Road Movies Genre Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

An ongoing survey of the Criterion Forum membership to create lists of the best films of each decade and genre.
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domino harvey
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Road Movies Genre Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#1 Post by domino harvey » Thu Oct 29, 2015 11:29 pm

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MINI-LIST PROJECT: ROAD MOVIES
November 20 - December 20


Ah, the open road. This is a list project for films centered on journeys from Point A to Point B and all the usual subset stops between. Any film centered on such travels— usually via car (On the Road) or other vehicle (Easy Rider), but sometimes on foot (the Lord of the Rings trilogy)— is eligible for voting in this Mini-List Project.

SUBMISSION GUIDELINES
The minimum and standard number of submitted films for each participating member is 10, in ranked order (With number one being the best and so on down the line). However, if you feel especially well-versed in this genre or just can’t bare to limit yourself to a mere ten titles, you may submit up to fifteen ranked titles (ie 15 total max) or any variant number between ten and fifteen (so yes, your list may contain thirteen films, though you must agree to shoulder all the bad hoodoo that results).

Members who submit only ten film and those who submit a maximum fifteen titles will still be on even footing when it comes to the points assigned for the top ten (ie the film in their number one slot will be worth fifteen points on everyone’s list).

Lists should be submitted to me, domino harvey, via PM by December 20th. No lists will be accepted prior to November 20th.

LIST CLOSED: RESULTS HERE


FORUM RESOURCES

FILMMAKERS
Wim Wenders
David Lynch
Monte Hellman
Jean-Luc Godard
Ingmar Bergman (Mr Sausage has an interesting comment about road movies on page 10)

FORUM DISCUSSIONS
Fandango (Kevin Reynolds, 1985)
The Passenger (Antonioni, 1975)
Three (James Salter, 1969)
Emperor of the North Pole (Aldrich, 1973)
A Perfect World (Eastwood, 1993)
Vanishing Point (Sarafian, 1971)
The Hitch-Hiker & Ida Lupino
Adventures of Felix (Ducastel/Martineau, 2000)
The Big Sky (Howard Hawks, 1952)
The Wizard (Todd Holland, 1989)
Wild At Heart (David Lynch, 1990)
The Devil Thumbs a Ride (Feist, 1947)
The Homesman (Tommy Lee Jones, 2014)
Ida (Paweł Pawlikowski, 2013)
On the Road (Walter Salles, 2012)
The Hobbit Trilogy (Peter Jackson, 2012-2014)
Cosmopolis (David Cronenberg, 2012)
Wendy and Lucy (Kelly Reichardt, 2008)
The Road (John Hillcoat, 2009)
My Blueberry Nights (Wong Kar-wai, 2007)
Diary of the Dead (George Romero, 2007)
The Limits of Control (Jim Jarmusch, 2009)
Children of Men (Alfonso Cuarón, 2006)
Little Miss Sunshine (Dayton/Faris, 2006)
I'm Not There (Todd Haynes, 2007)
Loggerheads (Tim Kirkman, 2005)
Broken Flowers (Jim Jarmusch, 2005)
Sideways (Alexander Payne, 2004)
Meek's Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt, 2011)
Inside Out (Pete Docter, 2015)

CRITERION TITLES
Vagabond
¡Alambrista!
Easy Rider
Badlands
Ballad of a Soldier
Border Radio
L'Atalante
The Darjeeling Limited
Down by Law
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
The Hidden Fortress
Il sorpasso
It Happened One Night
It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World
Touki Bouki
My Own Private Idaho
El Norte
Paris, Texas
Pierrot le fou
Red River
The Shooting / Ride in the Whirlwind
The Seventh Seal
Stagecoach
Stranger than Paradise
Sullivan's Travels
Taste of Cherry
Trafic
Two Lane Blacktop
The Wages of Fear
Walkabout
Watership Down
Weekend (1967)
Wild Strawberries
Y tu mamá también
Travels with Hiroshi Shimizu
The Ascent


First post compiled with help by mizoguchi5354

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domino harvey
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Re: Road Movies Genre Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#2 Post by domino harvey » Fri Nov 20, 2015 9:23 am

Thread now open for discussion

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Re: Road Movies Genre Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#3 Post by Michael Kerpan » Fri Nov 20, 2015 11:22 am

I think Shimizu's Arigato-san (Mr. Thank You) on Eclipse probably counts as a road movie. Assuming it is, it is probably my favorite. ;-) Shimizu's Children of the Beehive is another great road movie (a bunch of real orphans walking across Japan, shepherded by a real disabled war veteran) that has never been available in subbed form on DVD. (Any kids that hadn't been adopted by the end of filming, Shimizu effectively adopted, paying for all their schooling, etc.).

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Re: Road Movies Genre Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#4 Post by Ashirg » Fri Nov 20, 2015 11:34 am

Andrei Zvyagintsev's The Return is a road movie. Thought there was a discussion in the forum, but I could not find it. Also, Peter Bogdanovich's Paper Moon and Paul Mazursky's Harry and Tonto...

