always gotten the feeling that De Palma struggles. I feel in his work that there’s something awkward, something that is not flowing easily, and that makes me watch the film from a different perspective. In Blow Out, the storyline is very pristine, there’s nothing distracting, and you get to see and observe all the details in a special way. There’s a lot of information in his films, but like Tati, it’s all at a deeper layer. You could see a De Palma film and think it’s very ordinary, but if you see it more than once, it always gets better.
La vie de Jésus
The first film I saw by Dumont was L’humanité. I saw it immediately after I made Japón and it made such an impression on me. At that point, Dumont was doing something absolutely perfect: when he was shooting and creating sequences, he was taking presence into the camera and building with it. In L’humanité and La vie de Jesus, it’s striking how he used sound in such a direct way, to the point where he kept the sound of each shot distinct from its counter shot, even though they are part of the same sequence. You can also feel that he was shooting in the place he was born and raised. The things the characters say, the pauses they take when they talk, the perfect choice of words—all of that just shows he’s someone who is very aware of what he experiences in life.
Iron and Wine’s Top 10
Samuel Beam is an American singer-songwriter (and former film studies professor!) better known by the stage name Iron and Wine. His last album was 2007’s The Shepherd’s Dog, and a follow-up is in the works.