My Life to Live (Jean-Luc Godard) (1962): A fascinating portrait (in 12 mini-chapters) of a woman who leaves her husband and child and drifts into prostitution. I also saw his recent film Helas Pour Moi, which is probably the most incomprehensible movie I’ve ever seen. The opening shot, however, is wonderful – the scene all in crisp seaside colors, the camera follows a ship move along a channel while in the foreground people are frozen in mid-action, standing or sitting along the waters edge. That one shot almost justifies the rental (get it free from your library).
Memories of Underdevelopment (1968): An intriguing and unusual Cuban film about a man’s subtle identity crisis in post-revolutionary Cuba. Stylish and complex.
Camera Buff (by Krzysztof Kieslowski) (1979): An early film for fans of Kieslowski (of Blue, White, and Red fame). Set in Communist Poland, it’s about a factory worker who discovers a love for filmmaking and professional success. The movie explores the tensions between love for one’s art and love for one’s family, fame and normalcy, artistic “honesty” and local loyalties.
Mauvais Sang (Night is Young) (by Léos Carax) (1986): The film follows a young thief who gets involved in a big heist with some aging veteran criminals. Very cool and stylish direction. Afterwards, Carax did Les Amants du Pont-Neuf (1991), with Juliette Binoche (who is also in Mauvis Sang), which was apparently the most expensive French film ever made at the time. It’s a love story between a somewhat mentally ill homeless drug addict and a woman going blind who wandered away from her family after being diagnosed. Though flawed, it’s an interesting and unusual film. Apparently Carax was (or is) part of what (I think) is called the neo-new wave of French cinema. I think Jean-Jacques Beineix’s supercool Diva (1981) is considered to be part of the same “movement.”
Chan is Missing (1982): A very interesting, funny, and original independent film set in San Francisco’s Chinatown. A spoofy search for a missing friend that has insightful views on the experience of being of Chinese descent and living in the States.
Slaughterhouse 5 (1972): Successful screen adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s book about a man who becomes unstuck in time. The protagonist time-trips back and forth between WWII, the post-war years, the “present,” and some unspecified time outside of time spent on a far-off planet. Funny and Vonnegut-clever/insightful.
Last Days (1999): Canadian film about what New Years eve 2000 might be like if everyone KNEW the world would end at midnight. Really well done.
L’Atalante (by Jean Vigo) (1934): A surprisingly weird and moving tale of a French girl from a tiny village who marries the captain of a small shipping boat. The story is more or less about her reactions to and experiences on the river and the “city.” Unpredictable. One of the shipmates is a fascinating and hilarious eccentric world-traveling old sailor. Must be one of the first French talkies.
The Tin Drum (1979): Based on a book by Gunther Grass. This is a bizarre story about a boy in WWII Germany who decides to stop growing. Funny, unique, and unspecifiably disturbing.