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European Cinema

by Kim Packard
This list was inspired by this Mubi thread The selection is, by no means, definitive… just the ones I thought were suitable for an introductory film history course. If there are only fifteen weeks to screen the films, once a week, left over films can be made optional. :-) Soviet Union: Battleship Potemkin, Man with a Movie Camera, The Letter That Was Never Sent Scandinavia: The Virgin Spring, Kira’s Reason Animation and stop-motion: The King and the Mocking Bird, Alice Wiki entry European Cinema Excerpts from the above Wiki link: Some notable European film movements include German Expressionism, Italian neorealism, French New Wave,… Read more

This list was inspired by this Mubi thread
The selection is, by no means, definitive… just the ones I thought were suitable for an introductory film history course. If there are only fifteen weeks to screen the films, once a week, left over films can be made optional. :-)

Soviet Union: Battleship Potemkin, Man with a Movie Camera, The Letter That Was Never Sent
Scandinavia: The Virgin Spring, Kira’s Reason
Animation and stop-motion: The King and the Mocking Bird, Alice

Wiki entry European Cinema

Excerpts from the above Wiki link:

Some notable European film movements include German Expressionism, Italian neorealism, French New Wave, Polish Film School, New German Cinema, Portuguese Cinema Novo, Czechoslovak New Wave, Dogme 95, New French Extremity, and Romanian New Wave. The cinema of Europe has its own awards, the European Film Awards.

“The first Expressionist films, The Student of Prague(1913), The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), The Golem(1920), Destiny (1921), Nosferatu(1922), Phantom (1922), Schatten (1923), and The Last Laugh (1924) , were highly symbolic and stylized. Various European cultures of the 1920s had embraced an ethic of change, and a willingness to look to the future by experimenting with bold, new ideas and artistic styles. The first Expressionist films made up for a lack of lavish budgets by using set designs with wildly non-realistic, geometrically absurd sets, along with designs painted on walls and floors to represent lights, shadows, and objects. The plots and stories of the Expressionist films often dealt with madness, insanity, betrayal, and other “intellectual” topics (as opposed to standard action-adventure and romantic films). Later films often categorized as part of the brief history of German Expressionism include Metropolis (1927) and M (1931) , both directed by Fritz Lang."

My selection: Metropolis

The neorealist style was developed by a circle of film critics that revolved around the magazine Cinema, including Michelangelo Antonioni, Luchino Visconti, Gianni Puccini, Cesare Zavattini, Giuseppe De Santis and Pietro Ingrao. Largely prevented from writing about politics (the editor-in-chief of the magazine was none other than Vittorio Mussolini, son of Benito Mussolini), the critics attacked the telefono bianco films that dominated the industry at the time. As a counter to the poor quality of mainstream films, some of the critics felt that Italian cinema should turn to the realist writers from the turn of the century. The neo-realists were heavily influenced by French poetic realism. Both Antonioni and Visconti had worked closely with Jean Renoir. Additionally, many of the filmmakers involved in neorealism developed their skills working on calligraphist films (though the short-lived movement was markedly different from neorealism). Elements of neorealism are also found in the films of Alessandro Blasetti and the documentary-style films of Francesco De Robertis. Two of the most significant precursors of neorealism are Toni (Renoir, 1935) and 1860 (Blasetti, 1934). The first neorealist film was Ossessione by Luchino Visconti (1943) . Neorealism became famous globally in 1946 with Roberto Rossellini’s Roma, città aperta (Rome, Open City) , when it won the Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival as the first major film produced in Italy after the war. Despite containing many elements extraneous to the principles of neorealism, it depicted clearly the struggle of normal Italian people to live from day to day under the extraordinary difficulties of the German occupation of Rome, consciously doing what they can to resist the occupation. The children play a key role in this, and their presence at the end of the film is indicative of their role in neorealism as a whole: as observers of the difficulties of today who hold the key to the future. Vittorio De Sica’s 1948 film Ladri di biciclette is also representative of the genre, with non-professional actors, and a story that details the hardships of working-class life after the war.

