One of the most influential political films in history, The Battle of Algiers, by Gillo Pontecorvo, vividly re-creates a key year in the tumultuous Algerian struggle for independence from the occupying French in the 1950s. As violence escalates on both sides, children shoot soldiers at point-blank range, women plant bombs in cafés, and French soldiers resort to torture to break the will of the insurgents. Shot on the streets of Algiers in documentary style, the film is a case study in modern warfare, with its terrorist attacks and the brutal techniques used to combat them. Pontecorvo’s tour de force has astonishing relevance today.
Roman Polanski orchestrates a mental ménage à trois in this slyly absurd tale of paranoia from the director’s golden 1960s period. Donald Pleasance and Françoise Dorléac star as a withdrawn couple whose isolated house is infiltrated by a rude, burly American gangster on the run, played by Lionel Stander. The three engage in a game of shifting identities and sexual and emotional humiliations. Cul-de-sac is an evocative, claustrophobic, and morbidly funny tale of the modern world in chaos.
Stanley Kubrick’s account of an ambitious racetrack robbery is one of Hollywood’s tautest, twistiest noirs. Aided by a radically time-shuffling narrative, razor-sharp dialogue from pulp novelist Jim Thompson, and a phenomenal cast of character actors, including Sterling Hayden, Coleen Gray, Timothy Carey, and Elisha Cook Jr., The Killing is both a jaunty thriller and a cold-blooded punch to the gut. And with its precise tracking shots and gratifying sense of irony, it’s Kubrick to the core.
A master of intensely emotional human dramas, director Lee Chang-dong is a leading light of contemporary Korean cinema, and his place on the international stage was cemented by this stirring and unpredictable work examining grief and deliverance. An effortless mix of light and uncompromising darkness, Secret Sunshine (Miryang) stars Cannes best actress winner Jeon Do-yeon as a widowed piano teacher who moves with her young son from Seoul to her late husband’s provincial hometown for a fresh start. Quietly expressive, supple filmmaking and sublime, subtle performances distinguish this remarkable portrayal of the search for grace amid tragedy.
This 1950 update of the Orphic myth by Jean Cocteau depicts a famous poet (Jean Marais) scorned by the Left Bank youth, and his love for both his wife Eurydice (Marie Déa) and a mysterious princess (Maria Casarès). Seeking inspiration, the poet follows the princess from the world of the living to the land of the dead through Cocteau’s famous mirrored portal. Orpheus represents the legendary Cocteau at the height of his abilities for peerless visual poetry and dreamlike storytelling.
Lindsay Anderson’s If…. is a daringly chaotic vision of British society, set in a boarding school in late-sixties England. Before Kubrick made his mischief iconic in A Clockwork Orange, Malcolm McDowell made a hell of an impression as the insouciant Mick Travis, who, along with his school chums, trumps authority at every turn, finally emerging as a violent savior against the vicious games of one-upmanship played by both students and masters. Mixing color and black and white as audaciously as it mixes fantasy and reality, If…. remains one of cinema’s most unforgettable rebel yells.
Even among cinema’s greatest legends, Jean Vigo stands alone. The son of a notorious anarchist, Vigo had a brief but brilliant career making poetic, lightly surrealist films before his life was cut tragically short by tuberculosis at age twenty-nine. Like the daring early works of his contemporaries Jean Cocteau and Luis Buñuel, Vigo’s films refused to play by the rules. This set includes all of Vigo’s titles: À propos de Nice, an absurdist, rhythmic slice of life from the bustling coastal city of the title; Taris, an inventive short portrait of a swimming champion; Zéro de conduite, a radical, delightful tale of boarding-school rebellion that has influenced countless filmmakers; and, of course, L’Atalante, widely regarded as one of cinema’s finest achievements, about newlyweds beginning their life together on a canal barge. These are the endlessly witty, visually adventurous works of a pivotal film artist.
Over the course of his varied career, Koreyoshi Kurahara made exacting noirs, jazzy juvenile delinquency pictures, and even nature films. His free-form approach to moviemaking was perfectly suited to the spirit of the 1960s; he was one of the biggest hit makers working at the razzle-dazzle, youth-oriented Nikkatsu studio during the radical Japanese New Wave. The five films collected here hail from that era, and encompass breathless teen escapades, cruel crime stories, a Mishima adaptation, and even a Hollywood-inspired romantic comedy.