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From tricky relationships to complicated crimes, filmmakers of the late noughties enjoyed tying their characters in emotional knots.
If you’re looking for a drama to keep your nerves on edge for ninety minutes, or are hoping for a bit of insight from the silver screen, these five flicks are sure to get your mind – and your heart–racing. ~ GJ Cole
There were some big indie and art house names at play in the noughties, and this selection happens to find five of them stepping, if not towards the mainstream, at least towards their breakthrough or more accessible works. But whether it’s Argentina’s Lucrecia Martel, Kelly Reichardt in the States or Turkey’s Nuri Bilge Ceylan, you won’t notice any decrease in the levels of intelligence and sensitivity you may have witnessed in their previous movies.
The world has become a complicated place, with class war, urban living and bohemian lifestyles becoming intertwined throughout these choices. However, these are directors with a firm grasp of the ungraspability of our fundamental human nature, and if these stories explore the world as it is today it is never at the expense of an emotional punch that is felt right through to the soul.
‘Mumblecore’ is a term used to group together a number of chiefly New York-oriented indie movies of the noughties. Although the filmmakers themselves do not accept the label, there are a lot of similarities between these scuzzy tales of ineloquent twenty-somethings and the complex romantic, sexual and existential ties from which their lives are constructed. Some are better, some worse, but Andrew Bujalski stands out as a director of rare sensitivity among his peers, and this – his second feature – sees him finding his stride as both director and actor.
Up-and-coming rock singer Alan (played by real-life musician Justin Rice) bumbles around trying to get a break and to navigate the thorny romantic path that (so tragically!) befalls handsome and talented musicians in New York.
Pursued by a thin-skinned radio DJ, Alan’s impulses lead him instead to the girlfriend of his best mate – and the curiosity is mutual.
If this premise in itself sounds unappealing, be reassured the characters, performances and situations are shaped with such wit, insight and empathy that anyone who’s ever been young (and can stand to watch grimy 16mm monochrome film) will soon find themselves helplessly caught up in the drama.
“We have some information from the house. The kidnapper’s son just led us to a baby’s body.”
Carlos Reygadas has emerged as one of most unique voices in Mexican – and indeed international – cinema of the twenty-first century. This, his second film, follows the downfall of Marcos, a low-paid middle-aged everyman whose first attempt at kidnap and ransom goes tragically wrong.
The majority of the film traces Marcos’s steps as he attempts to reconcile his guilt with the needs of his family and his lust for his employer’s beautiful daughter.
With a canny eye for evocative framing, and a knack for twisting a situation until each character cracks in unpredictable – but utterly convincing – ways, Reygadas succeeds in making small moments feel hugely cinematic and wild narratives seem deeply human.
‘Battle in Heaven’ makes for a disturbing but ultimately enlightening journey.
“I don’t want anything more for myself. I’m done with all that.”
Opening on a balmy summer scene of a couple wandering around Turkish ruins and relaxing – in between nightmares – on the beach, ‘Climates’ sets a tone of melancholic reflection, simmering angst and the relationship between landscape, weather, and internal life.
İsa finishes with his lover, Bahar, a decision that causes her to react violently – confirming for him his need to be alone. But back in the city, the pace and temptations of urban life stir a loneliness in İsa that is compounded by his self-loathing.
With his tail between his legs, İsa sets out that winter to win back Bahar, against a backdrop of snow and silence. Coming face to face again instead unveils new emotions in each of them.
Ceylan’s cynicism towards human (specifically male) nature is counter-balanced by a humour and tenderness that put his filmography up there with some of the great ‘art house’ film directors of preceding generations. ‘Climates’ is perhaps his most accessible work, and if you’re new to this filmmaker, you should find yourself seeking out his back catalogue.
“It’s all one huge thing now, there’s trees in the city, and garbage in the forest. What’s the big difference?”
As bittersweet an American indie as you’ll see from the past decade, Kelly Reichardt’s second feature emerged over ten years after her debut ‘River of Grass’ – and in the interim she has refined her storytelling ability while losing none of the sensitivity and uniqueness of the earlier movie.
Will Oldham (you may know him better as singer-songwriter Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy) plays a thirty-something wanderer returning to his hometown to take his former best pal on a camping trip. Bestie Mark (Daniel London) is settled with a kid on the way, and the pair are immediately cynical about how each other has changed.
As they take to the road, and the fireside, reminiscences blend with regrets and kitchen philosophy – which, in Reichardt’s hands, combines to create a bigger picture of the inevitable decline, yet ultimate durability, of the friendship.
“I wanted to know if you’d heard anything about an accident…”
Martel’s calm but visceral dissection of the middle-classes continues with one of her strongest movies to date. The matriarch of a conventional family hits something – what or even ‘who’ she does not know – with her car, and as her fear of the consequences develops she becomes reliant on her privileged status and network to try to avoid her downfall – even as inside, she’s falling apart.
Functioning like an inverted ‘Blow-Up’ (1966) or ‘The Conversation’ (1974), ‘The Headless Woman’ relies on suggestion and doubt to keep both the protagonist and the audience guessing whether a crime has actually been committed. ‘The Headless Woman’, though works towards a more palpably damning conclusion, even as it harnesses the same subtle insight into human nature as its predecessors.
A week with these movies may leave your head in a spin – maybe you want to go for a walk and let them settle?
Don’t forget to let us know about any similar movies we might have missed: the comments box is right below.