In my four most recent posts, I went over the memoirs and biographies, the non-fiction, the fiction and the 'classic' fiction I enjoyed reading in 2022.
But in the very last of my roundup posts—and in relatively less detail—I'll be quickly sketching out the favourite movies that were new to me in 2022:
La Ronde (1950)
An all-knowing narrator (Adolf Wohlbrück) guides us through a series of vignettes in 1900s Vienna — a soldier meets an eager young lady of the evening, and later he has an affair with a young lady who becomes a maid… and who then does similarly with the young man of the house. On and on it goes, spinning on the carousel of life. A wonderfully beguiling movie, and a reminder that 'innocent' and 'charming' doesn't always imply 'childish'.
A Man Escaped (1956)
A Man Escaped is the story of a WW2 resistance fighter who wishes to escape from a prison. Filmed in Robert Bresson's quasi-minimalistic style (and touching on his usual themes of Christian redemption), this deceptively simple-looking film rewards deeper analysis.
The Music Room (1958)
In The Music Room, Satyajit Ray (best known for his Apu Trilogy) tells the story of a wealthy landlord who lives a decadent life with his wife and son. His passion is for music, however, and he spends a significant portion of his fortune on concerts held for the locals in his magnificent music room (or 'jalsaghar). However, his obsession for music (and its attendant quest for respect from his peers) is his eventual undoing, as he sacrifices both his family and wealth whilst trying to retain it. Indeed, The Music Room is less of an examination of a single rich man (or of the hypnotic sitar music by Vilayat Khan) than of the dying Bengali landowning class, which I read as symbolic of what was about to vanish from Indian culture in the post-Independence drive toward modernity. Still, this is a multi-layered and textured film, as this is also an intensely moving portrait of a highly-detached man as well.
The Hustler (1961)
'Fast Eddie' Felson is a small-time pool hustler with a lot of talent but a self-destructive attitude. His bravado causes him to challenge the legendary Minnesota Fats to a high-stakes match. The stakes are always much bigger than just money though, as Fast Eddie's ego is on the line. Despite not caring so much about the game, I was completely gripped by Paul Newman's superb performance. Almost certainly the best film about pool ever made, and probably the best sports film as well.
Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)
One Valentine's Day in early-1900s Australia, an upper-class school takes its girls on a field trip to a scenic volcanic formation in the middle of the brush. Despite all the rules against it, however, several of the girls venture off onto the rock, and it's not until the end of the day that the group realises some of the girls and one of the teachers have disappeared without a trace. A mesmerising film about colonialism, sexual repression and Antonioni-esque alienation, Picnic at Hanging Rock's dreamlike aesthetic is haunting.
Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1976)
Jeanne Dielman… is a three-and-a-half-hour film that shows a widowed housewife doing her daily chores and taking care of her apartment. Yet in its uncompromising nature, it raises the tedium of her life to the level of profundity. I watched this radically political film a few months before it was recently voted as the 'greatest of all time'), but despite its relentless rigorous nature (and long running time), the conclusion—when it comes—is shattering.
Raise the Red Lantern (1991)
Set in China during the 1920s, Raise the Red Lantern tells the story of a young woman who has become the new concubine of a wealthy man. However, as he has three wives already (each living in a separate house within his castle) she becomes are engaged in an extremely complicated competition attention and the privileges that come with it. Richly colourful, both in its visuals and symbolism, this is film both specifically about China at the time and human universals.
A heartbreaking story of a young man's struggle to find himself, told across three defining chapters in his life as he experiences the pain and beauty of falling in love, whilst grappling with his own sexuality within the ambient weather of race and class in the United States. Absolutely spellbinding and visually stunning.
Drive My Car (2021)
Yusuke Kafuku is a stage director who is unable to cope with the loss of his wife, and has therefore accepted an invitation to direct Anton Chekhov's Uncle Vanya at a festival in Hiroshima, Japan. Yet whilst many reviewers have focused on the compelling relationship between Yusuke and Misaki (the introverted young woman who has been appointed to drive his car), what I found devastating was the embedded meditation on language, communication, understanding and empathy, especially concerning what happens when these break down or are no longer possible. Drive My Car touches on the limits of each of these phenomena connecting to the next: being able to speak the same language as another doesn't mean you can communicate with them; and being able to communicate doesn't mean you can understand someone, let alone empathise with them. All of this through the near-ungraspable emotion of grief as well, and the portion of this film where the actress was silently employing Korean Sign Language was the most moving thing I saw this year.
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