My selection: Bicycle Thieves/ Ladri di biciclette

French New Wave was popular roughly between 1958 and 1964, although New Wave work existed as late as 1973. The socio-economic forces at play shortly after World War II strongly influenced the movement. Politically and financially drained, France tended to fall back on the old popular pre-war traditions. One such tradition was straight narrative cinema, specifically classical French film. The movement has its roots in rebellion against the reliance on past forms (often adapted from traditional novellic structures), criticizing in particular the way these forms could force the audience to submit to a dictatorial plot-line. They were especially against the French “cinema of quality”, the type of high-minded, literary period films held in esteem at French film festivals, often regarded as “untouchable” by criticism. New Wave critics and directors studied the work of western classics and applied new avant garde stylistic direction. The low-budget approach helped filmmakers get at the essential art form and find what was, to them, a much more comfortable and honest form of production. Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Howard Hawks, John Ford, and many other forward-thinking film directors were held up in admiration while standard Hollywood films bound by traditional narrative flow were strongly criticized. Some of the most prominent pioneers among the group, including François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Éric Rohmer, Claude Chabrol, and Jacques Rivette , began as critics for the famous film magazine Cahiers du cinéma. Cahiers co-founder and theorist André Bazin was a prominent source of influence for the movement. By means of criticism and editorialization, they laid the groundwork for a set of concepts, revolutionary at the time, which the American film critic Andrew Sarris called auteur theory. (The original French “La politique des auteurs”, translated literally, as “The policy of authors”.) Cahiers du cinéma writers critiqued the classic “Tradition of Quality” style of French Cinema. Notable among these was François Truffaut in his manifesto-like article “Une Certaine tendance du cinéma français”. Bazin and Henri Langlois, founder and curator of the Cinémathèque Française, were the dual father figures of the movement. Truffaut also credits the American director, Morris Engel and his film “Little Fugitive” with helping to start the French New Wave, when he said “Our French New Wave would never have come into being, if it hadn’t been for the young American Morris Engel who showed us the way to independent production with (this) fine movie.” The auteur theory holds that the director is the “author” of his movies, with a personal signature visible from film to film. They praised movies by Jean Renoir and Jean Vigo, and made then-radical cases for the artistic distinction and greatness of Hollywood studio directors such as John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock and Nicholas Ray. The beginning of the New Wave was to some extent an exercise by the Cahiers writers in applying this philosophy to the world by directing movies themselves. Apart from the role that films by Jean Rouch have played in the movement, Chabrol’s Le Beau Serge (1958) is traditionally (but debatably) credited as the first New Wave feature. Truffaut, with The 400 Blows (1959) and Godard, with Breathless (1960) had unexpected international successes, both critical and financial, that turned the world’s attention to the activities of the New Wave and enabled the movement to flourish. Part of their technique was to portray characters not readily labeled as protagonists in the classic sense of audience identification.

My selections: Le beau Serge, The 400 Blows (or Zero for Conduct), Breathless, Pierrot le fou
Supplementary: L’Atalante, Toni, The Rules of the Game, The Diary of a Country Priest

The Polish Film School was the first to underline the national character of Poles and one of the first artistic movements in Central Europe to openly oppose the official guidelines of Socialist realism. The members of the movement tend to underline the role of individual as opposed to collectivity. There were two trends within the movement: young directors such as Andrzej Wajda generally studied the idea of heroism, while another group (the most notable being Andrzej Munk) analysed the Polish character via irony, humor and a dissection of national myths.

My selection: Man on the Tracks

As a reaction to the artistic and economic stagnation of German cinema, a group of young film-makers issued the Oberhausen Manifesto on 28 February 1962. This call to arms, which included Alexander Kluge, Edgar Reitz, Peter Schamoni and Franz Josef Spieker among its signatories, provocatively declared “Der alte Film ist tot. Wir glauben an den neuen” (“The old cinema is dead. We believe in the new cinema”). Other younger film-makers allied themselves to this Oberhausen group, among them Volker Schlöndorff, Werner Herzog, Jean-Marie Straub, Wim Wenders, Hans-Jürgen Syberberg and Rainer Werner Fassbinder in their rejection of the existing German film industry and their determination to build a new industry founded on artistic excellence rather than commercial dictates. The artistically ambitious and socially critical films of the New German Cinema strove to delineate themselves from what had gone before and the works of auteur film-makers such as Kluge and Fassbinder are examples of this, although Fassbinder in his use of stars from German cinema history also sought a reconciliation between the new cinema and the old. In addition, a distinction is sometimes drawn between the avantgarde “Young German Cinema” of the 1960s and the more accessible “New German Cinema” of the 1970s. For their influences the new generation of film-makers looked to Italian Neorealism, the French Nouvelle Vague and the British New Wave but combined this eclectically with references to the well-established genres of Hollywood cinema. The new movement saw German cinema return to international critical significance for the first time since the end of the Weimar Republic. Films such as Kluge’s Abschied von Gestern (Yesterday Girl, 1966), Herzog’s Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972), Fassbinder’s Fear Eats the Soul (1974) and The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979), and Wenders’ Paris, Texas (1984) found international acclaim and critical approval. Often the work of these auteurs was first recognised abroad rather than in Germany itself. The work of post-war Germany’s leading novelists Heinrich Böll and Günter Grass provided source material for the adaptations The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum (1975) (by Schlöndorff and Margarethe von Trotta) and The Tin Drum (1979) (by Schlöndorff alone) respectively, the latter becoming the first German film to win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. The New German Cinema also allowed for female directors to come to the fore and for the development of a feminist cinema which encompassed the works of directors such as Von Trotta, Helma Sanders-Brahms and Helke Sander .

My Selections: Aguirre the Wrath of God, The Tin Drum, Wings of Desire

In Portugal, Novo Cinema flourished after the 1960s, where it lasted, inspired by Italian Neo-Realism and the French movement of the New wave, the direct cinema techniques, and by the ideals the Carnation Revolution up to the early 1980s (see Cinema of Portugal).

