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  a top ten listing of world cinema

World Cinema: A Top Ten Foreign Films by Rhys Hughes
(in alphabetical order...)

Delicatessen (1991, France)
Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro
The most popular foreign film of 1992, this takes the meaty theme of cannibalism, adds a heaped tablespoon of humour and more than a pinch of madness, then simmers away for just over an hour and a half. The result should be a putrid and thoroughly indigestible stew. In fact, the humour adds to the menace, and the whole is garnished with such stylish (and stylised) camerawork, that a classic has emerged directly from the dark imagination's oven. The story concerns a block of flats, full of customers for the unconventional butcher's shop below. The images concern the most original treatment of cannibalism since Faraldo's Themroc, and the best since Greenaway's The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, And Her Lover.
The Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie (1972, France-Italy-Spain)
Directed by Luis Bunuel
Surrealism means much more than melting clocks; at its best, it offers a weapon against the stifling rituals of modern society. After making his name with such crazy tales as Un Chien Andalou and L'Age d'Or, Bunuel turned his talents to a stricter format. Discreet Charm... is his most assured film, revolving around the attempts of a small group of friends to gather at a house for dinner. Whenever they attempt to take a meal together, they are interrupted by a series of bizarre events, often dreamed by the characters themselves. The hallucinatory sequences are scarcely more fantastic or horrible than reatity. Indeed, the distinction between the two grows increasingly blurred. This is not only one of the strangest, but also one of the most enjoyable and profound, films in fantasy cinema.
Fitzcarraldo (1982, Germany)
Directed by Werner Herzog
This film takes us into the heart of magic realism, with an eccentric Irish rubber-baron struggling to realise his ambition of building an opera-house in the Peruvian jungle at the turn of the century. Fitzgerald ('Fitzcarraldo' to the natives), has to haul a massive steamship over a mountain as part of his scheme. Jason Robards, the original actor, fell ill with jungle-fever and was replaced by the demented Klaus Kinski (who had previously camped it up so well in Herzog's Nosferatu The Vampyre). The making of the film was hazardous in the extreme, as shown by a documentary entitled Burden Of Dreams. As always, the sanity of both director and star, must be called into question.
In The Realm Of The Senses (1976, France-Japan)
Directed by Nagisa Oshima
Based on a true story, this film explores the dark world of sado-masochism, and the way it can be used to escape from external social oppression. Filmed in Japan, where the censors are particularly strict, the film is remarkable in that it defines the very limits of sexuality. Sada and Kichizo, two young lovers, come to reject the outside world in favour of a private realm of pain and pleasure. The climax of the film, in which Sada strangles Kichizo, with his consent, and then cuts off his genitals, is certain to offend many male viewers. The fact that, for once, it is a woman who is the aggressor, and a man who is exploited, earned this film the sobriquet, "the first porno film for women," and ultimately a four-year trial for the director, who was prosecuted for obscenity.
Man Bites Dog (1992, Belgium)
Directed by Remy Belvaux
A violent and very funny film that accuses laughing spectators at the same time that it encourages them. A pseudo-documentary about a contract-killer, it veers between black comedy, satire and simple bad taste. The film crew follow the nonchalant assassin through his daily routine, acting as passive observers as he charms his way from one bloody situation to the next. The action is interspersed with wry philosophical observations and tricks of the trade, such as the correct weights needed to tie down the bodies of adults, children and midgets before hurling them into the dock. This is a film that confronts viewers with a side of their personalities usually kept well hidden.
A Report On The Party And The Guests (1968, Czechoslovakia)
Directed by Jan Nemec
Another peculiar film involving a dinner-party, Nemec's Report On... is a bitter critique of communism. Like Bunuel, Nemec makes a brief bow to realism before plunging into a Kafkaesque world of actions without motives, and a mounting sense of claustrophobia. A group of men and women enjoying a picnic in the woods, are forced by mysterious strangers to eat at banqueting tables along the shores of a lake. Their host seems intent on pointing out the small differences in design and shape of the tables at which cabaret act in which she sings they sit. When one of the women discovers that she is sitting at the wrong place, the nightmare truly begins. The authorities did not take kindly to Nemec's film and he was blacklisted but Report On... stands as an important landmark on the 'Prague Spring' of 1968.
Salo (1975, Italy)
Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini
A modern rendition of De Sade's novel, The 120 Days Of Sodom, Pasolini's film is almost unbearable to watch. And yet the camerawork, the music and the poignancy of some of the scenes redeems it from the ultimate in bad taste. The film is partly an attack on Fascism (it is followers of Musolini who round up a group of young people solely to satisfy their perverse desires), but in a broader context it's also an attack on the exploitation of one human being by another. The last ten minutes of the film, in which the executions reach a disgusting frenzy, are exceptionally memorable and revolting. It would have been impossible for Pasolini to make another film after this one. Not that the problem arose; shortly after it was finished, the director was murdered.
Santa Sangre (1989, Italy)
Directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky
Jodorowsky has attracted attention ever since he made El Topo, and failed to make Dune in the 1970s (he was delighted when Lynch's version flopped). El Topo is, in fact, the greatest of all spaghetti westerns, outdoing even Leone's The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly. This later effort is also a cult movie, but Jodorowsky has matured considerably in sensitivity and style. In Santa Sangre (trans: Holy Blood) we enter the disturbing world of Fenix, a child conjurer in a circus, whose mother has her arms severed by his father after she had thrown acid on his genitals (he had committed adultery with the Tattooed Lady!). Fenix joins his mother in a bizarre cabaret act in which she sings while he provides her with arms to play the piano. But this is merely a prelude to murder. The Chilean director is notorious for his love of violence, but it is the violence of the 'Big Top'; witchery, passion and illusion.
Satyricon (1969, Italy)
Directed by Federico Fellini
Fellini's version of Petronius' witty classic text shows a bold eye for imagery and lavish sets that serve to heighten the decadent atmosphere. Set in Rome at the twilight of the Empire, Fellini has taken his love of the grotesque to its logical extremes. After an argument, two students go their separate ways, encountering many odd characters and situations before meeting up again. There is the usual drunken orgy, and imprisonment on a galley-ship, but also a fight with the legendary Minotaur. Of all Fellini's films, this one has been most heavily criticized for self-indulgence, but that is exactly the point of this sumptuous and irreverent masterpiece.
Stalker (1979, USSR)
Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky
This film is the crowning achievement of the greatest Russian film director. After his excellent Solaris (a perfect antodote to Kubrick's 2001), Tarkovsky plunged into an even bleaker sepia-coloured future where the Stalker is the one man who can guide others through a forbidden area known as 'The Zone'. Somewhere inside The Zone lies a room that contains 'the Truth'. This is a haunting, mystical film unmarred by the lengthy metaphysical speculations of the three protagonists. In Tarkovsky's films, technology always decays; in Stalker, this decay extends to human desires and motives. A curious and moving drama reminiscent of some of the plays of Samuel Beckett, Stalker strips down the genre of science fiction to its core and reveals, buried amid a11 the dung, a veritable diamond.

previously published in Strange Adventures #48 (June 1993)
also online at VideoVista #27 - June 2001

DOWSE Guide to the Movies is compiled by Tony Lee editor of Pigasus Press
You can order videos and DVD releases reviewed on these pages at Blackstar

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