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Re: Road Movies Genre Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#5 Post by mizo » Fri Nov 20, 2015 12:40 pm

Michael Kerpan wrote:Shimizu's Children of the Beehive is another great road movie (a bunch of real orphans walking across Japan, shepherded by a real disabled war veteran) that has never been available in subbed form on DVD.
I can't vouch for the accuracy of the subtitles, but this seems like the best way to see it (and now that I know it's eligible for the list, I'll be watching soon).

In the meantime, barring any amazingly epiphanic viewing experiences, Wrong Move is pretty much a lock for my number one. I'm almost positive there's a write-up by domino floating around somewhere (didn't it used to be your favorite 70's film?), but just to add briefly to what he said, it's the kind of film that grows with you, not only revealing greater depths within itself on each viewing, but also imparting wisdom that you'll carry with you for years to come. Its particular insights about the intellectual life of the artist, the nature of loneliness, and one's relationship with national identity have all shown themselves to be more and more cogent and pointed as I've let them simmer in my subconscious while I've gotten older (and mind you, I'm still younger than Wenders was when he made it). In this respect it's perhaps the quintessential cinematic Kunstlerroman (or, a story about an artist's maturation). However, it still feels inextricably tied to a particular time, place, and mindset (where Rudiger Vogler's character is throughout the narrative) and seems, in the best possible way, a product of youth. Consequently, it's a film that I look back on in the same way I might recall something I experienced myself, having learned something very powerful from it. (And before anybody who knows the film well starts to get a little confused by my description, it certainly does linger in my mind a great deal more malignantly than do most formative memories.) One thing that strikes me about it is how unlike every other Wenders film it is, particularly in tone; it has none of the wistfulness that, in my admittedly incomplete experience, characterizes most of his work, and the overall impression one gets from the whole experience is more of creeping despair. In any case, it's my favorite Wenders (and I'd be tempted to make it a spotlight, if I didn't think it was already pretty well known around these parts - although, in hindsight, this reads a hell of a lot like a spotlight write-up).

Outside of that, my list is almost entirely open to change. Two Lane Blacktop is a very likely inclusion (if only because Warren Oates smirks his way through just about the greatest performance ever captured on film) as are a few Godards and also, probably, The Straight Story. Actually, speaking of Oates and Hellman, I fully intended, when this project was first announced, to put The Shooting near the top of my list, but now I'm starting to think it really doesn't belong in the same category as the others I've listed. It's really only a road movie insofar as the characters are going somewhere for much of the duration (and I realize that sounds dangerously close to the "duh" definition of a road movie); I don't think it has the same spirit as the films I'd want to vote for on a list like this. The Wenders, Godard, and Lynch films are all very open (to the vast expanse of the open road, to the possibilities of cinema, to flights of narrative/symbolic/philosophical fancy, etc.) while I feel that both Hellman films are fundamentally closed (locked into obsessive repetition, crushed by the weight of inescapable fate, etc.). Blacktop makes up for this by training its obsessive gaze on the road itself, and ultimately comes out looking more like a highly idiosyncratic interpretation of the genre than an exercise in genre-busting, which is how I'd characterize The Shooting.

And, of course, this brings up the whole argument of how to consider films based around alternative modes of transportation. I realize the "vote for it" rule applies and the discussion could easily be left at that, but I think this dilemma is potentially much more interesting than "Can I include Apocalypse Now even though it's on a boat?" For example, how fundamental to the genre is the ability to make stops? All of the examples I've listed above are mainly comprised of what the characters are up to when they're not driving; what about films where they're constantly in motion? Though it doesn't quite fit that bill, is The Wages of Fear (or Sorcerer, which I'll be watching for this project in the next day or two) still a road movie in spite of the fact that its suspense largely depends on it being as much of a "closed" experience as The Shooting? To take this to the extreme, does that mean Airplane! could feasibly be a road movie?

And to get really metaphysical, could we include, say, The Travelling Players on the basis that the vehicle for travel is the passage of time? (But then, I suppose it's just a short trip from that to including Mirror or Amour or literally any movie ever made on the same justification.)

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Re: Road Movies Genre Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#6 Post by Michael Kerpan » Fri Nov 20, 2015 1:11 pm

Does Rivette's Pont du Nord count. Yes, it all takes place in Paris, and they travel in a spiral rather than a straight line... But the two leads are constantly on the move, heading towards some (secret)goal.

Jarmusch's Dead Man seems like another road movie of sorts.

Yoji Yamada's fairly early Family (Where Spring Comes Late) follows a displaced family's move from Southern to Northern Japan.

Kore'eda's very neo-Shimizuesque "I Wish" focuses on a group of kids traveling to achieve a common goal. One other excellent, new road movie from Japan is Kobayashi's Haru's Journey -- starring Tatsuya Nakadai at his best (as a crabby old guy traveling with his 20-ish granddaughter, looking for a new home, visiting various sets of friends and relatives in other parts of Japan). Unfortunately, no subbed DVD, so probably out of the running.
Last edited by Michael Kerpan on Fri Nov 20, 2015 1:23 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Road Movies Genre Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#7 Post by swo17 » Fri Nov 20, 2015 1:20 pm

I think a key element of the road movie is that as the main characters progress along their path, they meet an assortment of colorful characters. Dead Man certainly qualifies. I'm not so convinced about Pont du Nord. "Characters on the move, heading toward some goal" could describe the narrative of just about any story.

