Once every ten years since 1942 Sight and Sound compiles lists from directors and critics for the greatest films of all time. In his book ‘Hatchet Job’ Mark Kermode berates critics’ choices for being ‘black and white foreign films that no one has heard of’. Maybe if you are on the road to find out films that are lesser known such choices will be an education to you. What is the greatest film of all time? Is it The Godfather? Citizen Kane? The Shawshank Redemption? Vertigo? Maybe it’s a black white film from 1979 called L’enfant secret. Australian film academic Adrian Martin tells the story of being in Screen 2 of the IFI in Dublin in June 2001 for a screening of L’enfant secret. Martin said “I dreamed it in my mind of what it could be… I had a strong desire for it to be something great and in fact the film was infinitely greater than anything I had dreamed”. At the end of the film, Martin was asked ‘have we just seen the greatest film ever made?’ He said yes, and still believes it.
I’ve just re-watched Bad Timing, part of me felt like I was watching it for the first time. It is compulsory to watch Mark Cousins’ Moviedrome introduction to it before watching, it’s part of the film. The beautiful and mythical Klimt paintings fit the film like a glove. The constant juxtaposing of time through the images, characters breaking the fourth wall and those close-ups of objects make the film very distinct. My head buzzes with the images, it is a fascinating film, because to remember it is to directly recall the film’s style of editing. Like Le Corbusier said ‘thought is cinematic’. I’d forgotten the amount of the times that the camera zooms effectively and with purpose. The cross-fade between the untidy apartment and it furnished with a piano (accompanied by Keith Jarrett’s mournful music) is astonishing. This and the close-up of Russell’s face on the bridge at the beginning are why I love film, so emotional, so alive.
Note: Maybe if we search more for a film beyond Hollywood, we will come across The Insect Woman, about a woman who won’t give up no matter what is thrown at her. Mark Cousins said “My favourite film, The Insect Woman, by Imamura Shohei, isn’t all that well known, but should be. It’s about a lower class Japanese woman who struggles through life, has a child, and works as a maid for a posher woman. It’s shocking – at one point the Japanese woman seems to suckle her dad. In another, we see a child scald herself with boiling soup. But there are two reasons why I love it. Firstly, its style. The Insect Woman is one of the most beautiful films ever made. It’s shot very widescreen, and the compositions are breathtaking. The scalding scene is done in two amazing shots, one far away from the kid, one from above the stove, with the child out of focus below. The second reason I like it is because of what it says about people. The first shot is an insect scuttling across the land. Then we cut to the woman doing the same. For the rest of the film she scuttles, feral, determined not to give up. To use an insect as a metaphor for a woman is unflattering in a way, but Imamura loves her for her unstoppability, her survival instinct, her glorious forward propulsion. The film moves me to tears and thrills me with its pictorial beauty.”