Best thrilling surrealistic and philosophic film directors

October 6, 2011 § 1 Comment

Surrealism in movies today – is it still alive?

Surrealism is a movement of art and culture, which started in the beginning of 1920-ies. The first surrealist film is considered to be Un Chien Andalou (Andalusian Dog), made by Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali in 1929. Surrealism is characterised by unexpected contrasts, elements of surprise, but most importantly by a philosophical meaning, wich is expressed by artistic means. Surrealism makes the viewer think and try to interpret the artwork, try to understand it. The Surrealist Manifest, written in 1924 by Andre Breton states, that Surrealism is the expression of the real functioning of thought without any control or restrictions. Subconsciousness and dreams play a great role in surrealism and surrealism always goes hand in hand with mystery because it focuses on the subconscious and unknown side of life. In this article we will focus on later films and contemporary film directors, influenced by the surrealistic and philosophical meaning in films.

1. Andrey Tarkovsky.
Born: 1932 in USSR, died in 1986.

Andrey Tarkovsky is unique – at his time and in his country he was the only one, who dared to release real art films with a deeper meaning. His films are hard to understand, they don’t have one straight meaning and some of them were too sophisticated for the USSR government to understand, what he means, so they were forbidden for some time in USSR. Tarkovsky’s films have a surrealistic atmosphere, he interplays with artictic views of nature, ruins, water and different artistic elements. And he always exposes a deep philosophical meaning in his films. His films have a feeling of presence of something mysterious and unknown and the viewer is invited to explore the movie and search for the revelation of the mystery.

Suggested films:
1. Stalker, 1979.
2. Solaris, 1972.
3. The Mirror, 1975.
4. The Sacrifice, 1986.
5. Andrei Rublov, 1966.

2. David Lynch.
Born: 1946 in USA.

David Lynch is a genious of mystery and surrealism. His films are so different in content, but so genious in composition and originality. He is virtuous at combining a quiet atmosphere of everyday life and common characters with a feeling of threatening mystery and lurking evil. He often connects the end part of the film with the beginning and makes the viewer to see the events of the film from a different point of view. The films often develop into a sophisticated story, in which the logical sequence loses sense and alternative options to pure logics are offered. A feeling of anxiety is often present, which pulls the viewer into the story and makes watching concentrated until the end.

Suggested films:
1. Mulholland Drive, 2001.
2. Inland Empire, 2006.
3. Blue Velvet, 1986.
4. Twin Peaks (TV series), 1990 – 1992.
5. Lost Highway, 1997.
6. Eraserhead, 1977.

3. Lars von Trier.
Born: 1956 in Denmark.

Lars von Trier’s films are always very strong emotionally. “Breaking the Waves” and “Dancer in the Dark” emotionally tear you apart. He has always been investigating the essence of human nature, the emotions, the reasons of our actions and the goal of existence. He has also shown surprising settings of very untraditional cinema, for example, in “Dogville”, which is shot on plain floor, where the settings are drawn by chalk. Beside the emotional aspect Trier’s films have also a very deep philosophical meaning. In “Antichrist” he investigates the human nature and where does evil come from, what are the right and wrong ways to deal with human fear and how closely fear is connected to evil. And is evil a natural side  of human character or is it created artificially? All his films ask a lot of philosophic questions, which we are free to interpret and answer in our own way.

Suggested films:
1. Antichrist, 2009.
2. Dancer in the Dark, 2000.
3. Breaking the Waves, 1996.
4. Dogville, 2003.
5. Melancholia, 2011.

4. Alejandro Jodorowsky.
Born: 1929 in Chile.

Alejandro Jodorowsky is a philosopher, showing some essential things of life in phylosophical characters and allegories. His cinematographic world is surreal, cruel, he exposes themes of human desires, merciless and religion. He investigates the demons living inside a human soul. The surroundings of the films are mystical and bizarre, in “Holy Mountain” and “El Topo” action takes place in a vast desert with some symbolic elements. The characters in his films are also original and symbolic. He often uses symbolism, for example in “Holy Mountain” seven wealthy characters represent each one planet of the Solar system. Jodorowsky plays with popular human desires, like extracting gold (ironically from human excrements, by the way) and becoming immortal – is it something, that we really need? Many religious themes are explored in his films – the role of God, power and religious obsession.

