During the heady summer seasons we are bombarded with superheroes and dystopian societies were bow-toting women save the day. That's all well and good, but in this 3D spectacle and bright colors we are sometimes left with a starved appetite for more varied and artistic films. Bergman, Godard, and Trakovsky are an excellent starting point for those venturing deeper into what the Seventh Art has to offer.
Perhaps the first step one takes is French cinema, which normally is bold and unapologetic in its beauty, but there is more out there in the vast expanse of this artistic discipline. Russian cinema is rich in its storytelling, and with each film you'll see how different mysteries and interpretations are interwoven; it is up to you to disentangle them as you see fit.
The following films will throw you into a storm of enigma whose climax will unleash an intellectual and emotional excitement. Viktor Shklovsky, one of the first serious film critics, expanded on the concept of defamiliarization. He believed the true purpose of art was to incite a sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known. "The technique of art is to make objects ‘unfamiliar,' to make forms difficult to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged." This means that there is a sense of enjoyment that comes when trying to piece together or interpret a work of art. It does not matter if you find or not a meaning behind these films because the purpose was for you to perceive it and absorb this strangeness.
Turn Me On, Dammit (2011), Jannicke Systad Jacobsen
This Norwegian film tells the story of Alma, a girl who is constantly surrounded by her friends, and beyond that she is constantly overwhelmed by sexual thoughts. Her thoughts range from sweet, romantic fairytales to sexual fantasies on anyone who crosses her path. After an encounter with Artur, she shares this stimulating and yet awkward story with her friends and is ostracized.
The High Sun (2015) – Dalibor Matanic
Filmmaker Dalibor presents the social difficulties the inhabitants of Croatia and Serbia face while they gain independece from Yugoslavia. In this hostile environment where revolution and violence reign supreme, three forbidden love stories unfold. Each anecdote shows the different faces of war, and amidst this destruction the protagonists seek to satiate their passions. Set in two neighboring Balkan villages with a history of inter-ethnic hatred, this film exposes the fragility and utter intensity of forbidden love.
Caché (2005), Michael Haneke
Haneke's film have the uncanny ability of mirroring the viewer's darkest thoughts. The barrier that separates the public from the film is completely eroded so you are gripped by doubt and discomfort. Caché is a psychological thriller that follows the life of a couple who are being harassed by anonymous tapes that appear on their front porch. These tapes relate to the husband's childhood trauma.
Happiness (1935), Aleksandr Medvedkin
Intrigue and mystery are intertwined in Happiness. A hapless farmer undergoes misadventures on his road to collective happiness. Their road to joy is continuously thwarted by surreal events, from neighbors stealing their granary to a horse unwilling to work. The protagonist, while in the pits of depression, attempts to commit suicide, but is stopped by Tsarist officers who tell him, "if the peasant dies, who will feed Russia?" Medvedkin employs old Russian folktales that would prove to be a perfect foil for the newly established socialist society. Given the criticism levied against the government, this filmed was soon banned by the Soviet authorities.
The Idiots ( 1998), Lars Von Trier
Von Trier presents three idiots who decide to behave in public as if they were disabled in order to find their "inner idiot." Upon witnessing the havoc they create in a restaurant, a woman decides to join in on the fun. At the beginning, she will be the sole voice of reason, but little by little she is also dragged into this whirlwind of fun and idiocy. It is a titillating and thought-provoking film worthy of "the most original and questing film-maker working in Europe today," as The Guardian once described Von Trier.
Persona (1966), Ingmar Bergman
It would appear that the best films are always those that journey into the mind of the characters. From Bergman you must learn that special effects are not necessary and you don't need a great budget to create a thought-provoking masterpiece. Persona revolves around a young nurse called Alma and her patient, a well known actress named Elisabet, who loses her voice after a performance of Elektra. As Alma begins to care for this actress, she begins to learn about the intimate secrets of Elisabet, and soon she loses sense of herself.
Separation (2011), Asghar Farhadi
The story centers around an Iranian middle-class couple who separates. The wife moves back with her parents, and their daughter decides to stay with Nader (the father) and her ailing grandfather. Stressed by his father's Alzheimer and deteriorating condition, Nader decides to hire a caretaker, and this unleashes a series of tragic events. The screenplay is spellbinding and drags the audience into a perpetual state of tension.
Ivan's Childhood (1962), Andrei Tarkovsky
The film tells the story of orphan boy Ivan and his experiences during World War II. It explores the true human costs of war. Some high ranking soldiers wish to spare him the brutality of war, but the child follows his own path, led by personal tragedy.
Dogtooth (2009), Giorgos Lanthimos
A perverse story of a couple and their adult son and two daughters that live in a fenced compound. The children have no understanding of the outside world and will only be able to leave once they lose a dogtooth. An ingenious and bloody satire where the parents reward good behavior with stickers and bad with violence.
"I hope your kids have bad influences and develop bad personalities. I wish this with all my heart."
Ida (2013), Paweł Pawlikowski
Set in 1960, Ida is a young novice in Poland who is on the verge of taking her vows when she discovers a dark family secret dating back to the years of the German occupation. An exemplary story about the pursuit of identity and family roots. Filmed in black and white, the audience is enveloped in a cold and melancholy atmosphere.
These foreign films are painstakingly crafted, the narrative and characters are beautifully interwoven in the landscape. While there are many other films that were not included on this list, may these films serve as stepping stones into richer, far more nuanced tales that will inspire and awaken your deepest desires and fantasies.