Detroit. A film that recreates one of the darkest chapters in the American history. Kathryn Bigelow delivers her usual clean, raw, pertinent, scrutinizing, unsentimental look at the 1967 Detroit street riots and the Algiers Motel Incident that resulted in the deaths of three black men at the hands of white police officers, later tried and acquitted. There are a few other American films among my favourites of 2017, but every one I saw and loved (You Were Never Really Here, Wind River and The Shape of Water – I haven’t yet seen Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri) was directed by non-American directors. And that’s what I love so much about Bigelow’s films: she’s fearless in expressing not only her own artistic vision (I love the cinematic tone and technical proficiency of her films), but in imbuing her films with social and political criticism, too, in showing the real America, which I can not say about many of her American peers. But here are my three top films directed by Kathryn Bigelow.
Strange Days (1995)
I only watched Strange Days earlier this week without having previously read anything about it and I was taken aback because I wasn’t expecting it to be a cult film. It paints a Los Angeles of the year 1999 at the confluence of futuristic landscape and 1940s noir, of science-fiction and crime thriller. We live in the digital age, in the age of virtual reality, but it still felt unsettling to watch the prospect of computer-generated reality as imagined twenty-something years in advance. It just shows how creepy the world would become; it shows how creepy the world has become twenty-something years on. “Jacking in” means attaching a “squid” to your skull – a brain wave transmitter that creates the impression that you are having someone else’s experiences. And don’t we today want to constantly watch other people’s lives, to have their experiences? And some of the technology we can use, like social media, seems so much more gentile and harmless that you don’t even realise the danger and audacity of our new reality.
The mood, the noir-inspired hero (the morally ambiguous hero alienated from society, charismatic yet flawed, harking back in the past, played by a fantastic Ralph Fiennes), the relentless and suspenseful pacing, the cinematography, Bigelow’s skill to make you live the characters’ experiences – this is one great piece of cinema making.
Point Break (1991)
This is a film that takes my mind to rebellious summers and endless beach days as a way of life. It’s a perfect blend of fearlessness, atmospheric scenery and thriller action (mainly thanks to the two leading men, Keanu Reeves, as rookie FBI agent Johnny Utah, and Patrick Swayze, as the leader of a gang of surfers who moonlight as bank robbers) that pulls you in and lingers with you long after the ending credits. But there is also a philosophical side to the characters and that’s one of the most interesting parts of the movie, allowing you to be part of it and make your own version of it. It is also the film that introduced me to Kathryn Bigelow’s work, and what a fine job she does here, too!
In addition to what I wrote at the beginning of this article, I want to mention the documentary-like intimacy quality of this film. It’s unpredictable, it feels real, it’s like a shot of what the participants to the Algiers Motel Incident felt. But I think the most important thing to take away from Bigelow’s latest picture is not the emotional experience (and I assure you it is a strong experience which leaves you shocked and outraged and which provokes reflection and reactions), but the fact that these are historical facts. This did happen, and, what’s even worse, this is still very much part of the cruel reality in America. Forget about Get Out (I do not understand the hype about that film). This is the movie every American should see. “This is America” reads on the poster of Detroit. Unfortunately for the entire world, so it is. Why this film is so great is because it informs and urges to dialogue and maybe even to change.
photos: Strange Days movie still (Lightstorm Entertainment) / Point Break movie still (Largo Entertainment/JVC Entertainment Networks) / Detroit film poster (Annapurna Pictures/First Light Production)