Catharsis through film: freedom and dystopia
A list of independent films to escape with
By By Tamara Vujinovic and Isis Menteth Wheelwright / 26 November 2020
Mine and Tamara’s friendship is founded on many beautiful things. One of these is film. In fact, in recent years we've spent living in separate cities; sharing a love of film and to-watch ‘lists’ have been vital forms of communication.
When I first left London for University, Isis made me a film list. I didn’t know it at the time, but this small act of care became a great source of comfort for me during a dislocating and often lonely experience. These films became a form of escape from the many disappointments of University living. This connection has continued in our current state of geographical, temporal and emotional limitation; we are alone, together. We are all seeking some escapism, together. As we exist in this second state of stagnation, film has been a continued source of catharsis. It has the ability to enact our emotions for us - a dark or light, what we see on screen allows us too; to heal. Here's why we made a lockdown film list matching two sides of the emotional-lockdown-coin: freedom and dystopia. Sometimes we want to approach lightness and sometimes, we need darkness.
Transported from our separate bedrooms to different eras, locations and realities, we want you to do the same. We tried to pick films that we shared together- and even if you don’t watch any of these, maybe you can write your friend a list and transport them too.
‘EMA’ (CHILE, 2020) - Ema oozes freedom. Ema is a glorious fire-spewing, reggaeton dancing, and dignified mess of a woman. She knows what she wants and she is gonna get it. This Chilean explosion of a film takes you through all the emotions, set in Valparaiso, the most vibey place in the world. Where the streets make you feel as wonky as the beat they dance to. Prescribed is a dance in your room afterwards.
‘Black Cat White Cat’ (SERBIA, 1998) - This black comedy follows the lives of a Roma community living on the banks of the Danube river. Magical and mostly ridiculous, this film will transport you to a world far from our current circumstances.
‘Victoria’ (BERLIN, 2015) - This Berlin masterpiece is one shot, yes you read that correctly. The whole damn film is in one TAKE. 138 minutes. The energy this style of filmmaking creates is overwhelming. It's a slow burner, but stay with it, it will take you somewhere so sticky and real, you forget you're watching a film at all. Instead, you're transported to a Berlin nightclub- you can feel the smoke on your skin and you can smell the heat.
‘Cinema Paradiso’ (ITALY, 1988) - This is a Sicilian masterpiece of nostalgia and romance. It is the kind of film you never leave. It tells the beauty of cinema, memory, romance. This is a film to fall in love with, go away with and come out of it a better person. It also includes one of the most beautiful kissing scenes in all of cinema. We challenge it not to swell and melt your heart.
‘Paris is Burning’ (NEW YORK, 1990) - This documentary depicts the ultimate freedom of self-expression, to move your body and explore the facets of who you really are on the inside. Become obsessed with these queer pioneers of ballroom culture in New York. This film has had more influence than any other could be described. Just watch an episode of Drag Race and hear ‘reading is fundamental’ ‘the realness’ and so on - an endless vocabulary defined from the queer ball scene of new york in the 1980s.
As we explored these filmic journeys together, we recognised the connection between many films of late that reflect our experience now. Entrapment, confinement and discarded from an outside world. We see the ‘basement’ of Parasite, ‘the tethered’ of US, the house of Dogtooth and the basement of Underground. What does this cinematic obsession with the underworld say about our time, about our divisions and the binaries between ourselves? That, we don’t completely know. But catharsis can come through the engagement with this idea, to understand it and to tackle it.
Dogtooth (GREECE, 2009) - Dogtooth takes place in an anaemic looking house, of which the adult children cannot leave. Their lives driven by the symbolic language of their father, made up to reinforce their entrapment. It is ultimately a tale of parental control taken to the extremes and the way it manifests the human psyche. It questions the power of subversion and control when we don’t question the borders we reinforce within ourselves. This leaves a cold concrete taste in your mouth.
‘Underground’ (YUGOSLAVIA, 1995) - Underground is an examination of Yugoslavian history- from its liberation to its demise. Like much of Kusturica’s work, the film adopts a magic realist style in its exploration of the relationship between fantasy, violence, identity and nationhood. An underground cellar acts as a literal metaphor of entrapment by political forces- in this case, Tito’s socialist Yugoslavia. At 3 hours, this film provides a wonderfully absurd cinematic experience with much to interpret.
‘Us’ (USA, 2019) - This film, an overlooked classic of cinematic achievement. In my eyes, it is as rich in commentary as it is scary. The concepts Jordan Peele explores connect so personally to the binaries of our lives, disjointed things that live inside of us and structure history. Class, racism, global inequality, those dark bits of your psyche you don’t want to see. Us gets right in there and makes you question them all.
‘Parasite’ (SOUTH KOREA, 2019) - Bong Joon-ho describes the apt intention of Parasite: ‘I tried to express a sentiment specific to Korean culture, all the responses from different audiences were pretty much the same. Essentially we all live in the same country… called Capitalism’. This masterpiece explores how the unseen structures of capitalism force our minds into division, we all become parasites of each other. Whether this is from underneath or above, we are all trapped in it.
‘Sorry to Bother You’ (USA, 2018) - This will probably be one of the weirdest things you’ve ever seen, and it's genius. Sometimes fantasy is the only way we tell stories about our own reality; so strange it needs to be understood by watching something even stranger. Boots Riley has made a film so rich in interpretation in his story of Cassius Green, that watching it once doesn’t even feel like enough. This film, about power, about capitalism, about corporate greed, depicts a world just as bullshit crazy as our own.
‘The Act of Killing’ (INDONESIA, 2012) - This documentary follows an Indonesian warlord (Anwar) as he creates his own movie; a reenactment of the crimes he committed during the 1960s mass killings. The film raises all kinds of questions regarding morality, history and remorse and how these themes are differently interpreted and embodied. The film is unlike anything else, to watch a man retell his past you watch a performance of darkness from within his mind's eye and experience a transformation alongside him.
Share this article