It is encapsulated in the Portuguese phrase “Uma câmera na mão e uma ideia na cabeça” (“a camera in the hand and an idea in the head”).
In Brazil, the movement included directors Glauber Rocha, Nelson Pereira dos Santos, Carlos Diegues and Joaquim Pedro de Andrade. Its main topics revolved around Brazilian poverty, mainly using the dry northeast and large cities as settings. In Portugal its first representatives were directors such as José Ernesto de Sousa, Paulo Rocha, António de Macedo, Fernando Lopes, António da Cunha Telles and António Campos (on documentaries) .

My selections: The Green Years, Belarmino

The Czechoslovak New Wave differed from the French New Wave in that it usually held stronger narratives, and as these directors were the children of a nationalized film industry, they had greater access to studios and state funding. They also tended to present films taken from Czech literature, including Jaromil Jireš’ adaptation of Milan Kundera’s anti-Communist novel The Joke (Žert 1969). At the Fourth Congress of the Czechoslovak Writers Union in 1971, Milan Kundera himself described this wave of national cinema as an important part of the history of Czechoslovak literature. Forman’s The Firemen’s Ball (Hoří, má panenko 1967), another major film of the era, remains a cult film more than four decades after its release. The majority of films shot during the New Wave were Czech-language as opposed to Slovak. Many directors came from the prestigious FAMU, located in Prague, while the state-run Barrandov Studios were located just on the outskirts of Prague. Some prominent Czech directors included Miloš Forman, who directed The Firemen’s Ball, Black Peter, and Loves of a Blonde during this time, Věra Chytilová who is best known for her film Daisies, and Jiří Menzel, whose film Closely Watched Trains (Ostře sledované vlaky 1966) won an academy award for best foreign language film. The Sun in a Net (Slnko v sieti) is a 1963 film that became a key film in the development of Slovak and Czechoslovak cinema from the mandated Socialist-Realist filmmaking of the repressive 1950s towards the Czechoslovak/Czech New Wave and socially critical or experimental films of the 1960s marked by a gradual relaxation of communist control. Štefan Uher’s cinematic idiom is as exquisite and deliberate as any of his European contemporaries, including Michelangelo Antonioni, Ingmar Bergman and Chris Marker. The Sun in a Net received multiple votes in a wide survey of Czech and Slovak film academics and critics in the late 1990s asking them for their lists of the 10 best films in the history of filmmaking in the former Czechoslovakia.

My selection: The Sun in a Net
Supplementary: Alice

Dogme 95 is an avant-garde filmmaking movement started in 1995 by the Danish directors Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg , who created the “Dogme 95 Manifesto” and the “Vow of Chastity”. These were rules to create filmmaking based on the traditional values of story, acting and theme, and excluding the use of elaborate special effects or technology. They were later joined by fellow Danish directors Kristian Levring and Søren Kragh-Jacobsen, forming the Dogme 95 Collective or the Dogme Brethren. Dogme is the Danish word for dogma. Remodernist filmmaker Jesse Richards criticizes the movement in his Remodernist Film Manifesto, stating in relation to Point 10, “Remodernist film is not Dogme ’95. We do not have a pretentious checklist that must be followed precisely. This manifesto should be viewed only as a collection of ideas and hints whose author may be mocked and insulted at will.” American film critic Armond White also criticized the movement, stating that it was “the manifesto that brought filmmaking closer to amateur porn”. He believed the movement would be rejected as insignificant by film historians.

My selections: The King is Alive, Manderlay

New French Extremity (or “New French Extremism”) is a term coined by Artforum critic James Quandt for a collection of transgressive films by French directors at the turn of the 21st century. The filmmakers are also discussed by Jonathan Romney of The Independent. Quandt describes the style as follows:
“ Bava as much as Bataille, Salo no less than Sade seem the determinants of a cinema suddenly determined to break every taboo, to wade in rivers of viscera and spumes of sperm, to fill each frame with flesh, nubile or gnarled, and subject it to all manner of penetration, mutilation, and defilement. ”
—James Quandt, Artforum
Quandt associates François Ozon, Gaspar Noé, Catherine Breillat, Bruno Dumont, Claire Denis’ Trouble Every Day, Patrice Chereau’s Intimacy, Bertrand Bonello’s The Pornographer, Marina de Van’s In My Skin, Leos Carax’s Pola X, Philippe Grandrieux’s La Vie nouvelle and Sombre, Jean-Claude Brisseau’s Secret Things, Jacques Nolot’s La Chatte à deux têtes, Virginie Despentes and Coralie Trinh Thi’s Baise-moi, and Alexandre Aja’s Haute tension with the label.

My selection: A Lake

The Romanian New Wave (Romanian: Noul val românesc) is a blanket term applied to a torrent of internationally acclaimed films made in Romania from the mid 2000s, starting with Trafic , which won the Short Film Palme d’Or at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival. The greatest achievement of this New Wave thus far was winning the Palme d’Or in 2007 for 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.

My selections: Trafic, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu

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