Suggested films:
1. The Holy Mountain, 1973.
2. El Topo, 1970.
3. Santa Sangre, 1989.

5. Jim Jarmusch.
Born: 1953 in USA.

Jim Jarmusch is a master of contemplation. His films are like a journey of passing by events and characters, which bring to self awareness and some kind of liberation. “Dead Man” is a beautiful journey of a man, preparing for his death – led by an Indian outcast, who accompanies him through different surreal events and unleashes him in his journey to eternity. And finally, at the end you start thinking – maybe he died already in the beginning of the film and all the film was the journey of his released soul? Jarmusch’s films often have a slow pace, they are meant for observation and contemplation. Jarmusch also explores the phenomenon of time – events, which happen at the same time and the observer quietly starts thinking – are they linked somehow, are we all connected in some subtle level? “Broken Flowers” displays an investigation of the departed time – can something be brought back from it or is it completely lost for us? Jarmusch often leaves the viewer without a clear explanation of the ending – his films are accompanied by a sense of a secret and the viewer is left to reveal the secret by himself.

Suggested films:
1. Dead Man, 1995.
2. Coffee and Cigarettes, 2003.
3. Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, 1999.
4. Broken Flowers, 2005.
5. The Limits of Control, 2009.
6. Mystery Train, 1989.
7. Night on Earth, 1991.

6. Kim Ki – Duk.
Born: 1960 in South Korea.

Kim Ki – Duk is a master of drama, his films have sophisticated stories with a colorful gamma of emotions and characters, which are put in hard and strange situations and have to make hard choices. Many of his films have very little dialogues, they are focused on a beautiful frame composition and a sophisticated story, which makes rethink the choices we make every day and the reasons and consequences of these choices. Many of his films investigate the nature of sexuality and affection. “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring” is one of his most beautiful movies – it is a philosophic tale, filmed in the surroundings of beautiful, wild nature. The movie consists of five parts, each depicting a certain season, which symbolizes a certain stage of life. It shows, how we make human mistakes and repeat them generation after generation, then how we learn from them, become wise and everything repeats again… “Time” explores the freshness in relationship, the meaning of outer appearance juxtaposed to the meaning of soul. Do we stop loving somebody, when we get tired of the outer appearance? If you would change your appearance, would your partner fall in love with you because the new appearance or because of the same beautiful soul? “3-Iron” is about love and untraditional lifestyle. Can you love a man, who hides behind your husband’s back and lives  unnoticed in your house? “The Isle” to my opinion is one of his most impressive films. It takes place on a lake and shows powerful emotions – love, cruelty and all the hard things life is made of. Ki – Duk’s films are a marvelous combination of philosophy, contemplation, irony and beauty.

Suggested films:
1. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring, 2003.
2. The Isle, 2000.
3. 3-Iron (Empty House), 2004.
4. Time, 2006.
5. The Bow, 2005.
6. Samaritan Girl, 2003.

7. Peter Greenaway.
Born: 1942 in United Kingdom.

Peter Greenaway is a glamorous, cruel and bizarre experimenter. He makes movies, which are obscure, shocking and attractant at the same time. In his movies elegance unites with aggression, sexuality, irony,  dignity and despair. “The Cook, the Thief, his Wife and her Lover” is one of the most elegant films I have ever seen. The action takes place in four rooms, each of which is in a different color and the appearance of the characters change according to the room, which they enter. The events of the film develop in an elegantly ironic manner. All his films are imbued with thrilling elegance and artistic irony about human habits. “The Baby of Macon” examines, how do we treat holy and  famous things until they are selfishly torn apart. In Greenaway’s films ugliness and beauty skillfully collide.

Suggested films:
1. The Cook, the Thief, his Wife and her Lover, 1989.
2. A Zed & Two Noughts, 1986.
3. The Belly of an Architect, 1987.
4. 8 ½ Women, 1999.
5. The Baby of Macon, 1993.