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Re: Road Movies Genre Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#8 Post by dustybooks » Fri Nov 20, 2015 2:27 pm

The resource lists in the first post make me realize I actually have seen enough to participate in this one, though my impostor syndrome could kick in at any time.
swo17 wrote:I think a key element of the road movie is that as the main characters progress along their path, they meet an assortment of colorful characters.
Somehow this immediately brings The 39 Steps and especially Saboteur to mind, along with the fact that I associate the former film strongly with a sense of palpable physical movement.

Another movie I get that sensation from is A Hard Day's Night. It seems to bear mentioning that the first half of it makes much of constant traveling but also of a sense of absolute claustrophobia, akin to what mizoguchi5354 said about The Wages of Fear. Later it becomes more stationary in the run-up to the TV broadcast, but the early sequences are pretty evocative of the doldrums and offhanded amusements of getting somewhere.

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Re: Road Movies Genre Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#9 Post by swo17 » Fri Nov 20, 2015 2:51 pm

Well, an even keyer element is the protagonists' explicit decision to hit the road in the first place. Hard Day's Night is such an aimless hangout movie (in a good way) that I think it's a stretch to include it in the genre.

Some scattered recommendations:

Pee Wee's Big Adventure (Tim Burton)
This ought to have the #1 spot all locked up.

Image

Life and Nothing More (Abbas Kiarostami)
Where Is the Friend's Home? probably also qualifies, though this one is more literally a road movie, and a transcendent one at that. Makes tangible both the difficulty and the triumph of traversing the road itself.

Landscape in the Mist (Theo Angelopoulos)
Brother and sister cross Greece in search of their father, with occasional assistance/interference from God.

Meek's Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt)
Early settlers travel from point A to...wherever their guide is leading them. Their deaths? Who picked this guide?

Lost in America (Albert Brooks)
The feature-length rebuttal to Easy Rider.

Buffalo '66 (Vincent Gallo)
This may only chart a journey across town, but it's still structured like a road movie, with a rotating cast of colorful characters, introduced colorfully.

Sherman's March
A journey retracing Sherman's steps through the South? A journey of a man traveling deeper and deeper into his own ego and insecurities? An endless journey from hope to heartache and back again? So many journeys happening here.

I also concur with mizoguchi's Hellman, Wenders, and Lynch recs.

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Re: Road Movies Genre Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#10 Post by Michael Kerpan » Fri Nov 20, 2015 3:05 pm

swo17 wrote: I'm not so convinced about Pont du Nord. "Characters on the move, heading toward some goal" could describe the narrative of just about any story.
Each of the main protagonists have explicitly decided to hit the road or, at least, streets (each for her own reason). They remain physically on the move. They have a geographical (as well as an existential) goal that they must discover by following clues and a map. They have some encounters with characters, but sometimes more with places themselves.

I would think Kaurismaki's Calamari Union might count as another trans-urban road (street) movie.

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Re: Road Movies Genre Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#11 Post by bottled spider » Fri Nov 20, 2015 4:30 pm

The Puffy Chair (Duplass)
I took a hearty dislike to this when I watched this a long time ago, but now have a clearer recollection of a few moments of acting that I admired than of whatever it was that irritated me so much about it.

Old Joy (Reichardt)
Another Reichardt. OK, it's about a camping trip, but it has the distinct feel of a road movie. It has some similar dynamics to Puffy Chair: the relationship between a flaky man and a sensible man, and the relationship between the sensible man and a woman conflicting somewhat with the male relationship.

Brow Bunny (Gallo)
Another Gallo. I'm a sucker for scenes simply showing the view from inside a travelling vehicle, with music laid over top. There is a small helping of that in Old Joy. Facile, but satisfying. The encounter between Bud (Gallo) and Lilly (Tiegs) was one of the high points of this movie.

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Re: Road Movies Genre Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#12 Post by colinr0380 » Fri Nov 20, 2015 6:43 pm

I liked The Puffy Chair but I remember mostly being irritated by the male lead all the way from overly cutesy meal lovey-dovey stuff turned into petulant row that opens the film through to the aggravating resolution to the relationship at the end of the film, although I get the impression we are meant to see him as an annoying man-child type!

There are so many great road movies to throw out there but for the moment I'll limit myself to just the one, a film that desperately needs a Blu-ray edition, or at the very least a much better DVD reissue than those currently available, Shinji Aoyama's Eureka, a film that involves the survivors of a bus siege who over the course of the film begin slowly dealing with having come so close to arbitrary death, each in their various ways.

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Re: Road Movies Genre Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#13 Post by mizo » Sat Nov 21, 2015 12:44 am

Sorcerer (William Friedkin, 1977)
There's no love lost between me and The French Connection or The Exorcist, so I always assumed this film might explain the mystery of Friedkin's canonization among the "New Hollywood" masters. Going into it, I was prepared for an epic of indulgence and ambition, with Friedkin weaving a set of deliberate variations (all of which would throw into relief his own artistic preoccupations) around a fairly well-known but hardly exhausted concept. I wanted to see something in this film that would excuse the relative impersonality of the previous two, or maybe even reveal that the hallmarks of an individual artist could be found in them, provided I was watching for the right things. Basically, I was expecting far too much from this film, and, in hindsight, it's not at all surprising that it didn't deliver.

