12. “La Dolce Vita”, Federico Fellini (1960)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list.

La Dolce Vita

La Dolce Vita or The Sweet Life

dir. Federico Fellini scr. Federico Fellini, Ennio Flaiano, Tullio Pinelli, Brunello Rondi cin. Otello Martelli with Marcello Mastroianni, Anita Ekberg, Anouk Aimée, Yvonne Furneaux, Magali Noël, Alain Cuny, and Nadia Gray

In 100 words: Fellini’s masterpiece is this beautiful nightmare of a movie: at once a joyous display of cinematic craft, definitive style, and auto-reflection and simultaneously, a despairing look at the emptiness of a hedonistic lifestyle. Whereas Antonioni painted a decaying society with empty roads and spaces, Fellini portrayed the same with the opposite: he filled his frames with indelible images of crowds that surround Marcello, or him being with a different beautiful woman every day, or him participating in an orgy. Either way, nothing he does satisfies him, and that’s the point. Vivid images, great choice in music, lovely performance grace notes.

Other Movies for Context: I think about Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty when I see this movie, particularly because Sorrentino’s obvious affection for Fellini are evident. Interestingly enough, I can say the same for Im Sang Soo’s The Taste of Money which just engrosses its characters in so much wealth, without ever finding satisfaction. Fellini’s own 8 1/2 (1963) feels the most similar among his oeuvre, though that’s more of a mess to me than the beautifully orchestrated mess here.

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70. “The Ballad of Narayama”, Shohei Imamura (1983)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list.

narayama.jpg

The Ballad of Narayama aka 楢山節考 or Narayama bushikō

dir. Shohei Imamura (1983) scr. Shohei Imamura, based on the novel by Shichiro Fukazawa cin. Masao Tochizawa with Ken Ogata, Sumiko Sakamoto, Tonpei Hidari, Seiji Kurasaki

In 100 words: If he were not a filmmaker, Imamura would have made a great anthropologist. His incisive observations of Japanese society’s outcasts was best epitomized by this naturalistic, almost zoological take on a Japanese urban legend. Narayama possesses incredible tonal fluidity—there are moments of tenderness within the frequent vulgarity and dark humor that blend well with the intense grimness of its subject and storytelling. Its themes of self-sacrifice and of familial love and loyalty encapsulated so much of the real Japanese culture that its director famously sought to portray all his life. The final 20-minute near-silent journey is a cinematic wonder.

Other Movies for Context: I think Imamura is one of my five favorite directors ever and so I’ve seen a lot of his work, which has been populated by characters like pimps, whores, gangsters, pornographers, etc. My favorite of his work, apart from this one, is his glorious take on the aftermath of the Hiroshima bombings, Black Rain (1988). This is followed closely by Intentions of Murder (1964), about a rapist who falls in love with his victim, and Vengeance is Mine (1979), Imamura’s grimmest and coldest picture that profiles a serial murderer. The Insect Woman (1963) offers his most interesting female character, since the movie focuses solely on her development. Pigs and Battleships (1961) and The Pornographers (1966) are both oddball movies, even by Imamura’s standards. Eijanaka (1981), meanwhile, finds Imamura at his loosest, most chill mode. All of them are worth seeking out.