There are certain things you come to realize the more you grow and evolve as a cinephile. One of the things that I realized during my journey as a cinephile is that the story is not the most important element of a film. Cinema is a visual medium and for me personally, movies have been about how a filmmaker gets his vision across using the visual powers of cinema. There are films that provide only fragments or ideas of the story and leave a lot to its viewers for interpretation and I find these movies very fascinating because the filmmaker is providing you spaces for imagination which enhances the viewing experience of the film. This is a far more effective exercise than just telling a story in a straightforward manner. There are films you could love, not for the story it tells but for the feeling it gives you. These are the kind of films that would stay with for a long, long time. So with everything said now, let’s take a look at the list of films that are more about the experience than the plot.
15. Antichrist (2009)
Lars Von Trier is one of the most polarizing auteurs of modern cinema. For a number of cinephiles, the man is god while others consider him to be extremely pretentious and downright crazy. ‘Antichrist’ is perhaps his most divisive works but also happens to be one of his most personal endeavors. He was struggling with depression issues at the time and the film truly reflects his state of mind. The film begins with a couple making intense, passionate love while their little kid climbs on top of a chair, jumps out of the window and dies. The rest of the film depicts the mother’s emotional struggles and how the husband helps her overcome the grief. The film is certainly disturbing and provocative but it’s a deeply affecting experience that reflects the painful realities of the human mind.
14. Holy Motors (2012)
‘Holy Motors’ is easily one of the most original and inventive films made in recent times. The story is about a strange man who goes on to perform different kinds of roles, dressed up in various costumes. The bizarre, eccentric tone of the film is quite fascinating and the way the narrative drives the story forward is endlessly fun, engaging and extremely challenging. It’s a visually enthralling and intellectually stimulating experience and whilst its strange tone may put some people off, it’s hard to resist the sheer audacity and emotional eccentricity of the film. ‘Holy Motors’ is certainly a film meant to be experienced first and then analyzed on repeat viewings.
13. Gravity (2013)
Many cinephiles have criticized ‘Gravity’ for lacking an original storyline but like Stanley Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, ‘Gravity’ too focuses on the experientialty of cinema. While nowhere near as ambitious as Kubrick’s masterpiece, ‘Gravity’ still manages to raise above its plot and works beautifully as a profoundly contemplative tale of survival and resilience. Cuaron’s masterful direction completely captivates us and by the time the film ends you realize that you’re no longer the person you were prior to watching this film. And that’s when the raw power of cinema strikes you.
12. 3 Women (1977)
‘3 Women’was inspired by a dream Robert Altman had back during the times when his wife was being treated in a hospital and he was very worried about her. You could feel that hysteria and sadness he experienced during those times in ‘3 Women’. Perhaps ‘3 Women’ is a film mean to be intellectualized but I happen to think that it’s a film that kind of grows on you the more you see it and think about it. It’s a film that explores the beautifully bizarre fantasies embedded in the female psyche. ‘3 Women’ is one of the most beautiful cinematic experiences you’ll ever have.
11. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter….and Spring (2003)
I was left in complete awe of this film when I first saw it. Obviously, I couldn’t comprehend all the intellectual and philosophical facets of the film on a first viewing but what I was astounded by was the film’s staggering vision and ambition. The film is about a novice Buddhist monk and his master who is quite strict in his approach and inculcates in him with a respect for his culture and various moral values of life. The film has almost little to no dialogue as the film establishes a deeply emotional and intellectual connection using the visuals instead of explicit story exposition. It can be extremely challenging but could turn out to be life changing if you are willing to give yourself over to the film.
10. Waking Life (2001)
I’ve always been in awe of Richard Linklater’s endearingly hopeful and optimistic view of life. Sometimes I just wish if he could direct my life and turn it into something so profoundly hopeful and optimistic, lifting me out of the dreadful mundanity and pessimism that consumes my existence. ‘Waking Life’ is Linklater’s most philosophical work and explores profound themes of existentialism, purpose and meaning of life, dreams, human consciousness and reality. Linklater keeps the true nature of dreams intact here and rightly presents it in a very ambiguous manner. The scenes just flow and you don’t even bother if they all make sense because you just feel hypnotized by the dreamy tone of the film.
9. Days of Heaven (1978)
Probably the most accessible film on the list. Terrence Malick’s ‘Days of Heaven’ had a lot of detractors who criticized the film for its lack of a strong storyline but to be honest, the story here does not play a major role in driving the narrative. Malick seems more interested in using the mood of the story than the story itself. He infuses the film with a hauntingly mysterious tone that plays out beautifully with the enigmatic voice overs. It makes us observe the character rather than empathizing with them and this makes it a very unique experience. It’s clear that Malick is dying to get out of the traditional cinematic boundaries and ‘Days of Heaven’ is just a sketch upon which he would explore further in the years to follow.