I do think it's a step up from the other two, which I find to be just bland and cold and ugly movies. This, conversely, is just cold and ugly (emphasis on ugly - when introduced to the South American locale, my instant reaction was to smile at the extreme levels to which it was taking The French Connection's almost fetishistic obsession with grime and squalor). In that respect, I'm tempted to compare the relationship between Sorcerer and Friedkin's two earlier films with that between Heaven's Gate and The Deer Hunter - the filmmaker taking the opportunity occasioned by success and a huge budget to explore his more peculiar artistic impulses. Another sign of this phenomenon is how the, for the most part, narratively useless prologues of the earlier films have an equivalent here with a massive upgrade in length and scope. (I will admit, however, that the extended introductions to each character do add to this film in ways that the lengthy explication of plot information that won't be relevant until much later doesn't do much for either of the other films.)

Also probably attributable to Friedkin is the film's propensity for smash cuts. Sometimes they're comical; sometimes it's cutting away just before something potentially disastrous is about to happen. Regardless, the film plays variations on this technique enough that I'm willing to take it as a legitimate stylistic affectation, employed creatively. So, in summation, the surest sign of the Friedkin touch is when a movie cuts away from one ugly thing to another ugly thing that has nothing to do with the first ugly thing, which will be semi-important in about forty-five minutes. Now, with the auteurist angle under our belts, let’s move on to its value as a remake!

And you know what? If you throw out everything I’ve mentioned so far (the visual unpleasantness, the bizarrely deep backstories, and the smash cuts) this is far more faithful a remake than I was expecting. Most of the changes are character details and Friedkin (or Walon Green, I suppose) actually sticks pretty closely to the original when it comes to the obstacles faced by the drivers (sometimes a little too close).
SpoilerShow
For a little while, I actually wondered if both trucks would make it in this version, until, for the first and only time, one of the characters stops to talk about his family and BOOM
The only other major liberty this film takes is how it tries to problematize the relationships between the drivers and the oil company and the ordinary people of this country and the government, and that alone makes it the most interesting of the three Friedkin films I’ve seen by a mile, on top of which it’s a pretty compelling interrogation of the politics of the original.
SpoilerShow
It also allows Friedkin to improve on the ending, which I’ve always seen as the weakest feature of the original, adding genuine thematic weight to a character who, in Clouzot’s film, seems to exist solely so the director’s wife can be in the movie. And yet Friedkin still has to inject it with that random dose of fatalism in the final seconds. I mean, what the hell? It’s almost comical when the mobsters show up in South America, as if the movie is admonishing the audience for expecting Roy Scheider’s fate to be left ambiguous.
So, glancing at the totals, it’s “pretty good” for a Friedkin film and “interesting” as a remake, which only leaves the question of how good it is as a road movie, to which my answer is “not much.” And it comes down to the same problems I outlined above as applying to The Shooting (and, I’m now fairly certain, also to The Wages of Fear): it’s too insular to fit my definition. There’s very little mystique or even interest in the road in this film (beyond how bumpy it is) and realistically, I can’t justify how I could include this (assuming I wanted to) while balking at the inclusion of Airplane! or The Lady Vanishes or any other film based around a critical situation that happens to involve movement.

In other news, I watched The Passenger for the first time today and I now think I was totally misguided in including its thread in the Forum Resources list I sent to domino. While I could theoretically understand why somebody might vote for Sorcerer, I can’t fathom how the Antonioni could be considered a road movie (not that anybody but me suggested it was one). And if anybody’s burning to know what I thought of it (somebody? anybody?), I think it’s Antonioni’s best film, right up until Maria Schneider has to say words, at which point I, for one, was very disheartened.

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Re: Road Movies Genre Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#14 Post by colinr0380 » Sat Nov 21, 2015 6:33 am

mizoguchi, if you are balking at including Airplane! on a road movies list, may I recommend the slightly earlier film The Big Bus? It was very much the Snowpiercer of its day!

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Re: Road Movies Genre Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#15 Post by mizo » Sat Nov 21, 2015 12:42 pm

colinr0380 wrote:mizoguchi, if you are balking at including Airplane! on a road movies list, may I recommend the slightly earlier film The Big Bus? It was very much the Snowpiercer of its day!
Thanks for that. I got a lot of joy from it (the trailer, that is, I'll have to see what I can do about finding the film). :D

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Re: Road Movies Genre Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#16 Post by Michael Kerpan » Sat Nov 21, 2015 4:05 pm

colinr0380 wrote: There are so many great road movies to throw out there but for the moment I'll limit myself to just the one, a film that desperately needs a Blu-ray edition, or at the very least a much better DVD reissue than those currently available, Shinji Aoyama's Eureka, a film that involves the survivors of a bus siege who over the course of the film begin slowly dealing with having come so close to arbitrary death, each in their various ways.
Great recommendation. An excellent movie -- that missed making its mark in the US (in good part) because the US distributor folded right when this should have been promoted.

