Happy new year! Though I’m a bit late on the year-end lists, I loved reading about the books my fellow bloggers were excited about last year, and as a Cinema Studies student I thought it would be interesting to give an idea of what films I’ve watched for class this semester. The following films, in order of when I saw them, were the ones I found most moving, and often ones I wouldn’t have chosen to watch of my own accord. This semester was a really enlightening experience in my film education and I felt so grateful to be able to engage so much in the field I was most interested in beginning my first semester.
1. Man with a Movie Camera (1929), dir. Dziga Vertov
I watched this film for my first year seminar, Rebellion, Revolution, Rock-n-Roll: 20th-21st-Century Russian Culture, which has been covering a range of different mediums like visual art, literature, opera, film, and music. Vertov was a pioneering director whose theories of filmmaking focused around montage, and this film is no exception, utilizing a number of innovative techniques to show life in the Soviet Union. I find silent films very hard to stay engaged with, so it’s saying something that I found this so interesting to watch! It’s fast-paced, creative, and actually quite funny with its editing and cinematography despite having a lack of a “plot” in a traditional sense. It’s on YouTube for free, so if you have a chance it’s well worth taking a look.
2. Memorias del Subdesarrollo (Memories of Underdevelopment) (1968), dir. Tomás Gutiérrez Alea
This is a Cuban film I saw for my Modern Latin American Cinema class, which has proved to be my favorite class this semester. While a lot of the films we’ve watched have been very dense, they’ve all been fascinating to analyze and discuss, particularly in the context of Latin American history. Memorias del Subdesarrollo is an interesting cross between fiction and documentary, going through Cuban history from a Marxist perspective while also telling the story of an upper-class Cuban man who stays in Cuba after the revolution as his friends and family leave him behind. It’s probably my favorite film I’ve watched for that class, tied with Amores Perros or the next film on the list, being alternately funny, philosophical, and informative. It’s a perspective on the Cuban revolution that feels vital in the historical conversation, coming from a personal point of view that you just can’t get from reading a textbook.
3. Cidade de Deus (City of God) (2002), dir. Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund
City of God is a Brazilian film based on a true story about a kid growing up amidst gang war and life in the eponymous Rio de Janeiro city. It’s a twisting and turning story, weaving disparate narratives in a delightfully flashy style, taking inspiration from the gangster flicks of Tarantino and Scorsese while maintaining its own distinctive personality. Every week, my Latin American film class has an optional screening in one of the rooms of the student union, Wilder, where we can watch the assigned movie together, and this movie was a particular joy to be able to watch projected on a big screen, leaving me gasping aloud and totally taken by the world of the film.
4. Stalker (1979), dir. Andrei Tarkovsky
While this film wasn’t technically assigned for my Russian class, for our final paper we were given the option to choose any work of Russian media we hadn’t already touched upon in class. I chose to do mine on Stalker sight unseen, as Tarkovsky was the only Russian filmmaker I knew of and I figured now was as good a time as any to familiarize myself. It ended up being much more of a challenge than I expected, but one that I’ve been very excited to undertake. Researching the film and pushing myself through dense academic analyses of it, while a slog, has deeply enriched my understanding of both the film and philosophical approaches to it. The film itself is loosely based on the Strugatsky brothers’ novel Roadside Picnic, centering on a town besieged by what appeared to be a meteor, creating a “zone” of oddity and danger around it. The government has cordoned off the area for study, which has created a new industry for “stalkers,” people who act as guides for those who want to visit The Zone. The draw is that is supposedly at the center of The Zone is “The Room,” a place where your deepest wish will be granted. It’s an eerie, quiet movie, leaving you on edge even as nothing particularly scary happens. I don’t want to say too much but if you can stand long, slow movies I highly recommend experiencing it for yourself!
5. Waltz with Bashir (2008), dir. Ari Folman
This final movie I watched for my Israel and Palestine in Literature and Film class. It was definitely my favorite out of the three films we watched (the other two being Sallah Shabati  and He Walked Through the Fields ), and although I’d already seen it a few years ago, the animation still stands out. While I have my own issues with the film, it’s undeniably gorgeous and moving, a journey of one man trying to uncover his own buried memories of the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre by talking to fellow former IDF soldiers, as well as psychologists and trauma experts. It questions the blurry lines between memory, dream, and reality, including both fantastical dream sequences as well as gritty and painful moments of tragedy. I really enjoyed getting to rewatch the film with the new context of all I’d learned in the class, and I appreciated the deep discussion we were able to engage in afterwards.
While there were many more films I watched this semester, and a few more I have yet to watch, I hope one or a few of these piques your interest and inspires you to watch something new or out of your comfort zone. That was definitely true for me and I’m excited to keep learning in this new year. I hope that you have a great new year as well, and that you find some new favorite films this year like I did!