While American viewers latched onto Kurosawa very easily, his countryman Yasujiro Ozu was a different story. Ozu was one of the wisest of filmmakers and seemed to understand that peace came from acceptance. Yet distributors were reluctant to touch his films for fear that he was "too Japanese." Thankfully that stigma is gone now, and Ozu's films have been widely appreciated, especially the masterpiece Tokyo Story (1953). In telling the story of an aging couple whose grown children no longer have time for them, Ozu's style is patient and serene, set at mid-level, and using long takes. He often includes rest points, or "pillow shots" of various views, such as clotheslines or train tracks, that serve to create a certain languid, Sunday afternoon pace. This is one of those rare movies that could actually change your life (and make you want to call your parents).
After World War II, from the ruins of Italy rose a new breed of filmmakers that began making films about the way things actually were; this movement was dubbed Neo-Realism. Perhaps the most famous of these was Federico Fellini. One of his best films, La Strada (1954) saw Fellini breaking away from Neo-Realism and veering into new, more striking imagery. Fellini's muse Giulietta Masina plays Gelsomina, a poor little waif girl whose mother sells her as an assistant to a brutish traveling circus strongman, Zampano (Anthony Quinn). The strongman treats her miserably, but trains her to be a sweet little clown who dances and passes the hat for money. Richard Basehart plays another circus performer who gives Gelsomina hope, albeit briefly. It's a sad tale, but filled with Fellini's passionate images, vibrant beings clashing with desolate spaces, looking for moments of glory. It won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.
A Man Escaped
In France, Robert Bresson was one of the most unique filmmakers in the world, working to get at the human soul through minimalism and purity. He called his actors "models," because he didn't really want any acting in the traditional sense. His prison escape movie, A Man Escaped (1956), is a story reduced to its details. A man (Francois Leterrier), alone in his cell, learns to communicate with the outside world, creates tools that create an opportunity, and then creates more tools. The man's captors, the Gestapo, are never shown, and other prisoners are only glimpsed. Amazingly, without specifically trying to generate suspense, Bresson generates it anyway. And, through it all, comes an existential experience, a meditation on man's quest for freedom, survival, and salvation. It's based on a real-life memoir by André Devigny.
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