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After Life

So as I'm sure everyone knows, I'm a film student. I like to watch a lot of movies because you never know what will inspire you when you least expect it. A lot of times, I'll see a movie that I like and that I'm glad that I saw. Something that I often say about these films though, is "but it didn't change my life". That might sound a little hyperbolicious to some of you, but for me, sometimes a movie will do just that. I have an ongoing list of movies in my head that I refer to as my 'top 10' and within that 10 is obviously a 'top 5'. The top 5 movies are constant and the lower 5 don't matter specifically which number they are, but they're there.

In order, my Top 5 is:

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - This is the movie that made me want to become a film student. It's creativity, ingenuity, and story are unsurpassed to me. I first saw this film when I was going through an awkward stage in my long relationship with Cody and so the film touched a really exposed nerve for me and completely upheaved my view on relationships and breakups. When I left the theater, I was pensive and I found myself crying about it long after we left because I couldn't get it out of my skin.

Amelie - This film just makes me happy. Its cinematography and art direction are top notch and the characters, especially Audrey Tautou's Amelie, are so easy to love. I've watched this movie possibly more than any other on this list.

Requiem for a Dream - This is the most starkly, psychologically painful film I've ever seen. There's no happy ending for anyone in this film. It's gritty and gut wrenching, but beautifully rhythmic and visually powerful. This is another movie that stayed with me for a long time after watching it for the first time. Ellen Burstyn's monologue about growing old puts a lump in my throat every time.

The Fountain - I love this one mostly because of the epic scope of the film, but also from a filmmaking perspective, the passion Darren Aronofsky had about this movie as well as all the trials and tribulations he had in trying to get this put together and released. Rachel Weisz and Hugh Jackman both give outstanding performances in this film.

What Dreams May Come - Beautiful imagery and a moving storyline. This movie makes me cry like a baby every time I see it. Every time.

The rest of my top 10, in random order, there is:

Dancer in the Dark

The reason I'm writing about any of this is because in class tonight, we watched a movie that may have made its way into my Top 5 after first viewing.

The film is called 'After Life', which was made in 1998 by Japanese director Kore-eda Hirokazu.
Has anyone else seen this? Without divulging too much about the story and ruining anything, the reason I feel so affected by this film is because it encompasses almost everything that put the aforementioned 5 films in the Top 5 to begin with.
It centers around a halfway home of sorts where people, young or old, are sent to for a week after they die. Upon arrival, each deceased person is assigned an agent who will assist them for three days with deciding on only one specific memory that made the deceased most happy or affected their life in the biggest way. For the rest of the week, the agents would then do their best to recreate that memory and film it for the client to take with them into the afterlife. The client will then live within that memory for the rest of eternity, forgetting all else in the world. The story becomes more dimensional when it's revealed who the agents are and why they do what they do (it's all spoken about and performed in a very routine, business-like fashion).
This film is exquisitely wonderful. It's shot in a documentary style (think a real documentary, not like Cloverfield documentary style) with natural lighting and gritty, realistic sets. The home made memory films (which the movie doesn't even make a big production about revealing) have a whimsical DIY sort of feel to them, which reminded me a lot of Michel Gondry's style in ESotSM and in Science of Sleep (think fake trees and cotton clouds).
The film is very talky, in that maybe 1/2 of it (and it's a long movie) consists of the clients being interviewed, which could potentially lead to something scarily tedious and dreadfully boring to watch. This is never the case because the characters are all very engaging and so genuine. The reason for this is because most of the characters are non-actors. The director interviewed hundreds and hundreds of people to find the right ones, who then discussed frankly and passionately their own real memories about what made them happiest in life. This brings a touching quality that would be hard to emulate with actors and scripts. One of the most touching 'clients' is a 70 year old woman whose favorite memory is from when she was a little girl dancing in a show and remembering how proud her older brother was of her. Behind the cut is part of her interview, if you'd like to watch it:

So for me, what makes me say that a movie has "changed my life" is how it makes me feel while watching it, but more importantly how it makes me feel after it's over. This film made me think about so many aspects of my life and it made me really try hard to think about if I were given, at this point in my life, the same task of choosing the one memory that defined happiness for me, what would it be?

Would it be a memory about Dom? I've been happier and more satisfied in the past two years with him than I have with anyone else. Would it be about Cody, who was the first person I ever truly fell in love with? Would it be about my mother? Would it just be a feeling? Laying in the grass or climbing a tree or flying a kite? Is my happiest memory still yet to come?

The clients in the film are given 3 days to decide on their memory and I'm not sure if I'd be able to choose just one. As soon as I got home from school today, I found the DVD online and bought it right away. I can't wait to watch it again.

Does anyone think they know what memory they'd choose to relive for the rest of time?



(Deleted comment)
Sep. 15th, 2009 05:14 am (UTC)
I phrased that poorly. I meant 'the bottom of my top 10'. I'll fix that.
Sep. 15th, 2009 05:48 am (UTC)
I adore this film. I've also seen Nobody Knows, which has that same heartbreaking quietness to it, though more grim (it's about several children who are in an apartment, but the landlord would only rent it to the mother if she had one, so they all have to remain quiet and indoors, and the mother basically abandons them).

I often wonder about top ten lists, and why people tend to really exclusively rank recent films. Is it because people don't see a lot of older films, or really value novelty or action or something that modern films do more heavily?
Sep. 16th, 2009 01:50 pm (UTC)
I've seen my share of older films (some by choice and many, many were seen in history of narrative cinema classes).

Personally, when I see an old film, a real classic, I can appreciate it for its cultural and technical significance and I can usually see what makes it a real classic. Even films like Battleship Potemkin and Birth of a Nation - not the kind of films that you'd want to toss into the dvd player, pop some corn, and spend your saturday night with - have their place in the historical significance of cinema.
What I think keeps these films out of most people's ranks of 'favorite films' or in my case 'the films that changed my life' is relatability. When I watch a film, any film, and I'm sure I'm not the only one who does this, I place myself into the minds of the characters and try know how I would feel if I were in their situation. Something like Cloverfield, for example - I love that movie, but it didn't "change my life". It's exciting and action packed, but I can't relate to the situation. But then, in the case of What Dreams May Come, I know what it's like to lose a loved one, so I relate to the characters.
This isn't to say that older movies don't tackle themes like these, because they often do, and there are older films that have "changed my life" so to speak.
Carl Dreyer's 1928The Passion of Joan of Arc, for example. Most people find this movie to be excruciating to watch (as it is a silent film), but I think it's an exquisite film that was way way before its time.

I guess my point is, newer films are more relatable for most people and modern filmmakers have gotten better at really honing in on what makes a film powerful and emotional.
(Deleted comment)
Sep. 16th, 2009 01:33 pm (UTC)
This is definitely a good one.
Sep. 16th, 2009 09:56 am (UTC)
no city of lost children or the science of sleep?
Sep. 16th, 2009 09:56 am (UTC)
feh that's what i get for scanning my flist.
Sep. 16th, 2009 01:33 pm (UTC)
City of Lost Children is great. Maybe in my top 11 - 15. ;)
Science of Sleep didn't really do too much for me. Unless you count full frontal nudity of Gael Garcia Bernal, of course. haha.
Sep. 22nd, 2009 05:08 pm (UTC)
I'm glad I'm not the only one who feels that way about What Dreams May Come. Sobbing. Crying. Baby. Every. Time.