If you have exhausted everything from Netflix, Amazon and Hotstar and are in the mood for non-mainstream aesthetics in film, allow us to introduce to you some auteurs from the gorgeous tapestry of world cinema.
The boutique streaming service, MUBI, home to a curated catalogue of indie and world cinema greats has opened a library section for its subscribers, with a wide variety of previously unavailable titles. The library, MUBI promises, features “releases, past specials, retrospectives, double-bills and other exclusives.”
Here are 15 iconic titles, from filmmakers from Chile and France, Poland and India, that offer a window into the early works of the auteurs and best symbolise both their style as well as their influence on filmmaking across the world. We’ve arranged them in bouquets of three, so you can geek out on each filmmaker before you move.
While MUBI’s library is rich and varied, it could do with more names from South East Asia (no Jia Zhangke, Kurosawa, or Wong Kar Wai) and the Middle East (no Panahi, Kiarostami, or Farhadi), two film industries that are still underrepresented in their catalogue.
Agnès Varda: Cleo From 5 to 7, Vagabond, One Sings, the Other Doesn’t
Few movies capture anxiety with the unsettling intimacy of Agnes Varda’s Cleo From 5 to 7. A film about a pop star awaiting her biopsy results, Cleo taps into our primal fear of mortality by playing on our psychological fragility.
The film captures Paris in delicious black-and-white as Cleo hops from cafes to streets to a park, acutely aware of the presence of other people and at times, their conversations. It is a remarkable exploration of the inner turmoil of someone on the cusp of paranoia. Cleo takes an interesting turn when she encounters a soldier who’s being dispatched to the war in Algeria: What happens when a death-fearing person meets someone who flirts with it everyday?
Varda is one of the greatest filmmakers of all time and it’s widely accepted that her gender prevented her from being counted amongst other New Wave pioneers such as the holy trifecta of Truffaut, Godard (who makes a quick cameo) and Resnais. If you want to discover her work, start with Cleo From 5 to 7 and move on to Vagabond and the terrific musical exploration of female friendship, One Sings, the Other Doesn’t.
Krzysztof Kieślowski: The Three Colors Trilogy - Blue, White, Red
With a title inspired by the colours of the French flag (Kieślowski would joke that was the case because the funding came from France), Polish master Krzysztof Kieślowski’s collective of three thematically-bound, but separate, films is essential to understand the cinematic flourishes of the director.
Often counted amongst the greatest trilogies ever made, the films won several awards at the Venice Film Festival in 1993 including a Best Actress win for Juliette Binoche.
In his four star review, the legendary film critic Roger Ebert wrote, “In the trilogy, “Blue” is the anti-tragedy, “White” is the anti-comedy, and “Red” is the anti-romance. All three films hook us with immediate narrative interest. They are metaphysical through example, not theory: Kieslowski tells the parable but doesn’t preach the lesson.”
Most of the auteur’s work is on the platform in a special retrospective section. His earlier work - Workers ’71, Curriculum Vitae offers a window into the rigid, regressive nature of Polish censorship, who he often was in conflict with. His other film, Camera Buff, my personal favourite, is a moving story about how the camera, which the protagonist buys to capture the intimate moments of his daughter growing up, also becomes the reason for domestic disquiet.
Pablo Larrain: No, Neruda, Ema
Perhaps one of Latin America’s strongest cinematic voices, Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larrain has directed seven features, many of which carry a provocative political voice that contextualises the complex politics of the region.
His most powerful film is No (some would argue The Club deserves that honour), which captures the national plebiscite of 1988 that freed the country from Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. Featuring a career-defining performance by Gael Garcia Bernal, who plays an ad maverick, the film is a tense exploration of a broken country reclaiming itself with its artistic community backing the “No’ campaign against Pinochet.
In 2016, Larrain directed Neruda, a drama based on the life of the famed Chilean poet. In Neruda, Larrain takes several artistic liberties, blending fact with fiction to paint an arresting picture of the conflict between artistic freedom and rising authoritarianism, all done with splendid visual and literary flair.
Ema is his most recent work, a wild departure from anything he’s made before. The film ditches subtlety and revels in melodrama as a couple go through a very public marital crisis after a failed adoption attempt. In its review Variety aptly described the film (and its titular character) as, “Ema is no one’s idea of a nurturer, or even a functional human being. She’s so disaffected that the benumbed protagonist of Agnès Varda’s Vagabond looks jolly by comparison, so incendiary that she makes the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo seem like Little Miss Sunshine.”
Saeed Akhtar Mirza: Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro, Arvind Desai Ki Ajeeb Dastaan, Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyon Aata Hai
Saeed Akhtar Mirza remains one of the most original Indian voices from the parallel cinema movement of the 80s. Several of his films are streaming on MUBI but perhaps none as relevant as Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro.
At a time when the Muslim protagonists are increasingly rare to find in mainstream Hindi cinema — the most recent example being Gully Boy, which, for all its splendour downplays religion as an obstacle in its hero’s journey — Salim Langde examines the hurdles of being a working class Muslim man in a city that’d soon witness rampant polarisation.
The most surprising bit?
The film won a National Award and was produced by the government-run NFDC. Not only does Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro gives us a window into the moral bankruptcy of our present, it reminds us of the quiet invisibilisation of the Muslim identity in pop culture.
Akhtar Mirza’s other two films - Arvind Desai Ki Ajeeb Dastaan and Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyon Aata Hai - both of which dabble into politics of migration, capitalism and urban isolation - make for excellent companion pieces to watch alongside Salim Lange Pe Mat Ro.
François Truffaut: The 400 Blows, Shoot The Piano Player, Jules and Jims
There’s no better time to discover or go back to Truffaut and fortunately, MUBI has a retrospective. One of the leading figures of the French New Wave, Truffaut, who, along with Jacques Rivette and Jean-Luc Godard, was a hard-to-please critic at André Bazin’s film magazine, Cahiers du cinéma, went on to become a pioneering filmmaker himself (like the rest)
His first film, the semi-autobiographical The 400 Blows would revolutionise French cinema through its exploration of youthful delinquency while simultaneously being a subliminal critique of family neglect and academic demands.
Truffaut’s films used the camera as a character, making the viewer aware of its existence, instead of underplaying it. Much to the surprise of his peers, Truffaut was an admirer of the works of American filmmakers John Ford and Alfred Hitchcock (he interviewed the filmmaker for his book, Hitchcock/Truffaut).
A good way to immerse yourself into Truffaut’s lyrical yet disruptive world would be to follow The 400 Blows with Shoot The Piano Player and the gorgeous love triangle, Jules and Jims. Such was the impact of Jules and Jims that the legacy of the film reverberates in several love stories that we’d go on to see later, including a film called Bonnie and Clyde.