6. The Innocents (Jack Clayton, 1961)

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Though in some ways stylistically dated, The Innocents remains as striking and downright strange today as it must have seemed upon release. Much of the screenplay was written by Truman Capote, and it shows. Based on Henry James’ novella The Turn Of The Screw, this is part ghost story, part Freudian hothouse drama. Deborah Kerr is Miss Giddens, a young governess who takes a job at a country estate, replacing a woman who died suddenly in unexplained circumstances.  Plagued by voices and visions, she soon begins to suspect that the children in her care are sharing a secret. Is she right, or is she merely projecting her own fears and desires on her young charges?  This is a deeply eerie film that finds a powerful cinematic language for the terrors of the repressed id.

7. Safe (Todd Haynes, 1996)

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Julianne Moore plays Carol White, a privileged housewife living a comfortable but sterile  existence in the San Fernando Valley of the late 1980’s. Gradually, Carol begins to have allergic reactions to the things around her, succumbing to multiple chemical sensitivity to the point where everyday activities trigger nose bleeds, vomiting and convulsions. In desperation, she leaves her family behind to join a remote ‘healing community’ in the New Mexico desert. Although on one level Todd ‘Far From Heaven’ Haynes’ film functions as a critique of 80’s materialism, its disturbing power and resonance go deeper: it speaks of to us of an insidious physical and spiritual malaise, a contemporary nightmare in which the very fabric of modernity has turned toxic.

8. Pandemonium (Julien Temple, 2001)

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Fresh from the Sex Pistols documentary Filth and the Fury, Julien Temple turned his lens on the fraught relationship between Wordsworth and Coleridge with characteristic energy, casting John Hannah as a sour-faced Wordsworth and Linus Roach as the opium-eater plagued by prophetic visions. But there’s much more to this film than ‘Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Romantic Poets’: while Temple has fun with Coleridge the myth, he never forgets the man, nor the fact that great artists are often useless human beings. Exploring the interlocking of political idealism with personal failure in a way reminiscent of Howard Brentons’ 1984 play Bloody PoetryPandemonium is an example of a thoroughly English film that nevertheless refuses to peddle British heritage as a museum culture.

9. ‘4’ (Ilya Khrzhanovsky, 2005)

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A grotesque foray into the scarred psyche of post-Soviet Russia, 4 goes to such extremes it sometimes defies belief.  Tradition and modernity jar against one another as Khrzhanovsky deploys a series of unforgettable images, including an interminable orgy of rotten meat, mad crones and wild animals. At times incomprehensible, the film seems to be an allegory for the self-cannibalism of a society struggling to come to terms with its own destructive history. Utterly, utterly mental.

10. L.627 (Bernard Tavernier, 1992)

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This austere French police thriller offers the ultimate antidote to the posturing and cliché of the Hollywood cop movie. Rarely have we seen the prosaic world of day to day police work rendered with such unglamorous honesty. Didier Bezace is superb as Lucien “Lulu” Marquet, a veteran of the Paris Police Department re-assigned to ‘les Stupes’, the French narcotics division, and struggling to police the streets with a modicum of decency. Screenwriter Michel Alexandre was an ex-cop who had served in the drug squad, and his script, whose title refers to a provision of the public health code, upset many in the French political establishment. L.627 is a humane and sympathetic film, directed with a restraint that makes its message all the more powerful.

Ten great films you haven’t seen, no’s 1-5

 

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