Have you seen films originating from 30 different nations? I found myself pondering this question when a challenge was posted by a fellow user on Letterboxd.com. Dubbed “March Around the World,” the challenge is exceedingly simple (or so I thought), watch one film a day, for 30 days; the crux of which is the constantly changing country of origin. This “adventure” into world cinema truly peaked my interest because, while I have seen hundreds, maybe thousands of films, I cannot, with absolute certainty, say that I have seen films from 30 different countries. Aided by their proximity to one another, the similarities and differences present in each of the films would become much more apparent. A breakneck-pace, world cinema masterclass, the challenge proved to not only expand my cultural worldview, but to introduce me to films that I may have never otherwise discovered.
In sticking with the foundations of my blog, I needed to find films that were available via streaming services. Unfortunately, Netflix’s search features do not work for countries of origin, and instead, find films set in the searched country. HuluPlus is notorious for their poor search functionality, so they were of little significant help, until I browsed the Criterion Collection’s website in more detail. Easily able to filter out results that were streaming on Hulu, it was simply a matter of searching by country. I made an effort to watch newly discovered films, from directors I have yet to fully discover. A final list was assembled (slightly after March had already begun), and I set to work.
Along the way, I uncovered some incredible works of art. Through tears of sadness and joy, quiet contemplation and exultant applause, my journey has taken me places I had long since forgotten. Rarely do I find myself watching a film as a passive member of the audience, yet some of these magnificent films were so triumphantly powerful that I was forced to turn off my critical thinking and truly experience what I was watching. I’ve learned about history, culture, morals, attitudes, and perhaps most importantly, cinematic language – the extent of which I had never expected.
Breaking up the challenge into a four-part essay, it is my hope to not only highlight some of the best films on the list, but to inspire others to venture outside of “mainstream” cinema (US, UK, France, Russia, Italy, and Japan) and explore underrepresented regions of film production.
Starting alphabetically by country, I was able to get through Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Belgium, Canada, Chile, and Czechoslovakia. Having almost immediately gotten five of the seven continents out of the way, week one was a wonderful preview of things to come. Seven completely different approaches to film, yet each were thoughtful, compelling and beautiful. Some strived for deep philosophical meaning, others sought to profile marginalized groups of society in the best possible way; each film had its highs and lows, but all were, overall, exceedingly satisfying.
Directed by Nicolas Roeg
Roege’s depiction of the desolate Australian outback is beyond masterful; further compounded by some expressive editing, and the insertion of breathtaking landscape/wildlife shots. A clash of “civilized” and ancient cultures in one of the harshest environments on earth, made delicately intimate through the budding sexuality of two teens on the cusp of adulthood. Comparisons fly between the two cultures; views on nudity, family, and environmental concern are all on the table as Roeg sets out to show that it is indeed modern culture that is truly primitive.
Directed by Götz Spielmann
With Revanche Götz Spielmann has created a contrasting world, and through juxtaposition, depicts just how similar the opposing sides are. Dripping with tension and powerful sorrow, Spielmann’s film isn’t there to shock or awe, it is purely existential. The presence of a wide array of action film staples (a prostitution ring, a bank robbery, murder) is used against audience expectation in spectacular form – Spielmann depicts the relative banality of each, refusing his audience their chance at escape from the mounting tension. Beautiful cinematography and a calculating eye elevate Spielmann’s film, instilling a serene quietude to the pervading sense of dread accompanying the film.
A River Called Titas (1973)
Directed by Ritmiek Ghatak
Ritmiek Ghatak’s A River Called Titas took me on a completely unexpected journey into the lives of several characters inhabiting the rural lands surrounding the Titas river in Bangladesh. Masterful camerawork heightens the story, an interwoven melodramatic narrative spanning years. Much of the film was confusing due to my limited understanding of the Bangladeshi culture, but Ghatak’s story is undoubtedly relatable and engaging. One of the earliest examples of a narrative involving various groups of people tangentially connected to one another, A River Called Titas bridges vast cultural and caste differences, bringing characters together via their shared humanity in all of its faults and glory. A monumental achievement for a man suffering from tuberculosis (it would remain astounding if he had been healthy), A River Called Titas is a breathtaking journey into Bangladeshi culture, and the awe inspiring banks of the Titas river.
La Promesse (1996)
Directed by Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne
A beautifully melancholic film. The Dardenne brothers create such a sense of unease, and into discomfort, around Igor (a haunting performance from the young Jérémie Renier) and his Father, Roger (Olivier Gourmet). From explosive rage, to coercion into a myriad of illegal activities, to bizarre affection, Roger’s treatment of Igor lends an extraordinary tension to the film. The Dardennes constantly push the envelope with their storytelling, not satisfied with traditional camera angles and boring mise en scène. Innovative camera placement and subtle framing do the work of countless lines of expeditionary dialogue, and tell a story inexpressible through words.
Mon Oncle Antoine (1971)
Directed by Claude Jutra
Violeta Went to Heaven (2011)
Directed by Andrés Wood
The harrowing story of Violeta Parra’s furious battle to reclaim her Chilean heritage. Scouring the countryside for folksongs and traditional art, Violeta brought her country’s music to the world. A brilliant artist capable of self-expression via any means (her tapestries and paintings hung in the Louvre), Violeta became haunted by her quest for recognition. A moving performance from Francisca Gavilán brings the necessary gravity and soulfulness to Parra, and gives a voice to Chilean culture. Camerawork by director Andrés Wood lends a folkloric quality to the narrative, weaving in and out of defining moments in Violeta’s life, and introducing surreal elements and ghostly imagery.