Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Ramin Bahrani's Top Ten Criterions: High Soul Food Content

I asked to review MAN PUSH CART for Christianity Today Movies, but it was a bit too far off the beaten track for their mandate. Now that I read film-maker Ramin Bahrani's list of his Top Ten Criterion disks, and note how many soul food movies and soul food directors are included, then read his reasons for selecting these titles, I'm all the more curious about the man, his films, and his spirituality.
Ramin Bahrani
Writer-director Ramin Bahrani’s first two feature films, Man Push Cart (2005) and Chop Shop (2007) have won awards and acclaim all over the world, from Venice to Cannes to the U.S. Chop Shop also won Bahrani the Someone to Watch Independent Spirit Award in 2008. Bahrani is currently in postproduction on his third feature, Goodbye Solo.

1. Nanook of the North
Robert Flaherty
Robert Flaherty set his camera down and had the audacity and humanity to step back. I like Man of Aran even better. Without these films there would not have been La terra trema, Rome Open City (A&F 100), Bicycle Thieves, Where Is the Friend’s House?, Il posto . . . Such simple and moving storytelling, and so profoundly in touch with what it means to be human in this world. He has forever erased the line between fiction and documentary. What is left, fabricated or not, is a visual poem that challenges how we live and how we see, and all the while accepting life for what it is.

2. Mama Roma
Pier Paolo Pasolini
Pasolini was murdered for a reason: he was a real artist with something to say that too many people did not want to hear. Nobody brings as much love and anger, and challenges and questions, as PPP. His films explode with life and energy, politics, religion, doubt, devotion, humor, and irony, and force you to rethink everything in your life and outside your life. Each frame is a revolution and a dare to the viewer. Bertolucci said, “You can tell when Pasolini puts the pen down and picks up the camera.” Which other filmmakers can claim that this quote would be true of them? A devastating majority of films are just filmed screenplays. Pasolini belongs to the rare group of artists who make films. Empty yourself, wash your eyes and ears, and for the first time really watch and listen to what the master has to say.

3. The Flowers of St. Francis (A&F 100)
Roberto Rossellini
My favorite from Rossellini. A sublime call to us all to be good, even at our own expense. Ten times more subversive and inspiring than any in the long list of meaningless yet much-lauded films made about the “lessons” of war, injustice, and inhumanity. This is the film everyone should have been watching in the last eight years. Fellini’s humor and Rossellini’s ironic wit are at their very best here. The monks are brilliant in their roles. A must-see gem. Videomatica

4. Il Posto
Ermanno Olmi
A great Italian film from the often ignored Olmi (please also see The Tree of Wooden Clogs). The scenes between young Domenico and Antonietta are so real you will think you have witnessed them yourself while standing outside a cafĂ© window. Wonderful mix of humor and sadness, and of lightness in the face of the eternal meaninglessness of society’s damning labyrinth. The scenes go by so effortlessly, yet by the end you’re profoundly moved without understanding how Olmi has done it.

5. Umberto D. (a favourite of Doug Cummings)
Vittorio De Sica
I first saw this as a college student at one of the city’s repertory cinemas, in the early nineties, and will never forget it. One of the most simple and moving films ever made about man not losing his dignity in the face of our eternal fate and society’s greed. How to stay alive and human when you are no longer useful to our indifferent world? How to maintain hope when all that is left is to turn into the dust from which we came? Videomatica

6. L’avventura
Michelanglo Antonini
Every director should have a respect for the frame, and here Antonioni reminds us of that lesson shot after shot. He shocked Cannes but without being exploitative, which is more than most enfants terribles in Cannes’ history can claim. Antonioni shocked by being a ruefully disturbing mirror into the souls of his generation. Sandro’s empty desires, and Claudia’s blind and desperate search for meaning and connection in the deadly silence of life, are as true to our times as to when the film was made. Monica Vitti astounds with her beauty and her mystery, and Antonioni’s courage to explain nothing but allow us to feel and question everything is a testament to his brilliance.

7. Au hasard Balthazar (A&F 100)
Robert Bresson

One lesson after another from the master to all his students. A film that makes you ashamed to be part of the human race, and then fills you with the courage to be better. Videomatica

8. Scenes from a Marriage (full TV version)
Ingmar Bergman
A great first-date movie! Well . . . perhaps not. I have never seen a more truthful and honest account of human relationships. Shockingly simple in its creation, once again proving how hard it is to be simple and how it is usually much more profound. Bergman keeps cutting away to reveal more, not less. He has done the difficult and dirty work for us. Watch and accept the truth about our relationships, and then, like all of mankind, try to avoid your fate.

9. Nights of Cabiria
Federico Fellini
Along with La dolce vita and I vitelloni, my favorite from Fellini. So much love and hope in the face of the bastards who seem to run this world. Masani is brilliant and PPP’s dialogues and understanding of the “wretched of the earth” are perhaps Fellini’s good karma for the gifts he brought Rossellini in The Flowers of St. Francis seven years prior. Daring, loving, and painful. Thank you for not ending this one at the sea, but instead on the road, with trees, music, tears, and smiles—a real carnival in the face of death. Videomatica

10. Seven Samurai
Akira Kurosawa
Lessons one through one hundred in how to write, shoot, direct, and edit a film. Sit down and enjoy.

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