Koji Yakusho as the bus driver and Aoi Miyazaki (at the beginning of her career) are especially fine -- but the whole cast is great.

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Re: Road Movies Genre Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#17 Post by Rayon Vert » Sat Nov 21, 2015 6:41 pm

Among the Criterion titles, I also consider A Canterbury Tale, Five Easy Pieces, The Milky Way, Je tu il elle, Les Rendez-vous d'Anna and possibly L'Avventura all road movies.

I haven't seen it in a very long time, but maybe also La Strada? On the Two-Lane Blacktop extras, I think Kris Kristofferson mentions it in the interview with Monte Hellman. (On the commentary by Rudy Wurlizter, he discusses the similarities between westerns and road movies, and mentions The Searchers as a possible inspiration.)

Some non-Criterion titles that might not be so obvious: Stroszek, Wild Boys of the Road, Sylvia Scarlett, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, The Big Steal, The Outcry and Zabriskie Point, The Hawks and the Sparrows.

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Bunuel

#18 Post by Lemmy Caution » Sun Nov 22, 2015 1:24 am

Bunuel's Ascent to Heaven (aka Mexican Bus Ride) is a gem and will certainly make my list if I make a list.
I wrote a fairly longish IMDb review there. It's the one entitled: Life as a Mexican Bus Ride.

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Re: Road Movies Genre Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#19 Post by mizo » Mon Nov 23, 2015 2:20 am

Life and Nothing More (Abbas Kiarostami, 1992)
Let's begin with some autobiography (appropriate given the film at hand). My interest in cinema began before I really had the intellectual capacity to understand a lot of the canonical classics. I was watching the titles everyone knows, like Tokyo Story and Andrei Rublev, at around the age of 12 or 13. When I appreciated something (and I do recall liking both of those at the time) it usually came down to whether or not a film could offer me an experience I'd never had before. Almost always, understanding of the nature of that experience was lost to me. I didn’t see my favorite films as artistic statements or aesthetic objects, but (and I hope you'll forgive the somewhat absurd analogy) more along the lines of temples: I could enter into them for a few hours and then leave having seen and felt a great deal but, ultimately, aware that there was something more, something beyond my understanding, that made them endlessly mysterious.

As time went on, sharpening of my critical skills from high school English, as well as practice in watching ever-more obscure and ever-more daring movies, gave me the ability to read films like I hadn't before, to recognize symbols, to analyze form, etc. The upshot of this is that I'm considerably more articulate than I used to be (for proof, some of my earliest posts here show me struggling in the middle of this evolution), but the downside is that all of the films I loved way back when have lost the ineffable mystique that made cinema such a romantic thing to me at the time. Now, mind you, I'm not arguing against the importance of critical thinking and theory (far from it - film theory is one of my most beloved disciplines), nor am I insinuating that I've become disillusioned with the world of film (again, nothing could be further from the truth). But there is definitely a part of me that's nostalgic for the days when I could watch Seven Samurai for the tenth time and still not fully comprehend what it was about but just know there was a greater wealth of wisdom in it than I'd experienced in my short lifetime. And then along came Kiarostami.

Well, actually I shouldn't say that. My introduction to Kiarostami came with Criterion's release of Close-Up which was around the tail-end of the early, non-analytic period of my film obsession that I've discussed above. I remember getting virtually nothing out of it the first time I saw it (which was not too uncommon - if a film's form was in some way unappealing to me, I would often lose interest) but, since the rule of the land was that I know nothing and the film knows all, I gave it another go a few months later. And the second time was completely different. I was totally moved by the protagonist's plight, extremely fascinated by the film's interior, unspoken tension between fiction and reality, and I'm pretty sure I cried at the end. Of course, at the time, I still couldn't have been able to articulate what about the film was so remarkable to me (I actually tried on two of the few adults I know who are interested in art films, my uncle and his best friend; I think I said something about how "it avoids ordinary drama and turns inward to be a kind of interrogation of the medium," which sounds alright and was convincing enough for them but still strikes me as a woefully incomplete representation of what Kiarostami's actually doing), so it was as much an object of mystery as were any of my other favorite films at that point. But it held a peculiar fascination because it seemed to, in a way, sort of be about that. Isn't the protagonist's relationship with film sort of similar to my positioning the viewing of a great film as a kind of secular rite? In any case, I took it very personally and it became a go-to choice for one of my favorite films (I even listed it, along with a few others, on a college entrance essay that asked about my most meaningful experiences - perhaps my insistence on talking about films is why they declined my application :wink: ).

