For this section, I’m listening to Zbigniew Preisner’s score to The Three Colors Trilogy
, specifically the tracks called “Fashion Show, Pt. II” and “Finale” (both from Three Colors Red
). Music, food, passion, and concrete moments of transcendence light up the screen in these choice foreign language film picks, while good old fashioned star power shines in the classics that serve as an introduction to movies pre-1955. Represented are directors Ernst Lubitsch, David Lean, Alfred Hitchcock, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, and William Wyler.
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)
If you are going to make a musical, do what Jacques Demy and Michel Legrand do: make a whole-hearted, allout musical where every word in the film is sung. An evening stroll with the lovers discussing their future of umbrellas shops and gas stations; the night Guy tells Genevieve that he has been drafted into the Algeria War (they sing the iconic “I Will Wait for You”); and their parting at the railroad station before Guy goes off to war is filmed marvelously (of course, the lovely Catherine Deneuve and a palette of pastels does help)—Michel Legrand’s musical score soars and continues to soar in our hearts well past the film’s ending.
Babette’s Feast (1987)
The meal to end all meals is at the heart of this simple film about life in a pious, Jutland town. After spending 14 years as the housekeeper of two sisters named after Marin Luthor and his collaborator Philipp Melanchthon, Babette (Stéphane Audran) wins 10,000 francs from an annual lottery that her friend in France plays for her. She gets permission from the sisters to create a “real French dinner,” a banquet, for the small congregation (that visits the sisters’ home weekly) on the occasion of their father’s (who was the town’s pastor) 100th birthday. It seems apt to have watched this film again on Easter Sunday and thinking of how to give one’s self to others and to offer up one’s talent for their delight.
Eat Drink Man Woman (1994)
Ang Lee’s third feature is set in Taiwan and revolves around a widowed father (a master chef) and his three daughters (who each contrast one another); the film explores the sisters varying relationships with men and how, as they grow older, their relationship with their father and family dynamic evolve. Do not walk into this movie hungry because the opening scene alone is going to make you wish you the chef was in your home kitchen.
Three Colors Trilogy: Blue, White, and Red (1993-1994)
The greatest modern film trilogy was directed by Krysztof Keislowski during the years 1993 to 1994; he passed away in 1996 having made films that (like Jean Renoir and Yasujiro Ozu) made one feel human. Loosely based on the French flag’s colors that stand for Liberty (Blue), Equality (White), and Fraternity (Red), these three movies carry not only depth (in their story) but also physical beauty (in photography and musical score). His films have always had kind of simple magic in how they are able to capture emotions and the invisible through concrete images and actions.
Secret Sunshine (2007)
The film that has my vote for the best movie of the past five years; South Korea’s Lee Chang-Dong’s masterful 2007 film, which handles tragedy and loss in such a bold and refreshing way. It did not get a US release until 2010 and I thank IFC Films for coming to the rescue. The writer/director’s background as a novelist has its fingerprints all over the picture–with a story that unfolds and sways in surprising ways–and actress Jeon Do-yeon incredible craft is in display as she passes through lightness and darkness and all the shades in between.
The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullivan are incredible in Ernst Lubitsch’s romantic comedy that serves as a prototype for numerous pictures that have followed—evident in Nora Ephron’s remake You Got Mail. Fueled by wonderful performances that deliver the screenplay’s sharp dialogue by Samson Raphaelson (based on a play by Miklos Laszlo), this film is my favorite holiday picture and deserves to shown just as much as that other Jimmy Stewart movie that has become a Christmastime standard.
Brief Encounter (1945)
From a Noel Coward play, passing strangers meet at railway station where a chance encounter between a married woman (Cecilia Johnson) and a married doctor (Trevor Howard) turns into more meetings by chance and others not by chance. It is a shame that this film is not as well known in the U.S. as it is in its home country of Britain; there, its prestige is akin to Casablanca. A melodrama that is not afraid to wear its heart on its sleeve, the story’s point-ofview is prominently through the eyes of Cecilia Johnson’s character and features a voice over as well as music from Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2.
Alfred Hitchcock, Ingrid Bergman, and Cary Grant (Claude Rains and screenwriter Ben Hecht are no slouches either). Should I even keep writing? Why are you still here when you should be watching this dynamite picture that is part spy-thriller, romance, and psychological drama? Did I mention it is fun too?
All About Eve (1950)
With dialogue that is as sharp and sparkly as diamonds, Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s All About Eve was nominated for 14 Academy Awards and showcased the talents of Betty Davis, Anne Baxter, George Sanders, and Celeste Holm—including an early appearance by a young Marilyn Monroe. Eve (Baxter), an aspiring actress and fan, slithers her way into the life of Margo Channing (Davis), an aging theatrical star, and her circle of friends. It is a blueprint for how stardom can rise and fall through ambition, cunning, and manipulation as well as provides a glimpse of how it is not always roses being on top of the world.
Roman Holiday (1953)
The film that has caused pilgrimages to Rome (no, not to visit the Vatican), but for young women to get their haircut and have gelato by the Trevi Fountain (although, it’s a completely different film if you choose to jump into the fountain itself). Audrey Hepburn was always charming but in her debut role she stole the hearts of audience across the world—and a star was born. Even the film’s other star, Gregory Peck, knew what the world was in store for when he asked William Wyler to place the then-unknown actress’s name above the title.