8. Emir Kusturica.
Born: 1954 in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Yugoslavia.

Emir Kusturica is a positive surrealist – his films are filled with humor, carousal and festivity reaching ultimate absurd even in cases, when the subject of the film has a tragic manner. Additionally to humorous and tragic aspects of his films, they also have a deep philosophic meaning. Kusturica is also a musician and his own description of his lifestyle states, that in-between rehearsals and concerts he films something. His films are saturated with vivid, joyful orchestra music, which includes the hurried rhytms of gipsy folklore and punk. His films are composed in the same high speed rhytm as his music. Kusturica is famous for his overwhelming imagination, surreal surroundings, energetic characters and absurd situations. And his stories are so live and emotional! They involve the viewer into the scene and make us feel the multiform sides of life in their very extremes.

Suggested films:
1. Underground, 1995.
2. Life is a Miracle, 2004.
3. Black Cat, White Cat, 1998.
4. Time of the Gypsies, 1988.
5. Arizona Dream, 1993.

9. Jos Stelling.
Born: 1945 in Netherlands.

Jos Stelling is a genius without words. He manages to make films without dialogues, which you watch with the deepest interest without even noticing, that they are without words! His movies are beautifully filmed with a wide range of emotions, they are original, inventive and moving as well as bizarre. They display the most eager human wishes, emotions, fears, shame  and experiences. Stelling knows, how to make the viewer to feel the film and involve into it with every cell of his body. Absurd and surreal situations are combined with beautiful scenery and a touching story. Love, sexuality, desire, loneliness and the tragedy of overwhelming human emotions are some of the themes explored brilliantly in Stelling’s movies. He can be also admired for his brilliant use of details!

Suggested films:
1. The Illusionist, 1984.
2. The Pointsman, 1986.
3. No Trains no Planes, 1999.
4. Duska, 2007.
5. The Flying Dutchman, 1995.
6. The Pretenders, 1981.

10. Terry Gilliam.
Born: 1940 in USA.

Terry Gilliam is a director with incredible imagination, a desire for adventures and everything extraordinary. He often uses freaky characters and places them in a surreal, fantasy world without any logical or moral limitations. His films are a mixture of a fairy tale, adventure movie with elements of freaky, bizarre horror. He often uses black humor. Gilliam breaks all the Hollywood rules and follows his own way of unprecedented art-house  cinema.

Suggested films:
1. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, 1998.
2. Tideland, 2005.
3. Brazil, 1985.
4. Twelve Monkeys, 1995.

11. Pedro Almodovar.
Born: 1949 in Spain.

Pedro Almodovar is a delicate investigator of human emotions, hidden underneath the  small things of everyday life. He depicts ordinary people, affected by unexpected and strange situations, their hidden desires, hopes, pain and joy. His films often have sophisticated and most certainly unexpected stories, which are very closely related to real life. Everybody’s life story is a sophisticated drama, worth to make a film upon it. His films are dramas about ordinary people, showing the very details of their emotional life. Besides all the atmosphere of a small Spanish town and society in his films is charming. There is one more extraordinary thing about Almodovar’s movies – in the centre of action he puts the most beautiful, complicated, delightful and misunderstood phenomenon in the world – women.

Suggested films:
1. To Return (Volver), 2006.
2. Talk to Her, 2002.
3. Bad Education, 2004.
4. All About my Mother, 1999.
5. Live Flesh, 1997.
6. Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, 1988.

11. Andrei Zvyagintsev.
Born: 1964 in USSR.

Andrey Zvyagintsev makes surreal films, which talk to the viewer in a direct, sincere manner. He examines the harsh sides of human relationships in the family: between the husband and the wife as well as between the father and his sons. The movies are filmed in the surroundings of surreal nature landscapes with a slight sense of mystery. A wider view of the world is present – existential revelations are explored in Zvyagintsev’s films, for example,  “our children are not only ours”. The irony of faith, love and death is presented in brilliantly composed stories, where misunderstandings in relationships bring to tragic consequences. Have we learned to listen to each other and to hear truly and to understand our loved ones?

Suggested films:
1. The Return, 2003.
2. The Banishment, 2007.
3. Elena, 2011.

