#8 ½ Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
USA 2015, R: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
One of the many unfair fates in Hollywood: just as Alfonso Gomez-Rejon was about to release his second feature film, allegations of sexual misconduct sent his producer Harvey Weinstein to prison - and THE CURRENT WAR, actually a convincing period piece, would soon disappear into oblivion shortly after its release.
Gomez-Rejon was considered a promising talent: two years earlier, he won the top prize at Sundance with ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL. While other teenagers party, Greg and Earl spend their time watching quirky Werner Herzog videos, bizarre culinary experiments by Greg's dad, and self-made film remakes to sweeten the last days of Rachel, who has cancer. Admittedly, BE KIND REWIND had earlier and better immortalized DIY dilettantism. Nevertheless, this film remains outrageously funny and touching.
#8 También la lluvia
E, F, MEX 2010, R: Icíar Bollaín
A spanish crew is filming a movie in Bolivia about the brutal colonization of America. Real violence is raging around them: the »Water War« of 2000. The driven director (Gael García Bernal) refuses to acknowledge the disturbance of his film – but then the indigenous extras, who are supposed to be burning on crosses, become leaders of the unrest.
TAMBIÉN LA LLUVIA was written by Paul Laverty, one of Europe's few renowned screenwriters and the driving force behind some of Ken Loach's best films. With his director (and wife) Icíar Bollaín, he has created an uncompromising film about colonial european arrogance, which can be forgiven for some didactic passages. »These confrontations will pass. Our film will remain« says Bernal in a scene, urging his film crew to keep going. But he will not be proven right: sometimes life is bigger than cinema.
#7 Burden of Dreams
USA 1982, R: Les Blank
A work – better and truer than the film it documents. And yet, Herzog's opus magnum was already self-referential in an offbeat way: just like in the plot of FITZCARALDO, Klaus Kinski was a narcissist behind the camera, annoying colleagues with his toxic behavior. And Werner Herzog himself – as a manic artist with a biblical mission (and an iconic bavarian accent) – reveals himself as a questionable double of his main character.
BURDEN OF DREAMS has achieved cult status due to strange monologues that the german director mumbles in the jungle. However, Les Blank's film should actually serve as a warning against artistic megalomania: »I live my life or I end my life with this project« Herzog says in one scene. In the end, it was members of the indigenous Aguaruna who had to die for his art.
#6 Le Mépris
F, IT 1963, R: Jean-Luc Godard
It's true that this film has not only aged well. Various variations of Brigitte Bardot naked – as a revealing, theatricalized femme fatale – were a rebellious move by the director against his producers in the early sixties. Today, the debate about the politics of seeing is entirely different.
However, LE MÉPRIS is too self-referential to reduce it to superficial markers: it problematizes what it shows and shows what it problematizes. As the symbiosis between the »old« Hollywood Cinema that Godard loved and the new cinema that he wanted to pave the way for, it is full of wonderful contradictions: great decorations on the coast of Capri meet brechtian cracks in the fourth wall. The heartbreaking score by Georges Delerue eventually becomes an endless loop. Fritz Lang references himself as the grand old man of cinema. Jack Palance as an unbearable American-style producer coexists with Michel Piccoli, a deeply european character. At the end, a film crew passes by an actor who plays Odysseus of all characters, and a pan reveals the sea. Cinema of gigantic beauty.
#5 The Souvenir: Part II
UK 2021, R: Joana Hogg
Honor Byrne Swinton reprises her role as Julie, mourning the death of her lover Anthony who died of a drug overdose. But life doesn't stop for her: her university gives crushing criticism of her idea for her graduation project. On set, she struggles to translate the images of her semi-autobiographical film about Anthony into actionable directions. Art and grieving become intertwined, becoming one and the same process – from which Julie is ultimately meant to emerge strengthened.
What does it mean to film one's own life? Or to live one's own film? In her autobiographical diptych, Hogg grapples with these questions, and in the second part, she manages to achieve a seemingly impossible feat: she touches on a personal level while also delving deeper into the art of filmmaking. Theory and practice, life and art: those who leave the cinema may find it difficult to clearly separate these categories.
#4 The Five Obstructions
DK 2003, R: Lars von Trier
Limitations are precious – this applies to the selection of films on Mubi or Netflix as well as to making a film. The young rebels of the danish Dogma 95 movement once became famous for their deconstructivist, camcorder-shot films that aimed to »strip down« cinema. In THE FIVE OBSTRUCTIONS, their most famous member, Lars von Trier, takes artistic chastity even further.
