Bernardo Villela is the writer/editor of a film blog, The Movie Rat, which features movie reviews, analysis & insights on a wide range of topics. There are new or updated posts daily. He has also has experience writing prose and plays; feature and short film editing; writing and directing short films as well as television commercial copy-writing and directing. To read a more detailed biography on his other works visit his production company’s site. For his fictional writings visit his Amazon author page . For random thoughts follow him on Twitter.
Also, check out his Underrated '86 list:
1. All the Women in the World (Todas as Mulheres do Mundo) Dir. Domingos de Oliveira
As a dual citizen of the US and Brazil there is a bit of self-consciousness regarding national cinema for me. On the one hand, I do not want to have a typically negative reactionary response to the quality of product the country produces (that actually seems to be the prevailing sentiment); and on the other hand I do not want to ethnocentrically assume the work to be the best.
When first looking into doing this list I saw this in my IMDb vote history with a high rating and I had amnesia regarding it. Way back when I would rate everything on the IMDb instantly, so I knew I had seen it I just needed to jog my memory.
I knew it was a work by Domingos de Oliveira, one of the most celebrated Brazilian directors of all time. I knew it was a product of the 1960s made it part of the Cinema Novo movement, which was one of the many ripples La Nouvelle Vague sent through the cinematic ocean at that time. I knew that it starred Leila Diniz, who is something of a Brazilian legend due not only to her beauty but also her tragic death at the mystical age of 27.
Upon further research, I found a full scene on Vimeo and I recall what it was I responded to. The synopsis is simple: a single man, having met a woman ponders the meaning of monogamy and if it’s an ideal he can live up to. It could be a set-up for a farcical comedy but it is a serious examination with lyrical dialogue, tremendous insight, and a certain heightened reality in its naturalistic approach.
2. Father (Apa) Dir. István Szabó
If you follow my blog, or check my other lists, you’ll note that Hungarian cinema has been a large influence on me. This film was one of the early ones I viewed. Bryan Burns writes in World Cinema 5: Hungary of István Szabó that “he has been able successfully to move from the domestic to the international industry. When one sets him against competitors such as Jancsó and Kovács are cerebral and demanding; Szabó likes to tell stories, enjoys characterisation and wishes to appeal to a wide audience.” A parallel in France would be Truffaut as opposed to Godard.
Father tells the tale of a boy from Budapest whose dad died when he was six in 1945. As an adult Takó (András Bálint) imagines his father performing heroic feats, and the relationship they would have had, even if this doesn’t necessarily mesh with reality.
In a certain way it’s a fitting post-WW II film for all of Europe and not only for Hungary. It’s one that’s worth finding.
3. Maya Dir. John Berry
Maya is a film that ended up on one of my film discoveries list. It tells the story of Terry Bowen, (Jay North in a post-Dennis the Menace role) who runs off into the Indian jungle after a fight with his father Hugh Bowen (Clint Walker). While out in the wilds he is aided in his survival by an urchin he meets named Raji (Sajid Khan) and Maya, an elephant. The father-son conflict proves that Hugh Bowen as interpreted by Clint Walker deserves a spot in the Cinematic Ass-dads Hall of Fame.
This is a film I only saw thanks to Warner Archive, and oddly enough it did spawn a spin-off TV show that ran for one season the following year, which is also available from Warner Archive, and oddly a bit better since episodic escapades are the focus and not the father-son drama.
4. Black Girl Dir. Ousamane Sembène
This is a film I saw on Netflix in a time when Netflix would still stream such a title.
In the 1960s a tale of a Senegalese woman moving to France in search of a better life and taking a job as a governess, was a novel enough concept. When you also take into account that the filmmaker Ousamane Sembène is Senegalese himself, a man whom rightly has been cited as the father of African cinema, it’s even more noteworthy.
It’s a film that runs a brisk 65 minutes but whose impact is not lessened by it because of the simple, harsh realities and the damned if you do damned if you don’t scenario it portrays. It was honored at the Carthage Film Festival and with the Prix Jean Vigo but its acclaim in American cinephile circles was slow in coming, and many movie buffs still need to discover it.
5. What’s Up, Tiger Lily? Dir. Woody Allen
This is the spot where to make the five I had to decide between outliers for great directors, and this film is definitely more off the beaten path for Woody Allen than Torn Curtain is for Hitch - though I agree with my favorite professor that he did dip a bit following that effort.
Anyway, What’s Up Tiger, Lily? is different for Woody Allen isn’t in it. What Allen did was take a Japanese action film International Secret Police: Key of Keys and re-dubbed it making the plot about a secret egg salad recipe.
The obvious connection is to the later MST3K, but there’s one major difference: the crew on the Satellite of Love respond to the film they were watching, Allen scraps the audio and reframes the narrative. If you think on it further it shows the unfortunate power that’s at play in ADR booths when films are dubbed - a noteworthy serious example is how much nonsensical dialogue is added on the English language track of The House by the Cemetery.
I’m fairly sure I saw this before I saw MST3K and really had an appreciation of Woody Allen’s other works. It made me receptive to it and I quickly found his “early, funny movies” and loved them. These are just some reasons this one is underrated.