I first saw Wanda when I was in Paris making a movie and a cinephile friend of mine told me I had to see it, so I found a DVD of it, but I’ve still never seen it projected. When I was making Invisible Life, I was looking at films like it as a way to build my characters. I was very inspired by Barbara Loden’s performance and the drifting aspect of that character, who was very similar to one of the women in my film.
A Woman Under the Influence
I actually first discovered a lot of the films on this list, like News from Home, when I lived in New York, next to Kim’s Video, a time when I went a lot to Anthology Film Archives and Lincoln Center.
Chantal Akerman has always been a big inspiration for me, and News from Home was the first film of hers that I saw. Watching it was so inspiring and made me feel like I could make movies myself, because it’s so simply done yet so affecting—just letters and an empty city. I have a very strong relationship with my mother, and she also used to send me letters when I lived in New York. I discovered Jeanne Dielman later, and a lot of the screen tests I did for Invisible Life were taken from frames from that film.
I also discovered A Woman Under the Influence during this time in New York, and I was so touched by it. I’ve seen it many times, but I revisited it again during the filming of Invisible Life. It’s just a really complex portrait of a character who is at once a bit out of her mind and also so affectionate. It was important for me to have my actors see that film.
The Piano Teacher
I saw this in the cinema in France and was so blown away by it. I also read the book. The Piano Teacher was super important for Invisible Life as well, because there is a certain cruelty Haneke works with, particularly in this film, that helped me in adapting my story. The book that Invisible Life is based on is very sweet and very light, but I wanted to look at the characters from a different standpoint, and The Piano Teacher helped me think about that in terms of performance.
Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Ali: Fear Eats the Soul
I adore Fassbinder’s work. I’ve been living in Germany for the last ten years, and I think he’s one of the biggest reasons I moved there. Ali: Fear Eats the Soul is my favorite film of all time. It’s the kind of film I’d never think of making—I’d never have thought of those two protagonists as a possible couple—but it’s the most beautiful and yet political film I’ve ever seen. When I was growing up, I never thought that I’d be able to make movies, but I began to learn by discovering films that were made in a way that was very technically simple yet powerful in terms of character, which is what you see in Ali. I come from an Algerian family that emigrated to France in the seventies, so there is something about the character of Ali in particular, and the empathy that the older woman has for him, that touched me.
There’s also something about the way Fassbinder depicts sadness that I love and find refreshing. I absolutely adore In a Year of 13 Moons, Fox and His Friends, and Querelle, which made me feel the world differently. I didn’t feel so alone; I felt there were other people who were like me.
Written on the Wind
All That Heaven Allows
I adore melodrama. All That Heaven Allows and Written on the Wind are movies that I learned so much from. The trick for me is: how can you create something so beautiful, with such amazing mise en scène, color, and composition, and also talk about something profound? Sirk’s films grab viewers in an oblique way by getting through their hearts, not through their minds.
The first Tarkovsky I saw was Nostalgia, and I kept asking myself, how can someone have done this? Where does this mind come from? Later, I saw Andrei Rublev for the first time at Anthology. What I love about it is that it just hits you in places you don’t expect—the composition of the shots and how he fills them with emotion is so beautiful.
The Battle of Algiers
This is a very important film for me, and it makes me want to make more films about Algeria, which is where my father comes from. He actually is an extra in the film, so I’ve always watched it looking for him. I saw it in Brazil at the end of the military dictatorship, when I was about nineteen, and it was an example of political cinema that was important for me at a time when I was developing a sense of political consciousness. Besides it being a great history lesson, it’s a sweeping film that’s just fantastically well made.
Badlands is one of those movies that you wish you had made yourself. Sissy Spacek and Martin Sheen are incredible, and while the plot is simple, the film is a deep portrait not only of its characters but of a generation. It’s full of mystery, and the use of voice-over is so beautiful. I keep coming back to it before preproduction on my films because there’s something brutally poetic about it that I just adore. It triggers my wish to make things.
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is just a brilliant piece of work. It’s camp, it’s crazy, it’s out there, it’s not cerebral at all, it’s just visionary and against the grain. For me it’s just these female superheroes, and it’s using all the clichés but actually pushing them forward. Every time I think of something daring, I think of this film in particular, and it’s so inspiring whenever I want to do something pop.
Pier Paolo Pasolini
Like many of the films on this list, Arabian Nights showed me that the possibilities of working with narrative are the possibilities of working with the world. This film makes beautiful use of a documentary approach to filmmaking but within the framework of fiction. It’s filled with these faces you don’t generally see in cinema, faces that remind me of people from that region in Italy. I’m not Italian, but there’s something there that made me feel, as a Brazilian, that I was connected to these faces and these characters. It’s also a fantastic way of looking at a classic piece of literature—I am a big fan of One Thousand and One Nights, and this is an adaptation you can connect to, that doesn’t feel far away at all. There’s a sexiness and a rawness, and a sense of pulsating reality being brought to the screen on a poetic level.
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Tracy Letts’s Top 10
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