At a Café CSE lecture sponsored by the Center for the Study of Europe, professors Matt Ancell, Dennis Cutchins and Chip Oscarson discussed their top picks of great European films produced since 2010.
PROVO, Utah (April 1, 2015)— Too many contemporary films, particularly those heavily promoted by Hollywood’s publicity machines, are notorious for offering cheap and insubstantial entertainment. On occasion, however, a film is more than mere amusement. Sitting around a café table in the Kennedy Center, Matt Ancell (Department of Comparative Arts and Letters), Dennis Cutchins (Department of English) and Chip Oscarson (Department of Comparative Arts and Letters) discussed influential and poignant European films that have emerged since 2010.
Ancell, Cutchins and Oscarson provided a list of great recent European films, which, according to Oscarson, “deliberately distinguish themselves from Hollywood film.”
1. 1001 Grams [1001 Gram] (2014)
Director: Bent Hamar, Language: Norwegian/French/English
When a young scientist goes to Paris to attend a seminar on the actual weight of a kilo, she finds that the trip is more a measurement of disappointment, grief and love. “It’s a lighter film than the title sounds,” said Ancell, “but it touches upon weightier philosophical issues.”
2. Force Majeure [Turist] (2014)
Director: Ruben Östlund, Language: Swedish/Norwegian/English/French
This dark comedy follows a Swedish family for a weeklong vacation at a resort in the French Alps. Cutchins said, “A near-disaster causes the wife and husband to question everything they think they know about their marriage, the gender roles they have assumed and the very stability of their lives.”
3. Amour (2012)
Director: Michael Haneke, Language: French
Oscarson said, “This is a story, again, about a topic that you don’t find represented too often. It’s about love but not in the peak of beauty and energy, but rather at the end of life. It shows this relationship between an old couple as they’re facing the reality of their mortality and sickness and how difficult that is.” According to Oscarson, Haneke’s films are never easy to watch, but they’re the kind of films that change your life.
4. The Missing Picture [L’image manquante] (2013)
Director: Rithy Panh, Language: French
The Missing Picture is a Cambodian/French documentary film and the only documentary film chosen for the list. “It’s a beautiful film about [the director’s] experience during the genocide,” Ancell said, “It’s interspersed with archival footage from the period, but the whole point is that what really happened to the people is never filmed—and he’s filling in all those gaps.”
5. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia [Bir Zamanlar Anadolu’da] (2011)
Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Language: Turkish
Set in Turkey, the film follows a group of men in search of a dead body. Even though the film is about policemen, it’s not high-speed action. “At one point, they sit down and have tea together because that’s apparently what we do in Turkey,” said Cutchins. “It’s the idea that we’re not going to stop being civilized just because you’re a murderer and I’m not. There’s a feeling of foreignness to this film, and it’s really delightful, despite the fact that it’s a really nice police film, a nice whodunit.”
6. In a Better World [Hævnen] (2010)
Director: Susanne Bier, Language: Danish/Swedish/English
The direct Danish translation of Hævnen means just “Revenge,” noted Oscarson of the drama, which takes place on two continents. The director Susanne Bier makes both comedies as well as dramas, and, according to Oscarson, the films are a bit melodramatic. “The idea of melodrama is that they’re trying to render right and wrong, good and bad, in these absolute black and white terms in an era of changing morality,” he said. “That’s a really interesting enterprise when you’re talking about globalization because what’s moral and right in one context is not always, when you start talking about situations globally.”
7. Melancholia (2011)
Director: Lars von Trier, Language: English
“It’s a film that I admire more than I enjoy,” Ancell said. “The opening sequence is one of the most glorious things ever in film, and then it commences to lay waste to your soul, and not in a good way. If you’re interested in that, then watch this film.” The first half of the film depicts a protracted wedding scene, and, Ancell made the recommendation: “If you want to push back your wedding plans for about five to ten years: watch that. It’ll do the trick.” The second half of the film depicts, essentially, the destruction of the world. “Regardless, it’s still a remarkable achievement,” Ancell said. “It’s a beautiful film and very well done, and it’s extremely effective.”
8. Kid with a Bike [Le gamin au vélo] (2011)
Director: Jean-Pierre Dardenne & Luc Dardenne, Language: French
Cutchins remarked that Kid with a Bike is, in some ways, a really devastating look at what happens when a child is abandoned by his parents, either by natural causes or by bad parenting. “But, and here’s the good news,” he went on, “this film does not end with planets crashing into each other and the world being destroyed. It’s almost a happy ending. It’s as close as you’re going to get to a happy ending. You’ll walk out thinking: hey, that’s not so bad. The world, maybe, doesn’t stink.”
9. Ida (2013)
Director: Paweł Pawlikowski, Language: Polish
“The film spoke to me because visually it’s so stunning,” Oscarson said. “There’s a real eye for composition and texture and there’s great variation in the contrast.” The film is about guilt, forgiveness, the problems of the past and how we deal with them. “It’s done in a deliberate and minimalist manner that really touched me,” Oscarson said. “There’s a kind of emotional austerity to it as it grapples with really difficult questions.”
Oscarson, Ancell and Cutchins left number ten up to the audience. Their vote added The Intouchables (2011, Director: Olivier Nakache & Eric Toledano, Language: French) to the list.
Many of these films are not widely available through online instant streaming or DVD rental services and viewing the films may require more of an effort. However, according to Ancell, you should go to a theater, at least on occasion. “There’s something different about watching in the theater rather than watching it on your phone and multitasking with one window open playing Angry Birds and chatting with three people online,” he said. “It’s a different experience. It’s best to watch the films as they were intended to be watched.”
—Danielle Chelom Leavitt (B.A. Russian ’15)