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What Is an Auteur?

MUBI-special

The idea of a film director being the “auteur”—or author—of a film is one that was put to paper by François Truffaut in the 1950s, reformulated by American critic Andrew Sarris in the 1960s, and has been debated and re-interpreted ever since. MUBI’s new series aims to explore the increasingly complicated question of what constitutes an auteur. With this ongoing program, arranged in a series of director double bills ranging from the likes of Alfonso Cuarón to Claire Denis, we hope to elucidate this nebulous term while also shedding light on some of cinema’s finest masters along the way.

Sweet Sixteen

Ken Loach Storbritannien, 2002

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What Is an Auteur?

Ken Loach, Britain’s cinematic voice of the proletariat, even today continues his commitment to charting the lives of working people at the ripe age of 83. Rewinding back to 2002, Sweet Sixteen is one of his most potent works: a raw, uncompromising view of surviving youth at the fringes of society.

Jag heter Joe

Ken Loach Storbritannien, 1998

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What Is an Auteur?

One of Ken Loach’s lesser-known films, yet no less compassionate and sincere. A story of love and solidarity gone awry, My Name is Joe portrays with care its larger-than-life titular character, interpreted with visceral fervor by Peter Mullan, who won the Best Actor award in Cannes for the role.

Django, Kill! - döda för guld

Giulio Questi Italien, 1967

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What Is an Auteur?

Italian wildcard Giulio Questi pushed the limits (and censorship!) of what one could show in a movie in his brilliantly twisted cinema. With this, his debut, he forged what boldly stands today as perhaps the most bloody, reviled, and ecstatic of spaghetti westerns. Not for the faint of heart!

Döden lägger ägg

Giulio Questi Italien, 1968

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What Is an Auteur?

Giulio Questi’s second film is a brilliantly unidentifiable genre hybrid, combining giallo with a love triangle and sharp critique of capitalism. Giddily stylized, with an ace cast including Jean-Louis Trintignant and Gina Lollobrigida, it marked an apotheosis of 1960s modernist Italian cinema.

Sleepwalk

Sara Driver USA, 1986

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13 dagar
What Is an Auteur?

Curses and endless night engulf this hypnotic film and the drifting woman at its center. One of the great New York filmmakers of the “No Wave” generation, the feature debut by Sara Driver is a jagged maze of puzzles with an irresistible dreamlike flow. Featuring cinematography by Jim Jarmusch!

When Pigs Fly

Sara Driver Tyskland, 1993

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14 dagar
What Is an Auteur?

Ten years after the sublime Sleepwalk, Driver followed it with this oneiric, jazz-infused ghost story. Set in a small port town and haunted by a host phantoms (one played by the always brilliant Marianne Faithfull!), When Pigs Fly is a completely beguiling invocation of the unresolved past.

Viola

Matías Piñeiro Argentina, 2012

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36 dagar
What Is an Auteur?

Over the course of his delightful filmography, Argentinian auteur Matías Piñeiro has been re-imagining Shakespeare’s masterpieces on his delightfully intimate, lively canvas. With Viola, he spins Twelfth Night into a rich yarn of life-imitating-art.. or might it be the other away around? .

The Princess of France

Matías Piñeiro Argentina, 2014

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37 dagar
What Is an Auteur?

Our second film by Matías Piñeiro is another ingenious and spry blend of pure cinema and the pleasures of Shakespeare. A whirlwind of young women swirl around and intersect with the life of a radio director in Buenos Aires in a multiplicity of relationships, love, and play. A gentle delight.

When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism

Corneliu Porumboiu Rumänien, 2013

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What Is an Auteur?

Romanian New Wave director Corneliu Porumboiu turns his hilarious deadpan style to a behind-the-scenes look at moviemaking in Bucharest. This duet (or is it a duel?) between a director and actress is a clever self-critique about what matters in cinema, as well as a withering satire of masculine ego.

Polis, adjektiv

Corneliu Porumboiu Rumänien, 2009

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What Is an Auteur?

Romanian New Wave director Corneliu Porumboiu won two prizes in Cannes with this dark comedy of the mentality and excruciating bureaucracy of his nation’s police. With a deadpan mix of bleak settings and odd situations, Police, Adjective draws a wry portrait of a country in a state of paralysis.

The Exterminating Angels

Jean-Claude Brisseau Frankrike, 2006

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What Is an Auteur?

After a guilty charge of sexual harassment during auditions for Secret Things, Jean-Claude Brisseau brazenly made a film seemingly inspired by the scandal. The result is lurid—and to many, tasteless—but also surreal and sensual, an exploration of the mysterious desires conjured during filmmaking.

Céline

Jean-Claude Brisseau Frankrike, 1992

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What Is an Auteur?

