Lars von Trier
Breaking the Waves
When I first saw Breaking the Waves, I felt like my heart was being cut into little pieces. I never had much use for religious exaltation, and though I don’t believe in miracles—and certainly not in redemptive sacrificial gestures—this film made me cry and tremble. I wondered how a film could so effectively challenge my deep atheistic beliefs. When feeling and reason are so far apart, something must be wrong. Either feeling is ahead of reason, or feeling is deceptive. I still haven’t figured out which it is. But the movie still works. Every time the bells ring at the end, I’m overwhelmed by emotions and shivers go down my spine.
Wong Kar Wai
Happy Together was the first film I saw that made me wish it didn’t end, as well as the first I experienced on a purely sensual level. My mind almost completely shut down, and the plot passed by me; it was as if I was intoxicated by the magic of cinema. It felt a little bit like going to bed with the movie. Every image, camera movement, edit, lighting choice, and music cue was like a new dimension in an endless erotic adventure. I could have continued watching forever.
When I saw Carmen as a teenager, I began to understand how fiction and reality are intertwined and mutually dependent. It showed me the perpetual conflict between how we stage our lives and how our lives stage us. Carmen ingeniously conveys just how blurred the lines are between these two forces. I’ve seen the film many times now, and I’m still unable to separate its different levels of reality; the way they flow into one another is remarkable. Elements of the film have also spilled over into my life. Carmen was the reason I started playing guitar, because I wanted to get closer to flamenco—not only the music, but its whole attitude toward life. I haven’t managed to do that, but at least I still play the guitar.
I believe that some films can really change you; Naked is one of those films for me. I still remember how, when I saw it for the first time, I immediately felt like I had been swallowed up—and spat out again at the end. Watching the film is like getting caught in a storm. Whether you like it or not, it grabs you and shakes you, rips your clothes off, and disappears as quickly as it arrived after leaving you naked on the side of the road somewhere. The film mercilessly confronts you with this feeling of existential loneliness; it’s painful, of course, but it’s also the truth.
As a filmmaker, you do everything you can to transcend your ideas and thoughts and shape them into the language of cinema, and as soon as you’re done, everyone tries to put them back into words. David Lynch once said something along these lines in an interview. For that reason, I dare not use words here to describe Mulholland Dr. or the strange and mysterious places to which it takes me. I would fail in that attempt, anyway, because Lynch’s films only know one language—that of cinema in its purest and most wonderful form.
By Brakhage: An Anthology, Volumes One and Two
I discovered the work of Stan Brakhage by chance, during my first year at film school. I was hooked right away, and for months I did little else but watch these films. I was supposed to be studying classical dramaturgy, shot sizes, and the golden ratio, but all I was interested in was figuring out how Brakhage deconstructed all that old junk. Whether my interest stemmed from youthful rebellion or a longing to one day make experimental films, I can’t say. Eventually I stayed with narrative cinema—but there’s nothing to add to the work of Stan Brakhage anyway.
Down by Law
“I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream.” The most memorable line of dialogue!
If I had to name one movie responsible for getting me into filmmaking, it would probably be Blow-Up. After seeing the film—I was about sixteen—I wanted nothing more than a camera. My uncle eventually gave me his old Nikon, and together with a friend we set up our own darkroom in the basement. Obviously, the photos I took weren’t very good. But in the darkroom we developed the photos, got stoned, enlarged the prints, got stoned again, and enlarged them again ad infinitum until all that was visible in the prints were abstract black-and-white shapes that we liked (at least that’s what we told ourselves in that condition). The process was not unlike filmmaking. Filmmaking, for me, thrives on perpetual revision. If external factors didn’t force me to bring a project to an end, it could simply go on. And what would remain? Perhaps an illusion.
The Piano Teacher
As an Austrian filmmaker, I’ve long been familiar with Haneke’s work. In fact, he taught at our film school, so I had the chance to meet him in person. His artistic vision is so clever, well thought-out, and perfected on all levels that one need not bother trying to argue against it. You could be entirely convinced of one thing and, after one brief conversation with him, be persuaded of the complete opposite. I often feel that way about his films. The Piano Teacher was anything but pleasurable when I watched it for the first time. The pale lighting in these sparse, old Viennese apartments; the anemic atmosphere; the sober look at these rigid, confused characters with messed-up sexualities—it was all deeply unpleasant to me. But the film was like a thorn in my brain that I couldn’t get rid of. At some point, I realized everything about it was true. I had to admit that I was simply not ready for it at the time when I saw it.
Pier Paolo Pasolini
Salò, or The 120 Days of Sodom
Many wise things have already been written about this film, so I can’t add anything useful. For this list, I’ve chosen films that have shaped me in some way, and the experience of watching this film has shaped me like no other. It was a liminal event. Never had a work of art managed to shut down my intellectual defense mechanisms to such an extent. The film’s insatiable lust for spectacle, its delusions of power, and its cruel perversions were so terrifying that I was physically overcome with feelings of disgust. I had to constantly fight my gag reflex, but ultimately I found these feelings to be directed at myself. Salò took me to a place where I certainly did not want to go but one where I had to.
Bruce Beresford’s Top 10
Bruce Beresford is the director of more than twenty-five features, including Breaker Morant (1980), Tender Mercies (1983), Driving Miss Daisy (1989), Mister Johnson (1990), and Black Robe (1992).
Tracy Letts’s Top 10
Tracy Letts is an American playwright, screenwriter, and actor. He received the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for drama for August: Osage County and a Tony Award for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?