Logistical issues (particularly the inexplicable lack of Taste of Cherry at any of my local retailers) contributed to my inability to see any more Kiarostami films until fairly recently, and it's sort of in that capacity that I went into Life and Nothing More, as someone with an intimate familiarity with a small part of the man's oeuvre, now finally being exposed to the rest of it. I was desperate enough to see the film (for this project, and just in general), that I subjected myself to one of the more bizarre and cumbersome viewing experiences I've yet had: a very low-quality rip of the film in one window with subtitles in some unidentified language, and a transcript of all the dialogue in slightly broken English in another. While I imagine some people here have gone to far greater lengths to see films, that about tops my list for complexity at the moment (along with the Korean bootleg copy of The Travelling Players from before I went region-free, on which the fourth or fifth subtitle would always be replaced by a repeat of the previous one, and, late in the film, they just stop being there at all), and it made for a much more active engagement in the task of interpreting lines of dialogue and pinning them to sections of speech than I'm used to. Consequently, I probably had to expend as much, if not more, effort in understanding what people were saying as I did in grappling with the film's big themes. Perhaps that was part of why it had such a peculiar effect on me, but that doesn't encompass all of it.

It is, of course, a remarkably quiet film, but still an extremely beguiling one, even hypnotic (and that’s a word I don’t use lightly). The ultra-loose structure, which I imagine is what people mean when they talk about its appearance of non-fiction, lends a kind of discursiveness to the way the film approaches themes. Ideas don’t accumulate in a linear way, as they do in most “intellectual” movies. They pile on top of each other somewhat haphazardly, and the relationship between them can sometimes be pretty inscrutable.
Kind of a spoiler, I guessShow
Would anybody familiar with the film like to venture an interpretation of Kiarostami’s attitude toward the presence of European culture in Iran? It seemed to be a critical theme – what with the survivors of the earthquake banding together to watch a soccer game, and less obviously in the director’s (that is, the character of the director’s, and perhaps, by extension, Kiarostami’s as well) association of Western classical music with natural beauty in the midst of destruction, which seemed to be connected with what the elderly actor from Where Is the Friend’s Home? said about art, that it should be beautiful and happy and “move you” – but what exactly was being expressed by the motif and, more pertinently, how it fit in with the rest of the film was lost on me.
Now, if you unlocked that spoiler (or whatever is the proper verb for that action) you’ll know that I still find considerable portions of the film more or less opaque. And I suppose that that, in a way, gets at what I find so compelling about Kiarostami’s work. It’s not just that he’s one of the few filmmakers who can still mystify me (obscurity, in and of itself, is hardly a positive attribute) but that he’s one of the few who can do that and still be profound. It has nothing to do with the “inherent authority of obscurity” or my habit of giving less readily comprehensible films the benefit of the doubt (a habit which has been dying off in the past few years). To exemplify this, once again, in this film, Kiarostami put me at the verge of tears.
SpoilerShow
It happened towards the end, when the director meets up with the two girls washing dishes in the river who’ve both lost most of their families, and they smile while relaying their harrowing stories, as if they can’t comprehend what has happened. Now, I realize that what caused my reaction was the incredibly disconcerting juxtaposition: the playful smiles and the horrific stories. But beyond that, the film seems to have an enormous, unspoken ambivalence towards an idea that’s expressed in what I understand is an alternate title (but was the main title given on the transcript I read from): And Life Goes On. This is an inherently optimistic notion, and that optimism is expressed in the employment of music I mentioned under the previous spoiler tag; but at the same time, there’s a kind of horror to be viscerally felt in moments like these, and also when several children seem more interested in the upcoming soccer game than the fact that many of their siblings are buried under the rubble.

It reminds me of the bizarre way the old actor shrugs off the disaster, the enormous proportions of which are made clear to us time and time again, with the following (and I’m quoting because I just remembered I still have the transcript): “This disaster has been like a wolf, a hungry one that attacks and goes, devouring the people where he passes by, letting the people live where he has not passed. Not, this is not the work of the Almighty. He wants his servants. That's how I see him.” Although I’m not sure what is meant by the last two sentences (it’s the unclear translation, I think), I find the first part extremely fascinating for the way it exemplifies how people are trying to rationalize and push into the backs of their minds the tragedy, refusing to entertain the notion that God might be responsible, but also apparently unable to accept that it was without meaningful motivation or purpose, that it was not a punishment or lesson, just a senseless, random catastrophe.

And then there’s the whole issue of houses and how the inhabitants of the nicest house in a particular neighborhood, which had been used in the filming of Where Is the Friend’s Home? as the old man’s house, were killed and now, ironically, the old man is actually living there, except he is unable to get in (I suspect there’s a mistranslation somewhere, because that doesn’t make sense in hindsight). There’s something subtly disturbing about the irony of that. For one, it destroys the pleasant, unassuming illusion of the original film with cruel reality. It also has the peculiar effect of simultaneously trivializing the deaths of those people (after all, the most we learn about them comes in the form of a sort of joke) and, strangely, making us acutely aware of them. And that’s really a basic tension underlying much of the film. It’s present in the way that whole neighborhood functions following the disaster; it plays strangely like a sitcom in spite of the underlying tragedy, which just brings us back to that conflict between cheerful vitality and gruesome death. Yet, Kiarostami never gets lost in playing up the grotesqueness of this apparent contradiction; instead, the film is caught between something like a celebration of the tenacity of these people and the kind of horror that I’ve tried to describe.
This will be an inexplicable pronouncement to anybody who didn’t unlock the spoilers (and if you haven’t seen the film, I really think you shouldn’t unlock them), but I also want it to stand for those who haven’t and those who have seen it as my ultimate statement on what it meant to me:

The film is ambivalent in a way and to a degree that is genuinely beyond me. It has a conception of mortality that is so fundamentally and so powerfully conflicted, it transcends the realm of cinematic storytelling or intellectualizing. It’s the pure expression (albeit adorned with a number of auxiliary and corollary concerns, most of which eluded me) of a very deep sense of, simultaneously, love for and fear of people and what they can do, the way they react to things, how they behave in the wake of a tragedy. It’s an immensely powerful statement, all the more so because it’s so oblique and elusive. By lying within the most obscure depths of the film, beneath the sometimes mundane, sometimes overwhelmingly emotional moments of which it’s comprised, the statement allows Kiarostami’s film to simultaneously articulate its ideas devastatingly (as I’ve outlined above, albeit in a form devoid of rhyme or reason, as the film’s scattershot structure demands) through the vehicle of emotional intuition (rather than logic) while it also maintains that air of mystery that made me fall in love with art cinema years ago. I was a little skeptical when zedz included this film (which I knew only by reputation to be a false documentary wherein Kiarostami seeks out the boy from Where Is the Friend’s Home? after an earthquake) high on his Films of Faith list, but I now find I couldn’t agree more. In a way that I haven’t experienced in ages, the film is like a temple. It’s a domain into which I can step for ninety minutes or so and be confronted with the wonders and the horrors of humanity when faced with mortality. And as a nonreligious person, I can appreciate it as an immensely great humanist document to rival the canonical works of faith. In spite of its unavailability on home video (at least, with English subtitles) I strongly urge everyone who hasn’t yet to seek this out. At this point, I’m out of superlatives, but it’s really a thing to be experienced.

---

Well, that turned out to be rather more lengthy than I had initially expected! I guess I’ll take up a little more space to thank zedz for initially bringing this film to my attention and swo for inspiring me to watch it for this project (lousy viewing circumstances be damned!). I’ll have to watch it once more before submitting my list because there really is too much in it that I haven’t yet managed to comprehend for me to feel totally secure in placing it as high on my list as I expect I’m going to (you may have noticed that I failed to mention what everyone else does, the final shot; and the simple reason for that is that, while it made me smile from ear to ear, I couldn’t even begin to explain what it means). Wrong Move most likely still has it beat, if only because I’m hesitant to place a new discovery ahead of a movie that, like I said, I feel I’ve grown with (and realistically, since the whole system of ranking is arbitrary anyway, value over time is probably a better reason to give one thing the edge over another than any other reason I can think of).

In the meantime, I’m also scouring my local library (which, having just started living here a few months ago, I didn’t realize had as fantastic a DVD collection as it does) for anything that shows the slightest hint of being a road movie. Once I’ve created enough of a backlog, I’ll start dumping my capsule write-ups on these blind-viewings. (And it’s announcements like that, ladies and gentlemen, that are the first steps in transforming a list project into your own personal blog! :wink: )

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swo17
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Re: Road Movies Genre Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#20 Post by swo17 » Mon Nov 23, 2015 1:29 pm

What a thoughtful post.
mizoguchi5354 wrote:
Kind of a spoiler, I guessShow
Would anybody familiar with the film like to venture an interpretation of Kiarostami’s attitude toward the presence of European culture in Iran? It seemed to be a critical theme – what with the survivors of the earthquake banding together to watch a soccer game
Not really a spoiler butShow
Well I don't know that I'd call soccer a European phenomenon. Its popularity in Iran has been explored in Kiarostami's earlier The Traveler as well as Panahi's Offside.

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mizo
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Re: Road Movies Genre Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#21 Post by mizo » Mon Nov 23, 2015 2:19 pm

swo17 wrote:
Not really a spoiler butShow
Well I don't know that I'd call soccer a European phenomenon. Its popularity in Iran has been explored in Kiarostami's earlier The Traveler as well as Panahi's Offside.
SpoilerShow
I forgot about that. You're completely right. I think what I'm trying to get at isn't so much that it's an issue of one culture's intrusion into another (although I'm not sure such a colonialist reading would be called for anyway) but that it's such an irreverent response to the tragedy. Not only is everyone suddenly becoming excited about a soccer game in spite of the catastrophe, it's also a game between two countries in corners of the world far removed from Iran. And I think there is a kind of link between that and the way the director's response to beauty is strongly associated with the music of another culture. There's a bit of speech heard over the director's car radio that clued me in on this connection: "The western influence in our composers barely deserves to be reviewed by its intrascendence. On the contrary, in North Africa, the music of Southern Europe has reached a singular symbiosis. In our area, the musical purity has been maintained, not only in the folk tradition but also in the contemporary melodies." This is pretty badly garbled, and I'm not really sure what conclusion to draw from all this, but nonetheless I found it really fascinating.

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swo17
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Re: Road Movies Genre Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#22 Post by swo17 » Mon Nov 23, 2015 2:28 pm

What do you do when you've lost everything? The only things you know how to do. Watch a soccer game. Watch a movie. Whatever. Hope that they'll distract you enough to forget the pain.

