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Spring Edition
Volume 98, Number 4

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Off the Shelf Classics (continued)

Reid Perkins-Buzo
REID PERKINS-BUZO is an assistant professor of communication.

Travel the World Without Leaving Your Living Room
Classic foreign films for summer viewing

What makes a film “classic”? Hans Georg Gadamer’s definition of a cultural classic (in his work Wahrheit und Methode) describes a work whose persistent excess of meaning blocks a once-and-for-all interpretation. The classics of art, reason, and religion impact us, bringing an ever-new disclosing and transformative truth to our lives. At the center of this powerful truth lies neither the cultural classic itself nor ourselves as its interpreters, but the interpretive spiral guiding us to orbit the classic. Of course, our interpretations will unavoidably differ from those of other contexts, since we bring different pre-understandings to the task of interpretation. Nonetheless, film classics, like other cultural classics, invite us to a disclosing and transformative truth that remains always new, always compelling.

Ikiru (1952)
[English: To Live] Directed by Akira Kurosawa; written by Shinobu Hashimoto and Akira Kurosawa
Kurosawa’s greatest film. It starts by focusing on Kanji Watanabe, a longtime bureaucrat in a city office who, along with the rest of the office, spends his entire working life doing nothing, helping no one. It ends in perhaps the most transformative scene in any film. If you have a heart open to conversion, this film will affect you.

Francesco, giullare di Dio (1950)
[English: The Flowers of St. Francis] Directed by Roberto Rossellini; written by Fredrico Fellini
Rossellini directed the seminal neo-realist films Rome Open City and Germany, Year Zero, defining a genre of legendary proportions. What is not often realized is that he also created fantasy films, mixing the miraculous and supernatural into neo-realism in La Macchina ammazzacattivi. In addition, he was the master of Christian films, not only in Francesco giullare di Dio, but also in Europa ’51, Giovanna d’Arco al rogo, Blaise Pascal, and Agostino d’Ippona. Francesco giullare di Dio is a moving retelling of the life and legend of St. Francis, superb in its writing, acting, and directing.

Jeder fr sich und Gott gegen alle (1974)
[English: Every Man for Himself and God Against All] Written and directed by Werner Herzog
This film is based upon the mysterious true story of Kaspar Hauser, who suddenly appeared in Nuremberg (1828), barely able to speak or walk. The only information was a cryptic note pinned to his jacket; he later told how he had been held in a cellar for his entire life, and had only just been released, for reasons unknown. Herzog’s collaboration with Bruno S. (playing Kaspar Hauser) in both this film and his later Stroszek yields a surrealistic style of performance rarely seen in any film. A profoundly metaphoric work.

Hynes (1992)
[English: Hyenas] Directed by Djibril Diop Mambéty
A formerly flourishing Senegalese village has been falling further into poverty each year. The elders must sell their town’s possessions to cover its debts. In the midst of this crisis, a former villager of fabulous beauty named Linguère (who was mistreated before she left), returns, now very rich. Some of the elders plot to swindle her financially, getting her millions for themselves. In fact, Linguère has her own plan. The twist at the end reveals the universality of human folly and greed. The screenplay was adapted from the Friedrich Dürrenmatt play The Visit.

Tonari no Totoro (1988)
[English: My Neighbor Totoro] Written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki
The best film Ghibli Studios has ever done. This says a lot since they have made masterpieces like Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi (Spirited Away), Mononoke-hime (Princess Mononoke), Majo no takkyûbin (Kiki’s Delivery Service), and many others. All Ghibli films display incredible visual art, and Totoro is no exception. So what makes this one so great? The story! In this case, of a Japan in the late 1950s, two young girls growing up with their father while their mother is temporarily ill. And the Totoro. There is no character in film history like the Totoro.

—REID PERKINS-BUZO is an assistant professor of communication.

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