The Best Films I Saw This Year
My top films of the year, in this order: (1) Beats Being Dead by Christian Petzold. (2) Mekong Hotel by Apichatpong Weerasethakul. (3) Once Upon a Time in Anatolia by Nuri Bilge Ceylan. (4) Elena by Andrey Zvyagintsev. (5) Where Do We Go Now? by Nadine Labaki. As with all great films, each of these films has a single image that is the sun around which the plot's elements and images orbit and that gets permanently stuck in your head.
With Beats Being Dead, which opens the German crime thriller Dreileben Trilogy, the image is of a young man (an intern at a rural hospital) sunbathing in a forest. He is naked, his skin is very white, the trees around him are very green, the sky is blue, and the river is black. He is alone and absorbing nature. He falls asleep. He awakens. It is night and his life is about to change.
In the slow and quiet horror film Mekong Hotel, it is an old Thai woman eating the intestines of a young man—she and her fresh meal are on the bed of a hotel room that has a view of the mighty Mekong River. With Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, a film set in rural Turkey concerning a terrible crime, it is the innocent face of a beautiful young woman who walks into a room to serve tea to jaded police officers, sick lawyers, corrupt politicians, and a murderer. In Elena, it is a middle-aged Russian woman on a platform, walking toward a train. She is a nurse, is married to a wealthy man, and lives in a fancy globalized apartment. Her family members (sons and grandsons), however, are poor and live on the other side of town, next to a nuclear plant. This moment on the platform marks her transition from one class level to another.
Lastly, in Where Do We Go Now?, a film by the talented and glamorous Lebanese director Nadine Labaki, the image appears at the very beginning of the film. There is a dusty road filled with women who are dressed in black. They are walking to a graveyard. They have pictures of their dead men (sons and husbands) in their hands. As they walk, sing, and dance sadly, dust rises around them. How long will they have to suffer? When will Christians and Muslims learn to live in peace? The women have had enough of death.