I was looking forward to ‘V’, as I had a top pick chosen well in advance. Quite a lot to choose from here, so there should be plenty left for you to comment on.
David Cronenberg has made some very unusual films in his career. They can be visually challenging, and often contain a message about society too. James Woods is a competent actor who has also played some controversial roles, and is known for giving 100% to every part he plays, however small. Put these two together, and you get the fascinating ‘Videodrome’ (1983). This is a comment on modern television, and the potential excesses it can sink to. Add some stunning ‘body horror’ effects, and you are left with a unique and unforgettable film, in an uncertain genre. And Debby Harry is in it too!
Vampire horror is a subject that film makers keep returning to. There have been some outstanding examples made, as far back as the days of silent films. ‘Nosferatu’ (1922) is arguably the best of them all, with the creepiest Dracula I have ever seen. But Carl Dreyer’s 1932 film ‘Vampyr’ deserves a mention. Despite its uneven soundtrack, the surreal imagery and dream-like production make this a memorable addition to the genre.
Two very different French films next. ‘Les Visiteurs’ (1993) was a huge comedy hit in Europe. The hilarious antics of a time travelling medieval knight and his grubby servant are simply delightful. They are transported into the future, where he attacks cars with his sword, and believes a toilet bowl is a magical water fountain. Jean Reno triumphs as the fish out of water knight, with a deliciously dotty performance from Valerie Lemercier as his distant relative. I loved this one.
There is no doubt that Marion Cotillard is a great actress, and she was never better than when she starred as Edith Piaf in the 2007 biopic, ‘La Vie En Rose’. This Oscar-winning film is a complete triumph, covering almost the whole life and career of Edith Piaf, the one-time darling of the French musical scene. With a strong supporting cast including Gerard Depardieu, flawless costume and historical detail, this is one to remember, believe me.
A very different historical drama next, featuring a powerful leading performance from Mads Mikkelsen. ‘Valhalla Rising’ (2009) is a bleak look back to the early days of Christianity in Europe. Mikklesen’s character One-Eye is held captive by a Norse chieftain, and forced to fight others to the death, while his master gambles on the outcome. He escapes in the company of a young boy, and they join a ragtag band of Crusaders, men intent on going to the Holy Land to fight. After a difficult journey, they believe they have reached their goal, only to discover that it is not at all what it seems. This is filmed in breathtaking locations in Scotland, and contains some brutal fight scenes too. But the solid cast delivers a memorable film, one that is stunning to behold.
Before my top choice for ‘V’, another Spanish film from the prolific Pedro Almodovar. ‘Volver’ (2006) stars the wonderful Carmen Maura, an Almodovar favourite, alongside the lovely Penelope Cruz. This delightful family drama also has moments of real comedy, and assured performances from the mainly female cast. There are some twists and turns in the plot, and you can also feel the personal touch from Almodovar’s own life experiences too. You may see this film described as a film about death. To a large extent it is, but it is also so much more, so don’t be put off. It was nominated for both Oscars and Baftas, and should have won at least one, in my opinion.
Please do not mistake the awful American remake for my top choice today. If you decide to see it, be certain that you are watching the original foreign language film, and not that terrible corruption.
Many European films do not settle for happy endings just to please audiences, and this is one of them.
I cannot praise this film highly enough. Rarely have I left a cinema being drained by a viewing experience in the same way, and impressed by the performances of actors I hardly knew. Perhaps because it is a scenario we can all identify with, it makes you aware of how it could happen to almost anyone. You are on holiday abroad, driving in the car. You stop for fuel at a busy French service station. Your wife goes inside, to buy drinks and snacks. She doesn’t return.
What happens next in ‘The Vanishing’ (1998), is a chilling story with real drama, and edge of the seat tension. Incredible performances, tragedy and despair, and a simply unforgettable ending. One of the best ever.