Von Trier challenges the great Danish avant-garde filmmaker Jørgen Leth five times to remake his short film THE PERFECT HUMAN, while imposing creative limitations on him each time: once, no shot can be longer than twelve seconds; another time, Leth must shoot in the »worst place in the world« (and ends up in the slums of Mumbai). The result is an equally instructive and diabolical fun: when else can a fan torture his greatest idol?
#3 Bergman Island
F, D, B, S 2021, R: Mia Hansen-Løve
Hansen-Løve once called her films »frontally personal«: In BERGMAN ISLAND, she virtuosically weaves an autobiographical web of relationships that stretches from Ingmar Bergman to Chris and Tony, all the way to her own marriage to Olivier Assayas. Vicky Krieps plays Hansen-Løve's alter ego – a filmmaker who travels with her husband to Farö and tries to write a screenplay there amidst absurd Bergman safaris, opposing views on the legacy of the swedish director, and increasing alienation. Soon, her life is parallel edited with the scenes of her protagonist Amy (the alter ego of an alter ego!).
Let's be honest: You can tell when a work of art is really trying to discover something. In BERGMAN ISLAND, the mise en abyme is never an unconsidered self-purpose. The beauty of this film is that it can never clearly define its goal. The epiphany usually found in autobiographical literature is spared from us. Amy alias Chris alias Mia are in a struggle - searching for »a room of their own«. The film within a film within a film allows for a dialogue between three female characters, but suggests that ultimately, they can only free themselves.
Don't miss: Mia Hansen-Løve im Interview
USA 2002, R: Spike Jonze
Does script doctor Robert McKee ultimately have a point: Is a successful screenplay nothing more than the sum of good craft decisions? This would be the nightmare of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, who tirelessly writes against Hollywood's mainstream. After the tremendous success of BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, Kaufman was tasked with adapting the bestseller The Orchid Thief for the screen. It is fortunate that he struggled with it – and decided to see his writer's block not as an obstacle, but as the core of his film adaptation.
ADAPTATION is one of the most complex examples of film within a film, a psychological portrait of a tortured artist torn between quick recognition and artistic courage. But despite all the dark cynicism (highlight: McKee's appearance as the personified plot point!) and all the narrative rollercoaster rides, this film wants to know only one thing: what stories do we want to tell each other, and how? Those who have attended Kaufman's master classes and interviews know that he continually struggles with this question, which makes it all the more touching.
#1 Be Kind Rewind
USA 2008, R: Michel Gondry
Art is beautiful, but it requires a lot of work. The film that wins this race is not a work with ostentatious verve, nor a cerebral self-reflection. It is an unpretentious film, full of heart and wisdom.
Two nerds – employees of the last video store in New Jersey that swears by magnetic tapes - accidentally erase all the tapes in the store. In their desperation, they begin to recreate the lost classics using simple means, and when the results unexpectedly become a cult phenomenon, they soon receive the support of the entire neighborhood.
ROBOCOP swings a hairdryer on the junkyard. CARRIE is drenched in ketchup. Did any crew ever have as much fun making a movie as the makers of BE KIND REWIND? Probably not. A declaration of love for amateurism from a director who usually solves Rubik's cubes with his feet.
But there is so much more to it: the extinction of small video stores that prioritize quality over quantity, as well as the demon of gentrification lurking in the background. BE KIND REWIND doesn't hide the fact that the congenial video trio (portrayed by Jack Black, Mos Def, and Melonie Diaz) and their customers are the losers, and that other movies wouldn't care about the lonely, confused old woman next door (Mia Farrow in a touching cameo!) wouldn't be interested in other films. But in Gondry's film, they all become heroes – and cinema becomes a medium that truly anyone can make their own. Art is work – but it's also a lot of fun.
JACQCUOT DE NANTES, R: Agnès Varda
THE SOUVENIR, R: Joana Hogg
LA NUIT AMERICAINE, R: Francois Truffaut
8 ½, R: Frederico Fellini
LA RICOTTA, R: Pier Paolo Pasolini
THE ARTIST, R: Michel Hazanavicius
SUNSET BOULEVARD, R: Billy Wilder
LOST IN TRANSLATION, R: Sofia Coppola
LIVING IN OBLIVION, R: Tom DiCillo
SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE, R: E. Elias Merhige
FILM, R: Alan Schneider, Samuel Beckett
IRMA VEP, R: Olivier Assayas