First associated with Rohmer and, much later, with scandals of harassment, the movies of Jean-Claude Brisseau are hard to find and strange to encounter. Mislabeled as a social realist, he is in fact the rare director to embrace the fantastic, here in a powerful tale of female friendship and healing.

Day Night Day Night

Julia Loktev Tyskland, 2006

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What Is an Auteur?

Tactile, ambiguous, and alive to the ideological dangers of modernity, Julia Loktev’s Day Night Day Night immerses one entirely into the perspective of an insurgent on the precipice of attacking Time Square. A rare sense of immediacy tempers this film’s risky yet unforgettable moral challenge.

The Loneliest Planet

Julia Loktev USA, 2011

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What Is an Auteur?

The extraordinary talent of Julia Loktev is this week’s director focus. Her second film takes us through a startling journey with a couple—Gael García Bernal and Hani Furstenberg—who have to face the limits of what defines human relationships: love, trust, fortitude, and selflessness.

Che - Gerillaledaren

Steven Soderbergh Spanien, 2008

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What Is an Auteur?

Guerilla concludes Steven Soderbergh’s broad-canvas biopic in a more subdued style, finding Che Guevara as he resurfaces in Bolivia, preparing the Latin American Revolution. Lead by another tremendous performance from Benicio del Toro, who won the Best Actor prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

Che - Argentinaren

Steven Soderbergh Spanien, 2008

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What Is an Auteur?

The first part of a project not just split down the middle, but fractured in a more abstract sense, this bold reconstruction of the Che’s life (charting the revolutionary’s time in 50s Cuba) challenges our every expectation. An unconventional biopic from the always risk-taking Steven Soderbergh.

The Son of Joseph

Eugène Green Frankrike, 2016

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What Is an Auteur?

Eugène Green brings his delightfully idiosyncratic touch to this unusual version of the Nativity story involving a quest to find a boy’s true father, a hilarious satire of the French literature scene, and, as always with this filmmaker, moving doses of profound emotional and spiritual sincerity.

La sapienza

Eugène Green Frankrike, 2014

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What Is an Auteur?

Next subject in our What Is an Auteur? series is French-by-way-of-America director Eugène Green, whose movies are spare—he counts Bresson as an influence—yet refreshingly funny, forthright, and touching. With its stunning architecture tour, this wistful delight intertwines art into its drama.

Import/Export

Ulrich Seidl Österrike, 2007

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What Is an Auteur?

An epic exposé of the relationship between Europe and countries to its east, Ulrich Seidl’s drama is an engrossing and provocative tale of humans, economies, and dreams. Rooted in real-world research and stunningly photographed by the great Ed Lachman, this is a global story told on a human scale.

Jesus, You Know

Ulrich Seidl Österrike, 2003

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What Is an Auteur?

Fluidly moving between fiction and docs, the films of Austria’s foremost director, Ulrich Seidl, are a cross between Erich von Stroheim’s sensuous anthropology and Herzog’s ecstatic blend of fact and imagination. This confrontative inquiry of Catholicism is a direct revelation of individual faith.

Det tysta ljuset

Carlos Reygadas Mexiko, 2007

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What Is an Auteur?

Reygadas proved himself one of the most controversial contemporary directors when he won the Jury Prize at Cannes in 2007 with this gorgeous remixing of Dreyer’s Ordet. Weaving the sacred and the profane, the holy and the damned, Silent Light is one of the great modern films on the subject of faith.

Battle in Heaven

Carlos Reygadas Mexiko, 2005

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What Is an Auteur?

Behold! Art cinema in all its grandeur. If you miss the glory days of lauded, grandiose artists making controversial films with spellbinding visual approaches and headline-grabbing, risqué content, look no further than Mexican visionary Carlos Reygadas and his sophomore vision Battle in Heaven.

Svinen

Claire Denis Frankrike, 2013

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What Is an Auteur?

After the wide canvas of her Africa-set White Material, the great Claire Denis turned her sensuous storytelling to the black heart of contemporary film noir. Her fascinating, sinister thriller stars Vincent Lindon, Chiara Mastroianni, and two Denis regulars: Alex Descas and Grégoire Colin.

White Material

Claire Denis Frankrike, 2009

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What Is an Auteur?

With her Robert Pattinson-led High Life in theatres, we pay homage to Claire Denis and her marvelous dancing impressionism. For this collaboration with Isabelle Huppert, the director, who grew up in French Africa, returns to her roots for a powerful story about the death throes of white colonialism.

Flandern

Bruno Dumont Frankrike, 2006

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What Is an Auteur?

Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, Bruno Dumont’s forlorn love story asks where the roots of modern violence is in the rural countryside. Flanders audacious finds the temptations of passion and cruelty both on the battlefield and in the illusion of peace at home.

