Bored of Netflix’s cheap popular culture? Tired of the cliche endings of Hollywood cinema? To the point where even the soundtracks — which nowadays are nearly always by either Hans Zimmer, Max Richter or Thomas Bergersen — do not excite you? Want to travel across the world through the fine art of cinema, but without leaving your comfy bed? Well, bear with me then. Allow me to introduce you to my recent summer addiction: MUBI.
Let’s start with some boring stats and facts because that’s what introductions are supposed to do. Basically, MUBI is a curated film streaming platform, which produces and theatrically distributes films by emerging and established filmmakers. Yes, this means all the old and dusty films or novel indie festival cinema that you have been trying to find at 123movies.com are there! And with actual quality subtitles and resolution! MUBI’s streaming platform is available in over 190 countries, and it publishes “Notebook,” a film criticism and news publication. Last but not least, MUBI provides weekly cinema tickets to newly released films through MUBI GO. If you go with an annual subscription, MUBI will charge you $6.99 per month — one-time payment of $83.88 — or $10.99 per month. These charges, of course, only go into effect after a seven-day free trial. Doesn’t sound long enough to try such a cool website? Well, I don’t agree with you. I binged all 35 films I wanted to see — works by iconic names like Abbas Kiorostami, Wong Kar-wai, Jean-Luc Godard, Nuri Bilge Ceylan and Theodoros Angelopoulos — right before cancelling my subscription in a week. I’ll pay though, for sure. Certainly. At some point. But, before that, let me share my indulgences.
Hong Kong: Wong Kar-wai
“I wonder if there is anything in the world which doesn’t have an expiry date. If memories could be canned, would they also have expiry dates? If so, I hope they last for centuries.” –Chungking Express
“I sometimes think ears are more important. You can see better with your ears. You can fake being happy, but your voice will always betray you. If you listen carefully, you’ll understand.” –Happy Together
“That era has passed. Nothing that belongs to it exists anymore.” –In the Mood for Lov
Wong Kar-wai’s noir films are known for their saturated colors, physically lush scenes blurred with cigarette smoke, popping visual and musical elements along with jazz and classical music pieces from names like Nat King Cole and the Secret Garden. They feature elaborate interior decorations and jammed but lonely places that range from Hong Kong fast-food restaurants to the tango-filled streets of Argentina. His characters are lost souls who lack connections but desperately crave for emotional intimacy and affection.
Wong is best known for “In the Mood for Love,” a story of two lovers who’ve fallen in love in the wrong time and way, which they try to compensate for by nearly repeating the same activities throughout the entire movie as a way to fill empty spaces with untold words, desires and possibilities. There is no capitalist, result-based conclusion, but rather, there is a process. Unlike American films, Wong doesn’t want us to identify with the couple, but to understand and empathize with them instead.
“Chungking Express,” on the other hand, lacks a coherent linear narrative, as it simultaneously unfurls two distinct plots: it is a compilation of heroines with blonde wigs and dark glasses, addicts of “California Dreamin,” heart-broken cops and seasonal flight attendant lovers. After introducing a screening of “Chungking Express,” Quentin Tarantino confessed that he cried after seeing the movie, not because the movie was sad, but because he was “just so happy to love a movie this much.”
I’ve also seen “Happy Together” in my MUBI days, a story of two gay lovers who live in Argentina. I remember being so shaken by the fact that Wong managed to put wine, tango and Turtles’ “Happy Together” together in a single movie. At this point, I believe any object, sound, theme or really just anything can be in a Wong movie, and its presence would make perfect sense.
Iran: Abbas Kiorostami
“He takes an ordinary object, puts it into a museum and changes people’s perception of it. The important thing becomes not the object, but how it is perceived to be. How you look at your partner determines the worth of your partner. Originality, beauty, age, functionality. That is the definition of art. The only difference is that they aren’t in a gallery. They are instead in the fields that no one is aware of.” –Copia Conforme
“After all, everybody must live their life for themselves, this is so obvious. Leafless orchard, it is a Persian poem. ‘The leafless orchard/ Who says the leafless orchard is not beautiful?’ ” –Copia Conforme
“Because the rotten rules of our society don’t give women any rights! To divorce, the woman has to say either she’s being beaten or her husband is on drugs. The woman doesn’t have a right to live! Should a woman die to be able to live?” –Ten
Depicting the beauties of everyday life, lacing the delicate teachings of Persian poetry with naturalistic dialogues, portraying comically the protagonists’ internal contradictions, Abbas Kiorostami sheds a light on the uniqueness of the ordinary.