12. Krzysztof Kieslowski.
Born: 1941 in Poland, died in 1996.

Krzysztof Kieslowski is a poet of sound, visual atmosphere and emotion. His films remind of a romantic, nostalgic and melancholic poem of the most beautiful words. His most well known trilogy of Three Colors: Blue, White and Red (the colors of France’s flag) symbolizes the France’s basic values – Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. The movies have a rather slow pace, bringing the viewer into romantic contemplation and compassion. The beautiful music of Zbigniew Preisner plays a great role in the films. It makes viewers not only to see, but also to feel the destiny of the main characters. The “Blue” film could be described as sad, melancholically beautiful and inspiring, the “White” film goes into juxtapositions as desperate, but life affirming and the “Red” film can be considered as nostalgic, longing and ironic. Kieslowski masterfully integrates elements from the first films into the next, thus connecting the films into one whole trilogy.

Suggested films:
1. Three Colors: Blue, 1993.
2. Three Colors: White, 1994.
3. Three Colors: Red, 1994.
4. The Double Life of Veronique, 1991.

13. David Cronenberg.
Born: 1943 in Canada.

David Cronenberg is an extraordinary film director, especially his early works are extremely bizarre and surreal. His films often have a freakily horrorful and psychological manner, he explores the imaginary world of subconsciousness, leading to hallucinations and panic. “Videodrome” and “Naked Lunch” are equally bizarre, exposing hallucinations of big bugs, a live TV and a VCR hole in the stomach. His famous film “The Fly” depicts a human mutating into a giant fly. “Spider” is a beautiful, surrealistic movie, depicting a schizophrenic mind and the memories, which it tries to recall. How misleading can a human mind be? Is everything, that we seem to remember true and real? How can we be sure of it? His latter films do not have so many surreal elements. “A History of Violence” is a film with an unpredictable story, where an owner of a café and a decent family man turns out to have a dark past. And the irony is, that no matter, how he wants it, he can’t escape from it. “Eastern Promises” is a strong psychological thriller, filled with romance and cruelty, which leaves a very strong emotional impression. Cronenberg is so multi-sided, so extreme and so unexpected, that watching his movies is a thrilling pleasure. And they certainly leave something to think about…

Suggested films:
1. Videodrome, 1983.
2. Naked Lunch, 1991.
3. Spider, 2002.
4. The Brood, 1979.
5. The Fly, 1986.
6. Dead Ringers, 1988.
7. A History of Violence, 2005.
8. Eastern Promises, 2007.

14. Stanley Kubrick.
Born: 1928 in USA, died in 1999.

Stanley Kubrick is a multi-sided filmmaker, each of his films depicts a different theme, but the uniting elements of his films are mystery and exciting storyline. He has been also controversial by creating films, which were rapidly criticized because of their amorality and aggression (“Lolita” and “A Clockwork Orange”). “A Clockwork Orange” investigates the problem of crime and aggression in the society and which would be the best ways to deal with it. Can anything really help, if a person has aggressive tendencies in the personality? “The Shining” is one of his most famous films – it belongs to the classics of horror. What makes it so good is, that the film is not focused on blood and violence, but it has a truly mysterious atmosphere and leads to some unexpected events at the end part. “Full Metal Jacket” explores the military theme and aggression in the army. “Eyes Wide  Shut” is one of his most surreal films, depicting exotic and mysterious sides of life, that a married man longs for and the danger, where it can lead. It has a thrilling and unpredictable storyline. “2001: A Space Odyssey” explores the cosmological theme and asks questions about the origin of humanity, the uniqueness of human emotions, the relativity of time and space and some forces, which are more ancient than the humanity as well as the danger linked to exploring these subjects…

Suggested films:
1. Eyes Wide Shut, 1999.
2. A Clockwork Orange, 1971.
3. The Shining, 1980.
4. 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968.

