Editor’s Note: In light of Sight & Sound’s film poll, which, every decade, queries critics and directors the world over before arriving at a communal Top 10 list, we polled our own writers, who didn’t partake in the project, but have bold, discerning, and provocative lists to share.
I can identify two elements common to the films that ended up on this list. They are either about feminine suffering and/or about the impossibility of language to ever quite translate feeling. The criteria which I came up with for this impossible, unfair, and incredibly fun assignment involved remembering the films that led me to think “This is one of the best films ever made” at the time I first saw them, and which, upon a re-screening, several years later, remained just as remarkable—perhaps for different reasons. Also part of the criteria was my (failed) attempt at not repeating directors, and making a conscious effort to go against a cinematic “affirmative action” that would try to represent different periods of time, countries, and genres. It’s also mind-boggling to notice how half of the list includes films made in the mid 1970s. But the list escapes traditional logic. It’s the warping, re-signifying logic of affect and memory that architected this list, which turns out to be nothing short of this cinephile’s symptom.
10. The Mirror (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1975). The occasional ringing of a pre-cordless telephone reminds us that this isn’t a painting. But, unlike Stalker, in The Mirror someone actually picks up the phone—only to say that “being silent for a while is good.” The politics of the nation is the ubiquitous presence that haunts the home, where former lovers go from discussing custody of their child to whether they have both become incomprehensibly bourgeois in a country without private property. “A book is a deed, not a paycheck,” he tells her. “What kind of relationship do you still want to have with your mother?” is what she’s wondering. The shot that gives title to the film is nothing short of stunning: A boy stares at his reflection as if realizing he just simply has to, despite everything, become a man.