One of his most celebrated films is “Copia Conforme,” in which an artist and a famous art historian engage in an imaginary marriage on the beautiful landscapes and museums of Italy. As the film flies between French, English and Italian, the duo’s conversations reflect on love and art, and illustrate the problems of every relationship and marriage. Soon enough, reality is born out of fiction, as the characters project their pasts into their current discussions and attempt to reconcile their present expectations with room for love and common ground.
I’ve also seen “10” by Kiorostami, which consists of ten scenes in the front seat of the car of the protagonist, a taxi driver. These scenes include her conversations with a prostitute, her sister, her son, a friend and an old woman. The fixed camera gives the film a documentary feeling, yet it still remains a work of fiction. Through the driver’s conversations with her passengers, we learn about a day in the life of a woman who lives in modern Iran, dealing with “stupid laws” that forbid a woman to divorce unless her husband is abusive or has a drug addiction and battling against her little son who has already inherited the toxicity of the male-dominated society. Although both of the films may sound thematically heavy, they are constantly cut through by brushes of humor — which is, to me, the characteristic beauty of Kiorostami’s work.
Greece: Theodoros Angelopoulos
Martin Scorsese once described Angelopoulos as “a masterful filmmaker.” Angelopoulos’s films are characterized by long takes, complex and carefully composed scenes and contemplative pauses with only the slightest movement or change. While his ethereal cinematic method is often considered to be hypnotic and sweeping, Angelopoulos also manages to deal with contemporary political issues like immigration, returning to one’s homeland and the 20th century history of Greece.
Angelopoulos entered my life after I saw “Eternity and a Day,” the story of a famous writer, Alexandre, struggling to finish his studies on a 19th-century poet before his death. His path crosses with a little immigrant boy from Albania, and Alexandre hops on a journey to take the boy back home. It is also a journey to Alexandre’s past, which deals with his attempts to reconcile his artistic personality with a family life and, eventually, missed opportunities to connect with his wife, daughter, mother and other loved ones. Meanwhile, the film also poses the question of what is the role and responsibility of an artist and the influence of an artist’s words on society.
Poetic in its content and form, “Eternity and a Day” is a film of immeasurable beauty and blessed with music by the virtuoso Eleni Karaindrou. Perhaps, it would be ironic to not describe a movie that leaves you with a melancholic longing for life and blessings of true connections with others through any means other than that of the film’s very own words, so I’ll just leave you with a few of my favorite lines.
“Maybe imagining and not knowing is better.”
“Words, disconnected, everywhere.”
“What can a poet do? He can sing for revolution, mourn for the dead and remind the forgotten face of freedom.”
“Then the news was spread: ‘The poet is buying words!’”
“I am trying to kidnap you between two books. I know that you will leave one day. The wind is carrying your eyes far away. But give this day to me. As if it is the last day. Give this day to me!”
“All that I can see is an endless sea.”
“When I find the lost words, or take the unforgotten words out of silence.”
“Why do humans not know how to love?”
“One day, I asked you: “How long does tomorrow take?” You answered: “Eternity and a day.”
“I am going to the opposite shore tonight, with the words that I brought back to you.”
“ ‘Argadini’. It means it’s too late now.”
Turkey: Nuri Bilge Ceylan
“But one day, you may get a kick out of the stuff going on here. When you have a family, you’ll have a story to tell. Is that so bad? You can say, ‘Once upon a time in Anatolia, when I was working out in the sticks. I remember this one night which began like this. You can tell it like a fairytale.” –Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
Prosecutor: “Could a person really commit suicide to punish someone else? Would they do that, doctor?”
Doctor: “Aren’t most suicides intended to punish someone else, Mr. Prosecutor?”
