Personally, I adore the Before Trilogy. In narrating a journey that holds a mirror up to ourselves. The thrills of a new connection, and the nuances of a relationship unfolding over time. There is something about such stories that resonate. Following a fascination with our emotional engagement with cinema, I remain in awe of this perceptual experience how it leaves us lingering between the unveiling of another’s vision, and the recognition of our most intimate traces, onscreen. I feel this is the beauty of art, revealing the universality of the human experience. With this notion in mind, I’ve compiled a selection of must-see films for Miilkiina. They are films about self-discovery and intimacy.

Before Trilogy (1995 – 2013)

So many details in Linklater’s
Before Trilogy remain enticing. It’s been years since I discovered the first. Yet, I still find something new that lingers with each reviewing—a beautifully heralded documentation of falling in love and all that it incorporates. The films begin with a chance encounter on the train that incites intrigue. However, as the young American Jesse (Ethan Hawke) provocatively suggests that Celine, a young French woman (Julie Delpy), postpones her return to France, the newly acquainted couple take on a spontaneous expedition through the streets of Vienna. Though beyond its study of the intricacies of human relationships, the film also lends itself to an exploration of the relationship we have with ourselves. In an almost confessional manner, the couple unveils all from their intimate fears to childhood nostalgia. Their youthful desires mirror stirring honesty.

Jamón, Jamón (1992)

In an intriguing dance between pleasure and politics, a young Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem captivate hearts in this evocative Spanish oeuvre, by Bigas Luna. All shot within particular lighting that enhances the film’s unnatural surrealism, the
world that the film evokes is one in which everything is commodified. Everyone is driven solely by a carnal desire to consume everything, be it material goods, food, or people. Each character symbolizes an exaggerated aspect of Iberian identity. In navigating through life in a purely superficial manner, the characters are incapable of harboring any genuine emotion. Films about self-discovery are rampant with these themes. Within this climate, we follow the relationship between Silvia (Cruz) and Raúl (Bardem), who fall in and out of love. They are quick to romance with a passion for whatever object of desire they each encounter.

Splendor in the Grass (1961)

Though belonging to a past generation, the film adheres to themes of timeless quality. Following my obsession with Natalie Wood throughout my adolescence,
Elia Kazan’s Splendor in the Grass (1961) remains a classic that I’ll always return to, for its delicate embodiment of a young woman’s coming of age. This is an intimate revelation of the dilemmas encountered by two teenagers in 1920s Kansas. The narrative sees their desire for one another met with judgment and attempted suicide. Though it may deceivingly appear as none but a middle-class romance, the film more intriguingly dwells on other themes. Those of societal morals, values, and a way of life that may be static and life-killing. These performances that stay with you long after the first viewing.

This is a genuine feeling you get with films about self-discovery. We are left with thoughts about the nature of personal identity. What masks do we embrace to conceal true human emotion?

La Dolce Vita

Fellini’s gift for the highly-theatrical image was a central aspect of his films. Though beyond this, his monochromic voyage amid the streets of Rome revealed an array of captivating personages, each confessing. Who can forget the image of Sylvia (Anita Ekberg) luring Marcello into the Trevi fountain? A symbol of innocence and feminine purity, juxtaposed against the scenery of a corrupted world. Yet, with Mastroianni’s refined portrayal of a troubled soul, we are left to face brutal questions. Those about the essence of man while we witness him drift from intrigued to obsessed, cynical to insecure. Ultimately, Fellini takes us beyond the decadence of a modernist Rome, to observe the city’s greatest asset: its people. He replaces the social with the intimate, and in doing so, provokes a lyrical authenticity.

Conte d’Automne (1998)

With themes of maturity, personal fulfillment, and unrequited love, the final chapter of Eric Rohmer’s four seasons cycle of films are arguably the warmest (even beyond that of Conte D’Ete by my account). In a spirit that was an evident precursor to the films of Linklater, the script bathes in lyrical prose that f
ollows the director’s sensibility towards understanding his characters; men, women, middle-aged adults, and teens alike. Magali is a forty-something, winemaker, and a widow: she loves her work but feels lonely. The film follows the efforts of her friends, Rosine and Isabelle, who both want to find a husband for her secretly. With a meticulous exploration of the human condition, Rohmer unveils the pursuit of romance, along with the differences between the sexes, in a charming tale that leaves its viewers self-reflecting. A classic take on films about self-discovery.

Le Mepris (1963)

A personal favorite: Godard’s intimate embodiment of humanity manifests in his 1963 classic Le Mepris, or Contempt, with Brigitte Bardot and Michel Piccoli. It is based on the existential novel by Alberto Moravia. This oeuvre is, as Godard once reflected, “a simple film, about complicated things.”

For, beyond the film’s linear narrative of a marriage falling apart, there is a simplicity about the film. One that is also undercut continuously by Godard’s stylistic ability to express the intangible visually. However, the film’s coherent structure disguises the complexity of internal emotions, through the deterioration of a relationship that addresses a deeper understanding of the human psyche.