Today: April 18, 2024

Films You Should See

So many films, so little time. It’s a sad fact that most of us never get the chance to watch all the films we’d like to. Even keeping up with the ‘must see’ releases can be a full time job. Working out which ones are actually worth spending time and money to see is even trickier!

So many films, so little time. It’s a sad fact that most of us never get
the chance to watch all the films we’d like to. Even keeping up with the ‘must
see’ releases can be a full time job. Working out which ones are actually worth
spending time and money to see is even trickier!
Fortunately here at FilmJuice we have a pool of talented writers,
prepared to spend the vast part of their days hunkered down in darkened cinemas
so that you don’t have to.

Earlier this year, FilmJuice
decided to put all this generated knowledge to the test and ask our regular
writers to come up with a list of the Films
You Should See … But Probably Haven’t
. So please jump on board and hold on
tight as Jonathan McCalmont takes the wheel and kicks off our Magical Movie
Tour with a duo of films that challenge both their audience and our perceptions
of exactly what filmmaking is about.

Stalker (1979) (Main Image) by Andrei Tarkovsky
Based on Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s
wonderful novel Roadside Picnic, Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker tells of an expedition into a mysterious Zone where the
laws of physics have been radically altered by some unspecified catastrophe.
Leading the expedition is the Stalker, a man whose obsessive devotion to the
mysteries of the Zone has allowed him to serve as something of a guide. The
reason for the expedition is that a group of peculiar individuals with shady
motivations have decided to go in search of the Room, a place in the Zone where
you will be granted your heart’s desire. However, as the Stalker explains, the
wishes the Room decides to grant are not necessarily the ones you consciously
hold.

Unlike Western science
fiction films that use spectacular action sequences and fast-paced narratives
to excite and entertain their audiences, Stalker uses a combination of
extraordinary visual richness and extreme narrative simplicity to coax its
audience into a mood of thoughtful curiosity. To call Stalker a ‘boring’ film
is both technically correct and completely misleading as the lack of complex
plot and distracting characters is a deliberate move designed to force the
audience to reflect upon what it is they are actually seeing. Having placed the
audience in a state of engaged curiosity, Tarkovsky engineers the cinematic
equivalent of a spiritual experience.

While there are many films
that use evocative imagery to explore the belief that there is something out
there bigger than ourselves, Stalker moves beyond the purely representative in
order to fundamentally alter the relationship between film and audience. Yes…
the hidden systems of the Zone neatly mirror the type of magical thinking that
underpins most religions, and yes… the inscrutably omnipotent Room serves as an
elegant symbol for any spiritual end-point you care to name. But the film does
not simply represent a spiritual experience, it actually compels the audience
to have one by encouraging them to seek meaning in the film in much the same
way as the Stalker seeks meaning in the Zone and believers seek meaning in the
world. This state of forced sympathy with a man who is either deeply disturbed
or deeply religious pays off in an absolutely mesmerising final scene in which
the Stalker’s daughter appears to move a glass with her mind as a train roars
past in the background: Did the Zone actually exist or was it all a fantasy?
Did the daughter move the glass or was it the train? Was the daughter gaining
magical powers, the Stalker’s reward for reaching the Room in the correct state
of mind? Did the Stalker’s visits to the Zone alter the DNA he passed on to his
daughter? Tarkovsky’s film is so rich and complex that these questions can be
answered in any number of ways but which interpretation you happen to choose
invariably comes down to a leap of faith no different to that of the Stalker or
that of the spiritually minded. Tarkovsky’s Stalker is not just the greatest of
all art house films, it is as close as an atheist can get to seeing the world
through the eyes of a believer.

Perfect Blue (1997) by Satoshi Kon
One of the great tragedies of
recent cultural history is that when Japanese animation finally made its way to
the West, the works that broke through were either nihilistically violent,
aimed explicitly at children or both at the same time. Aside from being
dismissive to the point of outright racism, the resulting tendency to
pigeon-hole anime as the preserve of anoraks and middle-class children has
blinded Western critics to the work of the finest director of sophisticated
psychological thrillers since Alfred
Hitchcock
and Claude Chabrol.
That director is Satoshi Kon and Perfect Blue is his absolute
masterpiece.

Perfect Blue tells the story
of the lead singer of a moderately successful J-Pop group who has decided to
abandon her music career and re-invent herself as a serious actress. Initially,
the film presents itself as a traditional thriller as the actress is stalked by
an obsessive fan who resents her decision to leave the music industry. However,
as the film progresses, we soon come to realise that while the obsessive fan
resents the actress’s decision to move on, the actress herself is also
struggling to let go of her old identity as a relentlessly cheerful pop singer.
At this point in the film, the boundaries between what is actually happening,
what is happening in the film the actress is working on, what is happening in
the fan’s head and what is happening in the head of the increasingly disturbed
actress begin to blur until one of the most spectacularly unpleasant cinematic
sequences of all time shatters both her personality and the skein of the film
into a dozen pieces.

The scene in question finds
the actress in a studio dressed to look like a strip club where the character
she plays in the film is brutally raped by a group of cheering men. Aside from
being as intensely unpleasant a scene as any in cinematic history, Kon deepens
the unpleasantness by the placing the scene in the context of a Japanese film
industry that is as misogynistic as it is uncaring. Indeed, while we may know
that the rape itself is simulated, the leers of the producers, the
sensationalism of the cinematography and the terror in the actress’s eyes all
suggest that there is absolutely nothing fictional about the emotional trauma
that is taking place before our eyes.

The brilliance of Perfect
Blue lies not just in its ability to handle the dovetailing realities of a
disturbed mind in a manner that is both poised and extremely rigorous, it also
uses these fragmented realities to critique a cultural environment that is
extremely resistant to re-invention and experimentation. This is a film about
how society dehumanises and destabilises those women who refuse to stay in the
box allotted them by the men who would control their lives.

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