8. Uzak (2002)
The minimalist cinema of Nuri Bilge Ceylan might, at first, seem challenging for those of you who are just starting to get into art-house cinema but once you get used to his style, believe me, there’s nothing like it. Ceylan is heavily inspired by great auteurs including Andrei Tarkovsky, Abbas Kiarostami and Theo Angelopoulos and it shows clearly in his work. His films have very little to no plots and mostly focus on the monotony of human existence and distancing human relationships. ‘Uzak’ means distant in English and the film explores the emotional distance between two estranged cousins. Ceylan brilliantly makes use of silence here as it provides a contemplative space that lets us sink in on the characters’ inner conflicts and emotions.
7. Enter the Void (2009)
Gaspar Noe is one of the most exciting filmmakers working in cinema today. Every single film he’s ever made fiercely pushes beyond the conventionality of cinema and they are all wildly provocative, thematically and consist of explicit scenes that depict raw sexuality and violence. ‘Enter the Void’ is easily one of his finest works alongside ‘Irreversible’ and ‘I Stand Alone’. Described by Noe as a “psychedelic melodrama”, the film’s main theme itself revolves around cinematic experience. The visual madness just exhilarates the overall experience and gives it a hallucinatory feel. It’s emotionally dark, visually ecstatic and thematically profound and manages to exhilarate, provoke and challenge you like very few films do.
6. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Fans of Christopher Nolan and Dennis Villeneuve today might find ‘2001: A Spacey Odyssey’ nonsensical and tedious because the film does not have a neatly tied up story that provides you with concrete answers. But that’s what makes ‘2001’ a truly great film. It transcends the boundaries of cinematic art like very few others do. In fact Nolan himself has said that this is a film that is mean to be felt than intellectualized. However, the beauty of the film is that it provides spaces for you let yourselves be emotionally consumed by it while also raising profound philosophical questions about human evolution, the existence of the universe and what lies beyond.
5. Lost Highway (1997)
I’m still not sure as to why ‘Lost Highway’ remains the least favorite David Lynch film even among his most staunch followers (Well, barring the atrocious ‘Dune’ of course!). ‘Lost Highway’ is a hauntingly seductive piece of pure cinematic nightmare. The film follows a man who is convicted of murdering his wife but in prison he morphs into another man and begins to lead a new life. There are events and characters intersecting here but it’s all just a mind game that Lynch plays with us. This is the kind of film that demands you to give yourself over to it, emotionally and leave logic at the door. It’s almost as if Lynch plucks out a piece of your dark subconscious, reflecting your darkest desires and deepest fears.
4. The Tree of Life (2011)
‘The Tree of Life’ has a spiritual connection with Andrei Tarkovsky’s ‘The Mirror’. It is autobiographical in nature and explores the childhood memories of a middle aged man trying to find purpose and meaning in life. The film basically follows no structure and the narrative is replete with beautiful imagery depicting the origins of our universe and how human life evolved over the years. It’s a film that asks you to reflect upon your own existence, your own life, childhood and family. What’s truly astounding here is the sheer universality of the film. Malick’s stories are always set in the heart of America but his philosophical and thematic ambitions ensure that it transcends cultural and ethnic boundaries.
3. The Mirror (1975)
Andrei Tarkovsky’s ‘The Mirror’ is one of those films I find really hard to write about. In fact, I don’t feel the urge to write about it because the thing is our experience of watching a movie is built upon the abstractness of our thoughts on the film. It’s that abstractness which later paints an image of the film in our minds and that image it paints is a feeling that belongs only to us. And I wouldn’t like to blemish the beauty of that feeling by trying to make sense out of it using words. Tarkovsky poured himself out to the film and the result is one of the most profoundly personal and deeply intimate cinematic experiences of all time. It’s that moment where the art and the artist becomes inseparable.
2. Mulholland Drive (2001)
I’ve seen many people ranting about how complicated ‘Mulholland Drive’ is and that it’s one big puzzle for us to get our heads into. Well, I couldn’t argue much about that because very few films are as complex and layered as this David Lynch masterpiece and it really is a puzzle. But the question is, what do you want the film to be? Lynch makes films out of scattered ideas and feelings and this is what makes his films more of an experience. They’re all meant to be felt and experienced. The plot is just a device to manipulate you into his world. Once you get there, it becomes the least important aspect of the film. ‘Mulholland Drive’ is a feeling, an emotion, an experience. It makes you see, as one of my friends once beautifully put, the edge of cinema.
1. The Double Life of Veronique (1991)
‘The Double Life of Veronique’ is quite simply an experience like no other. It is simply the most exquisite portrait of the enigmatic female psyche and the way Kieslowski paints images with strokes of raw human emotions is absolutely magical to watch. So the plot here follows a young woman who begins to feel that she’s not alone in this world and that there’s a part of her longing soul in someone else’s body who might perhaps be living boundaries or oceans apart. Irene Jacob delivers a stunningly raw performance that captures the gorgeous delicacies and frailties of the female psyche. ‘The Double Life of Veronique’ is a profoundly sensual, beautifully mysterious and tenderly melancholic portrait of love, identity, sensuality and human intuition.