Nights of Cabiria (Fellini) (1957): Beautiful, passionate, and timeless filmmaking. The movie chronicles a chapter in the life of a romantic and fiesty streetwalker, wonderfully portrayed by Fellini’s wife Giulietta Masina. Also, see the dazzling 8 ½ (1963), which is an interesting contrast — more cynical and infused with the atmosphere of the 60s. I did not like Fellini’s Satyricon (1969), which was not nearly visually exciting enough to make up for the meandering plot set in Ancient Rome — overindulgent.
Three Faces of Eve (with Joanne Woodward) (1957): A great screen adaptation of the true story of a woman with multiple personality disorder. Woodward is fabulous in a challenging role, and few movies convey the shock and mystery of true mental illness so effectively.
Blue Angel (with Marlene Dietrich) (1930): A German movie about severe school-teacher who falls for cabaret singer/ prostitute. Both charming and tragic. Apparently this is the film that made Dietrich a star. Note: there are both English and German language versions; the latter is superior.
Scenes from a Marriage (by Ingmar Bergman) (1973): An exceptionally well done chronicle of a relationship, both during and after marriage. Insightful, emotional without melodrama. Originally made as six TV episodes and then edited into one full length film.
A Tale of Springtime (Conte de Printemps) (by Eric Rohmer) (1990): The Swiss Rohmer specializes in making films which chronicle everyday events and relationships. Here, two women meet at a party, form a friendship, and one tries to set the other up with her father. Since so little happens in this movie, why is it so engaging? Don’t expect or long for resolution, just enjoy the story – like a few episodes in a really good, totally original soap opera. This is the first of a series of four films on the seasons; A Tale of Autumn came out this year (1999).
Story of Women (by Claude Chabrol) (1988): A complex film, set in WWII-era France, about woman who drifts into life as an abortionist. It is the true story of the last woman to be executed in France by the guillotine.
Hope and Glory (by John Boorman) (1987): Charming coming-of-age story of a boy in the English middle class during the WWII bombings. Sincere yet still funny and irreverent. Apparently autobiographical.
To Sir With Love (1967): Cool Sidney Poitier as a teacher of unruly London high school students. Great theme song by popstar Lulu.
The Baker’s Wife (by Marcel Pagnol) (1938): A small French village gets a new baker and all is wonderful until the baker’s young wife runs off with a shepherd and the baker is too heartsick to bake bread. The town conspires to get his wife back and get him baking again. Funny and poignant. Fresh bread is really important to the French.
Witness (1985): Yes, with Harrison Ford and the Amish. I saw this again because I realized it was directed by Peter Weir, of Picnic at Hanging Rock fame. Witness is really a very good police story, with an interesting cultural-conflict dimension and romance storyline. And, if you haven’t seen Picnic (1975), check it out. Set circa 1900, it is a lush, totally original and freaky story about girls from a privileged, Victorian-style Australian boarding school who disappear during a picnic at the foreboding Hanging Rock. Weir also did The Truman Show (1998), which I rather liked.
Baby Doll (1956): A striking and unusual movie by Elia Kazan (of Hollywood blacklist fame), adapted for the screen from his own play by Tennessee Williams. In the deep south, a middle aged Southern cotton grower marries pretty young gal who turns out to be a real handful. It was understandably pretty shocking and controversial when it first came out.
Claire’s Knee (by Eric Rohmer) (1971): One of Rohmer’s “six moral tales” — an engaged man summers at a lake and is tempted by two young sisters. As in most of the Swiss writer/director’s films, nothing obviously significant happens. Rohmer is a master at depicting subtle human behavior — and at revealing how apparently minor interactions are often laden with significance. Also check out Four Adventures of Reinette & Mirabelle (1986), which explores, among other themes, the country/city dichotomy in France through the friendship of two college-age girls — fun and insightful.
Central Station: Beautiful Brazilian story about relationship between orphan and tough older woman.
June Night (with Ingrid Bergman) (1940): Bergman plays a troubled young woman shot by a lover. She tries to start a new life and escape the scandal surrounding the event.