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Polina Maloshchinskaia, Paris
RE | Issue 18 | 2020

 

My family goes to the cinema every other week, if we are not already watching something at home. I love highly stylised movies that act as colourful representations of their genre or mix the medium they use in a particular way. As I am not a native English speaker, I have brought along a few foreign language films to recommend, ones you may not have heard of.

 

AN ARTHOUSE MOVIE

Soviet animation showcases numerous diverse, often avant-garde styles and I would highly recommend watching it to broaden your animation horizons and see what children in a different country grew up with. Some of the best Soviet directors were Georgian and Armenian (check out the 1986 sci-fi cult classic Kin-dza-dza!).

 

Wow! A Talking Fish!
dir. Robert Sahakyants [1983]

 

Sahakyants’ Wow! A Talking Fish! is a variation of a tale about the wish-granting goldfish. The battle of wits is illustrated in a bright, fluid, surrealist style and is a perfect example of a classic Russian fairy tale structure. You can track it down on YouTube.

 

Mood Indigo
dir. Michel Gondry [2013]

 

Audrey Tatou and Romain Duris are amazing in this movie. It is bizarre; the visuals combine real actors with stop-motion animation. It is whimsical, romantic and sad. Try watching it in the original French with subtitles.


 

A MOVIE FOR ALL THE FAMILY

Whenever I consider family movies, I think back to An Ordinary Miracle, which both my parents and I watched as children. 

 

An Ordinary Miracle
dir. Mark Zakharov [1979]

 

This musical fairy tale sees a bear turn into a human and fall in love with the princess, who gets to decide her own fate. (She also chases him with a sword.) At the same time there is a level of fourth-wall-breaking: one of the characters is the narrator of the story and decides its ending—but the other characters exercise their own free will and act not as he had planned.

 

The Little Prince
dir. Mark Osborne [2016]

 

I love Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s book and I love this film adaptation. It talks about the importance of whimsy and friendship, of freedom and chance. The animation itself is brilliant; it mixes 3D animation with stop-motion based on de Saint-Exupéry’s original drawings (which are also included in the movie). This is a kind and lovely film which I would recommend to anyone.


 

DON’T WASTE YOUR TIME ON THIS ONE

 

The Green Book
dir. Peter Farelly [2018]

 

I will never not be annoyed about this movie winning an Oscar for Best Picture in 2019. I expected to watch Mahershala Ali play an incredible main character and instead sat through two hours of a plain, unremarkable ‘white saviour’ Christmas movie. I didn’t even feel that whatever this film was trying to say fell flat, because it didn’t seem to say anything at all.


 

MY NOT-SO-GUILTY PLEASURE

I don’t really like the term ‘guilty pleasure’ as I subscribe to a more Marie-Kondo-style philosophy in entertainment and want people to watch what they enjoy. Not all movies have to be incredible.

Personally, I will watch any musical, even if the reviews from other musical-lovers are poor. (I didn’t enjoy La La Land [2016] but I had to see it for myself.)

 

Moulin Rouge!
dir. Baz Luhrmann [2001]

 

Moulin Rouge!, however, is incredible. I appreciate that neither musicals nor Baz Luhrmann are everyone’s cup of tea, but if I could only pick one film for a movie night with friends, it would have to be Moulin Rouge! for its beautiful story that inspires a range of emotions. I cannot possibly count how many times I have seen this film and yet I cry every time (to be fair, I always cry in musicals, especially in theatres). It is so perfectly and unapologetically over-the-top in the way all my favourite musicals are—movies such as The Rocky Horror Picture Show [1975] or Repo! The Genetic Opera [2008]—but still more accessible to a general audience, in my opinion. The colours and style are unmistakeably Baz Luhrmann (for a while I was convinced that Anna Karenina [2012] was also his work, due to how theatrical it is.) The pop medleys are still masterful and have recently been updated for the Broadway production, which I would also recommend seeing if you can.


 

A BLOCKBUSTER BUT WHY NOT?

I have grown tired of superhero movies that by now all look the same. 

 

Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey
dir. Cathy Yan [2020]

 

Birds of Prey is a breath of fresh air in the genre. It is upbeat, fast-paced, funny and fantabulous with a good soundtrack. Margot Robbie is a delight and the writing is joyous.

 

Attraction
dir. Fyodor Bondarchuk [2017]

 

Attraction has to be the best Russian high-budget action film. It does not have a lot of competition, of course, but it is a genuinely good movie. In the past fifteen years Russian cinema has been barely watchable, with the higher-budget movies usually being either stupid or patriotic. The plot is straightforward sci-fi (trigger-happy Russian generals shoot down an advanced alien spaceship), but it is then underlined by a surprisingly sensitive commentary on the manipulation of facts through media; on the ease with which a group of people can be swayed; and on xenophobia and artificial creation of ‘otherness’. I did not expect to sit down and watch an explicitly anti-fascist, anti-xenophobic movie supported by the Russian Cinema Fund and produced with a large budget and professional-level visual effects.