Or maybe for children it's easier. They're aware of the situation but not of its gravity. They were looking forward to that game regardless of what else was going on. There's no reason for them not to enjoy it. Life goes on.

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Re: Road Movies Genre Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#23 Post by mizo » Mon Nov 23, 2015 2:38 pm

"What can we do? The world cup is once every four years. And the earthquake - "
" - Every forty."

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mizo
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Re: Road Movies Genre Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#24 Post by mizo » Tue Nov 24, 2015 4:42 pm

My first viewing dump (mark your calendars):

Le Grand Voyage (Ismaël Ferroukhi, 2004)
Thoroughly mediocre drama wherein a young, stupid French boy of Arab descent is forced to drive his conservative Muslim father to Mecca before he dies. They fight (as young, stupid people and cranky religious conservatives are wont to do) and then, after Ferroukhi decides to skip out on a third act, inexplicably declare that they've learned something from one another. With about half an hour left, the film seems intent on devoting the rest of its run-time to the various rituals taking place in Mecca, and for someone with limited knowledge of Islam, I'd say that's a pretty enticing prospect. But before we get to see much of anything, we're dragged back to the father-son plot with the most eye-rollingly obvious development fathomable. Give this one a miss.

The Adventures of Felix (Olivier Ducastel & Jacques Martineau, 2000)
This is a reasonably entertaining film about a young gay man travelling to Marseilles to meet his absent father for the first time. It plays up the episodic structure of most road movies by actually separating all the major sequences with title cards (each noting which member of Felix's non-existent family his newest acquaintance will symbolically represent), which has the adverse effect of making it hard for me not to judge the episodes against each other, and some certainly suffer for it. One, in particular, is mean-spirited to the point of being distasteful, while another strikes me as totally pointless (I'd be willing to bet it was only left in the film so it wouldn't be without a nude scene). But the two that are left, and make up the bulk of the film, are perfectly enjoyable and not without some genuine humor and emotion. And frankly, I can imagine few situations that are imbued with more inherent entertainment value than a punchy old French woman befriending a handsome young gay man (they both watch the same soap opera religiously for chrissakes). The ending does a decent job skirting over-dramatics and comes out all the better for it. A worthy choice, but I doubt it'll place on my list.

Trafic (Jacques Tati, 1971)
I would've enjoyed this a lot more if it was just ninety minutes of Tati showing us around that camping car. As it stands, this is easily the weakest Hulot film, and the only one whose humor occasionally dips over the line into cruelty at the expense of its characters. Also, I went into this expecting it to be more of a return to the visual simplicity of M. Hulot's Holiday, when in fact, it's much more in line with the baroque ingenuity of Playtime, though it is taken down a few notches (due to budgetary constraints, I imagine). Not that that's really a criticism, and anyway, there's still a lot to like about this. Maria Kimberly (I'll never forget that name), though ungodly annoying, comports herself in such a ridiculous manner it's a thing of beauty. And the ending is a lovely sendoff for M. Hulot - it actually got me feeling rather melancholy. Again, a respectable pick, but I don't expect it to place on my list.

L'Intrus (Claire Denis, 2004)
An astonishingly beautiful film with some of the most masterful oblique storytelling I've ever encountered. Unfortunately, the element of travel is really incidental to the impact of the story, so I can't in good conscience put it on a road movie list.

The Rules of the Road (Su Friedrich, 1993)
This might be a contentious pick, but the idea of the open road and the freedom it represents is such a crucial and tangible presence in this film that I'd place it higher than most narrative road movies (and realistically, all the elements of a narrative are here; there's just no staging). The use of music is at once so charming and so powerful (you've never been so acutely aware of the dissonance between how emotions are conveyed in songs and how we experience them in real life) that, by the time we learn what the significance of these little song fragments is, it's just devastating. And to bottled spider, if you're "a sucker for scenes simply showing the view from inside a travelling vehicle, with music laid over top," then run, don't walk, to this film. Here, it's anything but facile, and it's immensely moving.

Speaking of less obvious films, what's the official line on segments from an anthology? I think we should definitely include them (especially since it's not like there are many anthologies comprised wholly of miniature road movies). If so, I'm leaning towards making Apichatpong Weerasethakul's "Mobile Men" from Stories on Human Rights my spotlight. It uses the freedom inherent in the idea of the open road to interrogate the very concept of liberty to more complex and ambiguous ends than I've seen elsewhere. Plus, it's only four minutes long, and can be viewed here, so there's no excuse for missing it!

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knives
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Re: Road Movies Genre Mini-List Discussion + Suggestions

#25 Post by knives » Wed Nov 25, 2015 7:55 am

What are people's opinions on Assayas' Disorder vis-a-vis it being a part of the genre? The characters are constantly traveling with the need for an artificial momentum as represented by travel as a major theme. Though it doesn't really fit the typical road trip model as it is a series of different moves and the only thing that can be considered a proper road trip lasts about twenty minutes. It's also not a major narrative aspect in the way the genre usually promotes with the road being more of a setting for thematic ambiance.

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