15. Darren Aronofsky.
Born: 1969 in USA.

Darren Aronofsky is a true master of surrealism, his films have surreal psychological and philosophical content. He focuses on hard and dark themes: obsession, addiction, loneliness, desire of achievements and destroying passion. He makes the viewer wonder, what is really important in life. His first directed film “Pi” is a masterpiece – it is original, surreal, it depicts a scientist’s crazy obsession with the perfect number of nature, which would explain the structure of the whole world. Is it better to live with eternal headache and hallucinations being a genius of mathematic or rather to become an ordinary person with no gifts, but a calm mind? “Requiem for a Dream” also investigates the nature of obsession, which can lead to madness, poverty and humiliation. The film is filled with surreal elements, hallucinations and it has a tragically mysterious atmosphere. “The Fountain” is a romantic tale, depicting a scientist’s efforts to find medicine to heal his sick wife, showing, that, what is important for him, is not important for the world and opposite. “The Wrestler” has less surrealism, but it has a very strong emotional content, showing a wrestler, who can’t do anymore the only thing, which he knows and makes him happy – wrestling. The film also depicts the destroying side of his passion – loneliness and alienation from his only daughter. “Black Swan” is a story of a young ballet-dancer, her aspirations for the main role, her inner conflict with herself and her competing colleagues, which leads to distortion of the reality…

Suggested films:
1. Pi, 1998.
2. Requiem for a Dream, 2000.
3. The Fountain, 2006.
4. The Wrestler, 2008.
5. Black Swan, 2010.

16. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.
Born: 1963 in Mexico.

Inarritu’s films share the theme of death and investigate it in a deep philosophical and emotional way. “Life’s a Bitch” is centered around a car crash, which has a big impact on three otherwise unrelated stories. The film shows us, how love can make us do big things and how forgiving and unselfish it can be, how some events can deprive us from the meaning of life,  the atonement of our mistakes, misfortune and consolation. “21 Grams” has the same structure as his previous film – the action also centers around a car accident, which severely impacts the lives of the involved people. Feelings of guilt and revenge, love and helplessness bring a tragedy upon them. “Babel” is a magnificent film, uniting four continents and showing the differences of mentality and perception of life between these continents. His latest film “Biutiful” shows attempts of a deadly sick man to prepare for his death and misfortunes to do so, showing his painful emotions as the result of it. His way to peace was hard, but he did everything to finally reach it…

Suggested films:
1. Babel, 2006.
2. 21 Grams, 2003.
3. Life’s a Bitch (Amores Perros), 2000.
4. Biutiful, 2010.

17. Roy Andersson.
Born: 1943 in Sweden.

Roy Andersson is a philosophic surrealist – his films are made in pale colors, his characters have pale faces and they look like ordinary people, not like film stars, they symbolize ordinary people. Andersson’s films are symbolic allegories. They make us laugh and cry about ourselves, they make us see, how silly we are in our everyday actions, aspirations and viewpoints. They make us see, how we don’t hear and don’t understand each other or how we just don’t care. His films are filled with irony, showing how ironical life actually is. Why do we make victims out of ourselves? Why do we make complains, lie and cheat and do all the other useless things we do every day, if the result of it is useless anyway? “You, the Living” says the name of an Andersson’s  film – you have the privilege to live at this moment and it won’t be for long, so why don’t you make any use of it? Someday very soon it can be too late. Andersson has created some greatly beautiful surrealistic views: all the hurt and deceived people rising up from the field and moving closer to a heap of garbage crucifixes; the ghost of the cheated friend and the hanged boy, following the main character in “Songs from the Second Floor” as well as the house moving and people hiding from rain in a small bus stop in “You, the Living”. His integration of music is also incredible. In public transport the passengers suddenly start singing an opera. The small orchestra occasionally performing in the background of “You, the Living” is incredibly charming.

Suggested films:
1. Songs from the Second Floor, 2000.
2. You, the Living, 2007.


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§ One Response to Best thrilling surrealistic and philosophic film directors

  • namy hunt says:

    Liked the list…but missing some important names….Ingmar Bergman ? Charles Bresson ? Bela Tarr ? Apichatpong W ? Sergei Parajanov ? Jan Svankmajer ? Godfrey Reggio ? Satoshi Kon? Mani Kaul ? Satyajit Ray ? Pramod Pati ? Cristian Mungui ? Werner Herzog ? Harmony Korine ? Terrence Mallick ? Carlos Reygadas ? Pasolini ? Abbas Kiarostami ? Mukhmalbaf ? Wim Wenders ? and many undiscovered….

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