 

OUT OF MY COMFORT ZONE BUT BRILLIANT

I cannot watch horror movies at all, whether they consist of B-rated jump scares or the best suspense modern horror has to offer. While I find horror based on fear of others (zombies, vampires, other supernatural creatures) merely unpleasant, horror based on fear of self or existential horror genuinely scares me; and Us is a genius example of the latter categories.

 

Us
dir. Jordan Peele [2019]

 

Having previously enjoyed Get Out (which was horrifying as a mirror to our society is likely to be, but not scary in the way I expect from a horror movie), I thought that Us might be a tolerable horror for me. It turned out to induce a calm feeling of dread. Not only was I on the edge of my seat throughout the entirety of the movie, but I was also terrified for all of it. The suspense and the pacing of the movie are impeccable. It does not rush, it establishes the characters and directs the viewer’s focus beautifully. For me, a great part of it was achieved through the characteristic face close-ups and shots from unusual angles (very low or from around the corner) which made me feel watched and made me empathise with the characters. While I enjoy doppelgangers as a trope in other genres in general (in The Double, for example [2013]), they ended up being a source of true horror for me in Us. Although Us was far scarier than I was hoping for, I liked it and finally understood what feeling horror fans seek from a movie.


 

A ROMCOM

In recent years, I have started seeing more LGBTQ+ films which are not melancholic or tragic stories, or shot with the male gaze, or have significant age gaps between its queer characters. Finally, I can have my beloved romcom with queer people as main characters and not just as their supportive friends. Love, Simon [2018] was great, and my fully queer friendship group cried with happiness as we exited the cinema because of its representation, even though none of us was a white cis gay man. Booksmart [2019] is a typical coming-of-age story; it is light and funny, full of romcom elements, and one of the two main characters is a lesbian who is a part of all the classic tropes of this genre.

 

The Half of It
dir. Alice Wu [2020]

 

The Half of It is one of my favourite romcoms now. A shy girl helps a jock write letters to woo the girl of their dreams. However, this high-school love triangle does not end with one suitor prevailing over the other and winning the girl but with the friendship between the two being an equally important part of the story. The film asks questions about both faith and lack thereof and it talks beautifully about generational disconnect. The main character’s Chinese American identity is crucial to her sense of self.

 

Crazy Rich Asians
dir. Jon M. Chu [2018]

 

I absolutely love Crazy Rich Asians! It is full of classic romcom tropes and cultural conflict between the characters. Michelle Yeoh is wonderful as the ‘evil mother-in-law’ and all I want is to swoon over Henry Golding in all future romcoms. The costumes and food are amazing. Above all, this movie is bright, colourful and fun!


 

A CLASSIC TO BUY AND WATCH ONCE A YEAR

I definitely watch classic Halloween movies at least once a year. A surprising number of them star Winona Ryder (Bram Stoker’s Dracula [1992], The Craft [1996], Edward Scissorhands [1990]), so I usually add Heathers [1988] to this category as well.

 

Coraline
dir. Henry Selick [2009]

 

A must-see (and then must see again), in my opinion, is Coraline, the stop-motion fantasy-horror animation based on Neil Gaiman’s book. I think it builds upon the same existential horror and unsettling creepiness as Us or The Twilight Zone do. I would not recommend it to young children: some of it is quite nightmarish. The series Over the Garden Wall [2014], however, puts similar eeriness into a fairy tale/fantastical setting without being as directly terrifying.

 

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
dir. Peter Jackson [2002]

 

The Lord of the Rings is my ‘comfort food’ among films; I know that I will love every moment of it. Even after countless re-watching of the extended version, the battle of Helm’s Deep is still stressful and melancholic and hopeful at first light of the fifth day. The 'Riders of Rohan' and 'Helm’s Deep' themes are masterful and emotional. The characters feel like epic heroes every time (in the sense of an epic poem). The film beautifully balances comedic moments with heavy and mournful ones.


 

A SIGN OF THE TIMES

The increase of more casual representation is definitely a sign of the times, be it queer romcoms or superheroes of colour (I’m quite excited for the Ms. Marvel series to be filmed). I hope this trend develops at an ever-growing rate. Animation seems to have been taking great leaps in this direction, as seen with Into the Spiderverse, so I would highly recommend paying attention to this medium, the more so as it allows for incredible stylistic choices.

 

Another key development is the growing accessibility of non-English language films. As Parasite’s director Bong Joon Ho said in his Golden Globes acceptance speech, “Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films”. Since English is not my native language, subtitles have always been a given for me, but I haven’t considered until recently how American-centric the most popular awards are, so these changes and gradually developing conventions are fascinating to observe.


 

POLINA'S LIST

Great directors

Wes Anderson

Taika Waititi

Baz Luhrmann

Jordan Peele

Guillermo del Toro

Jean-Pierre Jeunet

Tim Burton

 

Great movies

Rosencrantz & Gildenstern Are Dead (1990)

Princess Mononoke (1997)

Memento (2000)

Birdman (2014)

Spotlight (2015)

Parasite (2019)