Djibril Diop Mambéty
Touki bouki is a longstanding reference for everything we’ve worked on. You can learn something from it every time. There’s a playfulness to it, and you can appreciate it on a surface level, but it’s also very rich and deep, with many layers that have different meanings depending on how (and how many times) you watch it.
There’s not one film of Altman’s that we don’t like, but Nashville is the holy grail. When we first saw it, we were so blown away that a film could feel so natural and lived in, and that influenced the way we thought about movies and made them from then on. On the surface it feels like just a bunch of interconnected moments, but a deeper reading shows that it’s about the fatality of America. Then there’s the editing, the use of sound, and the curious camera, which seems to be wandering, making us privy to every conversation it’s focused on. If we were ranking Altman films, this would be one through ten.
Les Blank: Always for Pleasure
When you watch a Les Blank film, you’re watching him see the world. You see his humanity, and it’s sloppy and messy and sweaty and loving. He gives you the feeling of being there like no other filmmaker. When we discovered him, we felt we had a road map for how to have a career like this.
He had a way of seeing the world where it’s fine if the camera floats away from what it’s supposed to be covering and captures a butterfly that’s grabbed its attention. The camera work is never disconnected from his own interest in experience: he’s got a camera, and he’s going to go wherever he wants to go with it. It’s a part of him as a person. You get a sense of being in the moment with him.
Lions Love (. . . and Lies)
Lions Love (. . . and Lies) inspired Bloody Nose more than anything else on this list. It’s very self-aware and manufactured and insular, and it’s also interacting with the world at large, responding to things like Bobby Kennedy’s assassination and life in Hollywood. There’s youthfulness and exuberance in it, as there is in a lot of Varda’s films.
We’re always looking for filmmakers who say: it’s okay, you can get away with this, keep going. I don’t think Varda ever lost that playfulness. Even as she grew older there was still a quality of having an idea and then trying it out and discovering something.
When we first started thinking about Bloody Nose, we thought this was going to be our cheat code movie and that we would make a film about a motel on the outskirts of Vegas. Dekalog is made up of these ten stories that take place in one complex, and they sometimes reference each other but only obliquely. Each thread is just so satisfying. The film is loosely based on the Ten Commandments, so it has basic thematic structures, but they’re placed in a universe all its own. Like all of the films on this list, this comes up every time we have a conversation about new work.
When we saw this, we were so taken aback by its scrappiness and handmade feel. It struck us that the director needed to tell this story and was obviously doing it with all the resources she could gather. That was definitely the spirit of Bloody Nose, the idea that something seemingly simple could be profound and beautiful if the attention and desire to really see it made are there. Wanda does such a great job of showing off the landscape in which the protagonist exists, and that’s something we wanted to do with our movie—to speak to the place as much as we spoke to the people.
Antonioni is a director near and dear to us, and L’eclisse is the film of his that we go back to the most. 45365 was just a rip-off of its ending. L’eclisse gave us license to be patient and observe and allow space for consideration, to fill in your own blanks and treat the viewer with respect and a sense of co-authorship. We actually visited Antonioni’s grave in Italy and paid our respects when we went on a train trip five years ago.
Husbands should probably be only ninety minutes, but we appreciate the fact that Cassavetes just doesn’t stop, and that these actors give you space to just be in the room with them. You’re spending time with these rather reprehensible people. We picked this movie specifically for its long drinking scene, which is so rowdy and gross but also so real. At times it feels forced, but in certain moments, like when Peter Falk takes his pants off, you feel like that couldn’t have been in the script—but maybe it was! It also feels like the camera isn’t looking at them, that instead Cassavetes created a scenario in which the filmmaker and the characters are in it together. That’s what we try to do with our films; we want to create dynamic scenarios in which we’re not pointing the camera at but being a part of, scenarios that have the ability to take on a life of their own. We want to capture not only what’s intended but what is revealed.
American Boy is like the skeleton key for our movies. This is the world Scorsese and his stories come from, and to watch this film is like pulling back the curtain on the real thing behind the polished veneer. It’s alive and scary, and it speaks to us because we’re also excited by what emanates from the backrooms of our lives. We don’t shy away from documenting ourselves and the people around us, and sometimes these things blur. There’s not much of a line between art and life. Remembering that someone who is held in as high esteem as Scorsese comes from a real place, and being able to see it, demystifies his work and inspires us at the same time.
I wonder how much Altman watched this film. Like Nashville, Amarcord is about the intertwined stories of the people who live in one town. This one is close to our hearts because it’s about community and how people pass the time. It’s about little evolutions. The characters are fun too! They’re so weird and wild, and you get a view of a world that seems like a hyper-real version of itself.
Gus Van Sant
My Own Private Idaho
Paris, Texas and My Own Private Idaho rocked us when we were in high school. They’re both travelogues that span time and place. Paris, Texas is such an anomaly; you have this German filmmaker coming here and really seeing America, not only the vast outdoor spaces that make it what it is but also the interior human spaces. Sam Shepard, who helped write it, is also an influence on us.
My Own Private Idaho has so many ideas going on in it, but the one scene we return to most often is one of the diner scenes. The actors are actually in conversation with the street hustlers who inspired their performances. The alchemy that happens between them is something we’ve been trying to infuse into everything we do.
Michael Atkinson’s Top 10
Michael Atkinson writes film criticism for IFC.com, Sight & Sound, and Moving Image Source. His books include Exile Cinema: Filmmakers at Work Beyond Hollywood and the novel Hemingway Deadlights.