Prosecutor: “Yes, aren’t they? Bravo. That’s what I thought. That’s it, of course. My wife…(pauses) Women can sometimes be very ruthless, doctor. Really.” –Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
“My kingdom may be small, but at least I’m the king here!” –Winter Sleep
“Myth merging with reality, the abstract with the concrete.” –The Wild Pear Tree
With slow, long and contemplative shots of the vast and drought-ridden Anatolian landscape, identities that swing between the urban and the rural, menacing silences that dominate scenes, themes that deal with existentialism, entrapment of the individual and the monotony of everyday life, Ceylan is known for his shots that film the protagonist from behind, which allows the audience to view the scene through the eyes of the character and speculate upon the emotions of the protagonist. The influence of Russian authors like Chekhov on Ceylan’s work is also apparent in the isolated and enormous pastoral that dominates his scenes.
My journey with Ceylan started with “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia,” a crime drama taking place over the course of a single night and day, a movie that manages to encapsulate the human condition in the same manner as Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy and Chekhov through but a little plot development. We see the leaves and solitary trees slowly moving, we witness the dialogues between a doctor and a prosecutor as one seeks for a body and the other for meaning, and we’re filled with hope and warmth by the ethereal beauty of a village girl as she slowly serves tea to men under the candlelight without uttering a single word. Ceylan leaves a room for the audience to create a meaning as well through his stylistic form, since, for him, “Form itself creates a kind of content. Form is not something, however, that controls the content. Form is in the center and in some ways, for some artists, content emerges from the form.” “Winter Sleep,” on the other hand, also takes place in a socially isolated setting: the vast and wintry Anatolian steppes, rocky forms filled with snow that give the impression of an alien planet and unveiling of the personalities of the misconnected family members as they attempt to deceive themselves through forcing each other to self-confrontation. His other well-known work is “The Wild Pear Tree,” the story of an aspiring writer, who swings between the rural and the urban and attempts to reconcile his deeper conservative personality with a preferred existential and liberal façade. The wind unhurriedly moves the leaves under a beautiful light and carries absurd, endless and circular philosophical conversations between the protagonist Sinan and two imams. Ceylan’s films are close to three hours with everlasting pauses and long shots of grandiose geography, but I promise the result is pretty rewarding.
France: Jean-Luc Godard
“A story should have a beginning, a middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order.” –Jean-Luc Godard
“What is your greatest ambition in life?’
‘To become immortal… and then die.” –Breathless
I’ve always wanted to try Godard, arguably one of the most influential French filmmakers and the pioneer of the 1960s French New Wave film movement. Godard is often considered to have revolutionized French cinema through his experiments with narrative continuity, plot, sound and camerawork. In addition, Godard’s fondness of Marxist and existentialist philosophy was also often reflected in his films, and he chose to depict conflicts with a humanist perspective.
Thus, I gave “Breathless,” Godard’s breakthrough film, a try, as I wanted to see how this film became one of the earliest and the most influential examples of the French New Wave (nouvelle vague) cinema. Although even I, a 21st century audience member, could realize the unconventionality and boldness of the cuts and jumps of the movie, it appeared as a classic Bonnie and Clyde-esque runaway-on-the-road type of film at first blush. Yet, through the conversations of Patricia and Michel, I slowly began to realize the iconic way Godard reflected his complex philosophical views via the simple. To begin with, the film is considerably existential: Michel and Patricia are attracted to each other, given that, although in quite opposite ways, both essentially live their lives meaninglessly. According to the American philosopher Hubert Dreyfus, “Breathless” also exemplifies Nietzsche’s conception of active versus passive nihilism. Michel is an active nihilist, as he throws himself recklessly and carelessly into crime and momentary events. Patricia, on the other hand, is a passive nihilist, as she is dissatisfied with the very meaningless that Michel is fond of and forces the love affair to end by turning Michel into the police, which also automatically reduces her control over the situation. It certainly takes a while to register the philosophical and cinematic parts behind the film’s entertaining façade, but it is a process that I invite all the absurdists to try.
I hope I didn’t sound like a Eurocentric ass by making 2 out of 5 countries on this list Greece and France after promising you a world tour. But I promise you that after I can find a friend and convince them to let me use their credit card for another 7-day free trial with a new username, I will explore other continents, countries and share my findings with you as soon as possible. Meanwhile, any recommendations are more than welcome. Just shoot me an email 🙂