Who are the most challenging filmmakers, and what films are the most challenging, i.e., what films are difficult to “get,” and make you think a lot.
I was thinking in the way of Tarkovsky and Begman, especially the latter with The Seventh Seal.
Peter Greenaway takes some effort to watch. He’s one of my favorite filmmakers though. Antonioni and Fellini can be tough, each in their own way.
for me it has to be David Lynch, the surrealist tone he uses to design his movies is absolutely “ungettable” and it takes a bit even to sit through his work the first time.
films like Memento, Synecdoche NY also took a little time to get into my head.
Berlin Alexanderplatz. Running time alone. Not to mention all the pre-war suffering for 14 of the 15.5 hours.
There are many difficult filmmakers, but few are very rewarding once the viewer has gotten past the difficulty.
Below are some of what I consider to be the most rewarding difficult filmmakers:
Robert Bresson (all of his filmography)
Andrei Tarkovsky (all of his filmography)
Ingmar Bergman (most of his filmography)
Rainer Werner Fassbinder (most of his filmography)
Yasujiro Ozu (Tokyo Story, I Was Born But…, There Was A Father)
Michelangelo Antonioni (Il Grido, Zabriskie Point, isolation trilogy)
Jean-Luc Godard (his later films)
Pier Paolo Pasolini (most of his filmography)
NOTE: These are not difficult to watch per se (though some of them are), but difficult to understand. Challenging.
Eric Rohmer, because he demands that we listen.
I still need a second looked a Resnais’ HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR.
I would say David Lynch as well, if it weren’t for him saying that there is no point in trying to deduce coherent plots or meaning out his films (he said this way back after the Twin Peaks film when people were putting all kinds of connections and hypotheses online).
For someone who I think is trying to really say something and yet contextualizes in a difficult way, I’d also have to say Bergman. Gilliam and Kieslowski are challenging as well.
Bergman is a wonder to watch every time, and you have to really be in tune with his themes to understand his movies. I think Hour of the Wolf is supremely misunderstood as a horror film, its a film about insanity, just because there are spirits it doesnt mean that Bergman intends for you to believe them or be scared by them.
Pickpocket wasn’t that challenging to watch though. Just a simple story with a lot of implications like Bicycle Thieves.
Bergman, Ozu, Lynch, Fincher, and new to the list… Charlie Kaufman.
I might say, I saw Blindness last night for my second time, that was pretty challenging.
i Remember turning to a woman I’d never met before whilst watching Catherine Breillat’s “Romance” and saying “I have a real problem with this” and she agreed. So, somewhere along the line, I must of found the left-of-field sex games and exploration quite problematic.
I’d second the Pasolini filmography- especially for his political films, you do need to read around the subject to fully comprehend what he’s getting at.
Ozu, with the very static long takes, with very little going on in the frame still demands your attention, except with little going on, the eyes and mind usually start wandering. But a great filmmaker and his films on a big screen are sublime.
I found Bertolucci’s 6 hour “1900” quite a challenge. Most Italian films about fascism are usually a big ask for an audience, even hardened film buffs. Much of Antonioni is a mental game of joining what dots may or may not be there. Some of Bunuel’s stuff is quite sly and clever, and it’s not always clear on first viewing what is always going on.
I made the mistake of reading “Mullholland Drive” and “Lost Highway” in the way I’m supposed to read and enjoy most other types of films; big mistake, because part of the fun and irritation is realising Lynch doesn’t like convention, especially in terms of narrative.
Fassbinder is both brilliant and trying. “Fear Eats the Soul” must be his most successful and accessible, whereas “Alexanderplatz” is just, in the truest sense of the word, epic. I was proud of getting through 15.5 hours and felt better for it after the experience, but to say it was challenging is an understatement- draining came to mind. But I’m glad I rode the distance.
Andrew—I have that same reaction to every Breillat film. I then realize she’d say that is the point. Usually in such a situation, I’d likely cave in and be wracked with bourgeois guilt over all my WASP repression and so forth. With Breillat, however, I’m inclined to say this time it isn’t me.
For me much late Goddard (other than Notre Musique—which is close to a masterpiece) is the most difficult. I prefer not “getting” a film and like feeling lost (that’s why I love Lynch’s Inland Empire) but Goddard is just baffling to me. Jarman’s pretty hard too (I’m thinking of Last of England, for instance)—as much as I really like it. And this might be more from left field—Alex Cox (post- Sid and Nancy) and Hal Hartley can be headscratchers. Not in the way that all the others—Ozu, Lynch, Tarkovsky, et al—can be, but still I can’t quite make sense of what’s going on there.
Oh, let me throw in Brothers Quay and Guy Maddin (some more than others)—all terrific but certainly challenging.
Love them both, just don’t get them. Rather, I assume there is a lot more to them than what I took away…
Oh, and Tulse Luper Suitcases…it was far too dense for my little, mortal brain.
I have to agree with Fassbinder. The statement of his films being rewarding are very true. “Audition” is another film that is very hard to get through as well as “Gozu”. So I guess you could say Miike as well. “Audition” is very reminiscent to Fassbinder’s “Herr R” in the way it works. Makes a connection in my mind at least.
When it comes to contemporary filmmakers, I think Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Abbas Kiarostami, Hou Hsiao-hsien and Tsai Ming-liang (and possibly Carlos Reygadas) are way out in front of just about everyone else – they’re just as known as anyone, but they succeed at a level beyond the usual structural games, by leaping across the boundaries of varied categories (like fiction vs documentary) as they do so, all the while manipulating the identities of characters in ways that confound expectations. This really forces you to get deeply into the characters, making what sense of them you can, and into the narratives as well – if even things like minimalism or surrealism have an expected group of cliches, quirks or expectations, these filmmakers have moved somewhere past that. Even if you love these filmmakers, their work – at least the best of it – just never stops being demanding.
Akash, I agree with the Kaufman addition. Not sure if he’s largely taking the piss, or if everything really does fit in to some place in his mind. I saw Synecdoche yesterday and spent the entire 20 minute drive home in deep discussion with another about it. We disagreed on a lot, found meaning in different things, and had totally different interpretations as to the overall point. Whether or not you even like the film is secondary to its impressive ability to stimulate discussion and raise important questions.
! Peter Greenaway’s The Draughtsman’s Contract (1982)
Ozu, Bergman, Tarkovsky. Films like Solaris and 2001 are more difficult to understand.
Then of course there are films that are just difficult to get through, like anything directed by Uwe Boll.
Mike Figgis and many of his film like timcode, and the loss of sexual innocence challenge the range of were the viewer will allow himself to be drawn into. A beautiful voyeur mind with the instincts of a true auteur, who composes most of his brilliantly placed music.