1. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (Le charme discret de la bourgeoisie. Director – Luis Buñuel). The film is unique and unpredictable. There are six people there, who do almost nothing else but pay visits to each other, small talk and dine. Yet the film is literally crammed with unexpected turns and twists, so much so, that there is no scene that would go for more than half a minute, before it is turned into something quite unanticipated. Something that starts out ordinarily – like three lady friends intending to have a tea at some restaurant – becomes weird, as it appears that there’s no tea whatsoever in the house, and when they order coffee, the waiter comes back confusedly announcing that they have run out of coffee too. One should see the film if only because as a reference to something that was made in the seventies but doesn’t seem to have been ever imitated or even surpassed in its elegant eccentricity.
2. My Uncle from America (Mon Oncle d’Amérique. Director – Alain Resnais). It is one of the most original films ever made. To my mind it served as the blueprint for the commercially and critically acclaimed film Amélie. Here each new character is introduced with their personal details: their DOBs, career highlights and all that, precisely as boxers would before the match – and then they get pitched against each other to fight it out. As if that wouldn’t be enough, we have a real famous neurosurgeon Henri Laborit tell us about how the nervous system works and why people behave the way they do. We watch test rats and film characters, shown in parallel, as how they behave under stress. The rats being zapped with electric current in a cage, from which they can’t escape, and people under stress in a work situation, with no escape either. What do the rats do? It would seem there’s no point in that, but they start fighting each other. And people? Oh they would love to fight, but they have to suppress their urges so as to keep appearances. Henri Laborit explains that if you don’t fight when under stress, you become prone to all sorts of maladies like ulcers or worse. A very useful fact to know, one would think.
3. O Lucky Man (Director – Lindsay Anderson). You may be forgiven not to think it being a weirdo; but it definitely is that, although in a very muted and elegant way. The film flows effortlessly flashing between a young travelling salesman, Travis, aiming to be successful at all costs and a rock band, the Animals with their star Alan Price, also on the road. The band’s music – each song is so good you never want it to end – provides the sound track for the film. Travis and Animals meet and then the band get totally blended into the film. We see Travis making nearly to the top and then just as quickly and spectacularly landing on his rear. The film is strangely real in a supernatural way, because the Animals play themselves – they are real – and they make everything real never mind that some guy falls down from the skyscraper’s top window and then reappears in another role. And then there’s the real director of the film, Lindsay Anderson, who slaps Travis in the face with the script for refusing to play as directed.
4. Man on the Train (L’homme du train. Director – Patrice Leconte). It is another mildly weird French film. We meet two guys, one of whom is an old aristocratic gent, M. Manesquier, living in a small town, with poetry and the grand piano at his fingertips, and a young man, Milan, having come to this town to rob a bank. They meet at a pharmacy, talk as pharmacy clients would in a small town, and Manesquier invites Milan to stay at his house. They are so different and yet similar in that they both are attracted to the other’s way of life. One loves the peacefulness and comfort of the old house, the other thinks that there’s no adventure in his daily routine. When Manesquier accidently finds Milan’s firearm in his drawer he is not alarmed at all, on the contrary – he is amused and excited, watches himself in the mirror with the revolver in hand and even puts on Milan’s leather jacket to look the part. The film ends in a supernatural way, as it should. There are two endings to it. The first one is disastrous, and when you think that’s all, as if on second thought, the final scene is replayed with a different finish, probably for the audience who require a happy ending no matter what.
5. The Elegant Universe (A documentary. Directed by Julia Cort and Joseph McMaster). It is one of the most revealing and amazing films ever made. The world, as it is shown there, just cannot possibly be stranger and more exciting. It is quirky, unpredictable and so much more than just interesting. It puts easily to shame something as mundane as the world of Alice in Wonderland. The most amazing thing about it, is that it is not about science fiction! Not even fiction. It is our world according to the most powerful scientific theory to date – the Superstring Theory. In an engagingly entertaining way, Brian Greene, the author of the book by the same title, explains in incredibly simple terms the most difficult scientific theory ever, which was touted “the only game in town” by no lesser scientist than Steven Weinberg. You will never be the same after you have seen this film. You simply owe it to yourself to watch it.
6. The Ball (Le bal. Director – Ettore Scola). It is another quirky French – Spanish movie. Don’t worry about having to read the subtitles, or not understanding French humour – there are no dialogues there. Be prepared to relax and just watch them dance. And you will not be watching any odd dancers – all the characters have something inimitable and amusing about them. You see several decades pass by in the same dance hall, listen to the music of the period and watch people, who, you would think, play out the same old human comedy. Even though nothing is ever said, there are heroes and villains there, generosity and cowardice. And we, as the audience, are very privileged to watch and judge all the action from the close-up. In the dance room you tend to be more vulnerable, insecure and exposed than in most places. Women – waiting to be chosen, men – anxious to be accepted; and each eager and afraid to see their true market value as determined by the unwritten rules of the dance floor.
7. The Naked Civil Servant (Director – Jack Gold). It is a very unusual film, and it is so because of what the main hero, Quentin, is born into – the homosexuality. Yes, he is a homosexual and he wants to be accepted as such. To do that, one would rather choose a different place and time, not the Britain of the 1930-ies. Quentin leaves his parents’ home and sets out not to conquer the world, but with an even more unattainable – especially for him – dream in mind – to find his true love. Despite of hardships and homophobia that he encounters, he carries on, keeping all his love intact, for his dream – the Tall Dark Man. The film is based on the biography of Quentin Crisp, who became a cult figure in the 90-ties. There was something very memorable that Quentin said, which sounded like his motto. It so beautifully characterizes him and makes him almost a super human. That phrase was: “Nothing can ever escape my love.” He was so full of unrequested love, which just turned into… love.