Hadewijch

Bruno Dumont Frankrike, 2009

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What Is an Auteur?

Faith is an increasingly neglected theme in contemporary cinema, but not so for Bruno Dumont, who with each film challenges our understanding of modern spirituality. In Hadewijch he continues his search with the experiences of an exiled nun’s encounters with the transience and dangers of devotion.

Sex Is Comedy

Catherine Breillat Frankrike, 2002

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What Is an Auteur?

Our next film by provocatrice Catherine Breillat gives you a glimpse behind the scenes: her signature dramas of sex and psychology, taking place on a movie set! Clearly inspired by the making of Breillat’s controversial Fat Girl, this is a bracing self-inquiry into the power-games of moviemaking.

Anatomy of Hell

Catherine Breillat Frankrike, 2004

Alert: Not for the faint-of-heart! Breillat approaches sex in ways no (male) filmmaker has ever done. Her unwavering exploration of femininity peaks in this loose sequel to Romance. Here she fearlessly blurs the line between porn and art—and casting porn legend Siffredi is just the beginning.

4:44 Last Day on Earth

Abel Ferrara USA, 2011

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What Is an Auteur?

Cinema has seen its share of apocalyptic scenarios, yet none fuse intimacy with prescience like this one. Eradicating all spectacle from the dramatic palette, 4:44 is instead a frequently oneiric, entirely humanist reckoning with the end of existence from the perspective of a Manhattan apartment.

King of New York

Abel Ferrara USA, 1990

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What Is an Auteur?

Abel Ferrara, the iconoclastic cinema-poet of New York City, directs this sleek, savage masterpiece. Walken gives a career-best performance as the titular socialist gangster (you read that right) whose name was even taken up by late rapper Notorious B.I.G. as a pseudonym. A key film of the 1990s.

Phoenix

Christian Petzold Tyskland, 2014

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What Is an Auteur?

Our second film by contemporary German auteur Christian Petzold is his biggest hit to date, a devilishly clever and twisting adaptation of Vertigo to the suspicions and unease of a post-war Germany left in ruin. Like Barbara, it stars the inimitable Nina Hoss in a challenging but unforgettable role.

Barbara

Christian Petzold Tyskland, 2012

With the new thriller by Christian Petzold in cinemas (read our interview about Transit) our auteur series turns to highlighting this brilliant German. Adroitly combining genre cinema with deeper inquiries into his nation’s painful 20th century, Petzold’s films are as enthralling as they are smart.

Barbara

Mathieu Amalric Frankrike, 2017

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What Is an Auteur?

French pop legend Barbara is far too special to make a normal biopic about. Instead, Mathieu Amalric, subject of this week’s double feature, creates an imaginatively free and dazzling portrait not just of Barbara, but of the challenge of an actress (Jeanne Balibar) to embody such a unique person.

The Blue Room

Mathieu Amalric Frankrike, 2014

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What Is an Auteur?

Next in our survey of the signatures of great filmmakers is a double feature by one better known as an actor: Mathieu Amalric. Yet Amalric’s films behind the camera are distinct, sly and enthralling, especially this puzzlebox neo-noir which cleverly fragments a crime of passion into a mystery.

Blue Steel

Kathryn Bigelow USA, 1989

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What Is an Auteur?

One of the most under-valued films by the director of The Hurt Locker, Bigelow turns a male-oriented genre upside down in this gritty, gripping policier by putting a female cop (Jamie Lee Curtis at her best) in the lead. As in the best cop thrillers, the personal and professional are inextricable.

Natten har sitt pris

Kathryn Bigelow USA, 1987

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What Is an Auteur?

Master auteur Kathryn Bigelow has crafted some of the most purely sensorial and kinetic genre cinema of our time. Exhibit A: Near Dark, her sophomore film, is a bewitching vampire-action-horror hybrid that descends into the hidden worlds of rural America to find hell. Erotic, violent, and essential.

Din morsa också!

Alfonso Cuarón Mexiko, 2001

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What Is an Auteur?

Alfonso Cuarón’s excellence became crystal clear with his fourth feature, Y tu mamá también. The birthplace of both Diego Luna and Gael García Bernal’s stardom, this deceptively sublime road movie broke ground by expressing the many complexities intrinsic to the sexual odyssey that is youth.

Älska mig till döds

Alfonso Cuarón Mexiko, 1991

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What Is an Auteur?

This year we’re excited to launch “What Is An Auteur?,” a new series of double bills dedicated to exploring what defines the style, sensibility and perspective of directors. With Roma being one of last year’s true masterpieces, we’re starting with Alfonso Cuarón and his satiric, sexy Mexican debut.

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