Early in Slumdog Millionaire (2008), its protagonist recalls a time when he jumped into a pit of excrement just to get the autograph of Indian screen idol Amitabh Bachchan. To millions of moviegoers, the boy's devotion to Bollywood and its cinematic deities makes perfect sense; the industry's blockbusters have long captivated audiences and become a kind of mythology for the modern nation of India.
This course is an introduction to the cinema of Bollywood and its enduring appeal. In it, we explore a range of Hindi blockbusters, starting with the golden age of Indian cinema and acclaimed classics such as Raj Kapoor’s Awara (1951) and Guru Dutt's Pyaasa (1957). Next, we revisit Bollywood’s birth with critical and popular successes like Deewaar (Yash Chopra, 1975) and Sholay (Ramesh Sippy, 1975). We then move to the 1990s and beyond, and this cinema’s emergence internationally, with films such as DDLJ (Aditya Chopra, 1995), Guru (Mani Ratnam, 2006), and 3 Idiots (Rajkumar Hirani, 2010).
In addition to discussing their many pleasures, we consider the ways Bollywood's blockbusters embody public fantasies—of gender and masculinity, religion and nation, family and friends—as they captivate audiences around the globe.
Please note: Due to the long run times of Bollywood films, only extended clips will be screened in class. All titles are available online for streaming or purchase on DVD.
Argentina boasts one of the most prolific and diverse film industries in Latin America, with styles ranging from award-winning blockbusters to intimate gems rife with daring aesthetic innovations. A sophisticated intellectual streak runs through many of these productions, which bear witness to an amazing ability to turn meager resources into stunning masterpieces.
The streets of Buenos Aires provide a captivating microcosm for life in Argentina, a country with a prominent class divide, where the transient and the uncertain are the norm. In many films of the last twenty years, characters old and young, rich and poor, male and female alike eke out their meager existences. They struggle against the effects of neo-liberal policies that culminated in the crushing 2001 economic crisis, and battle discrimination while a succession of incompetent governments fails to provide solutions.
Argentine cinema provides an exciting crucible for filmmakers with a social conscience, and what emerges is a fascinating national cinema that exposes the drama inherent in living in constant 'survival' mode. Join us to explore it through such films as Live-In Maid (2004), Slum (2008), Smokers Only (2001), and Bolivia (2001).
Lewis Mumford, the great historian of urban life, wrote in 1938 with his typical ambivalence: “This metropolitan world, then, is a world where flesh and blood is less real than paper and ink and celluloid . . . where the great masses of people, unable to have direct contact with more satisfying means of living, take life vicariously, as readers, spectators, passive observers: a world where people watch shadow-heroes and heroines.” Mumford’s artful take on urban existence sets the stage for this exploration of distinctive international cities on film—with special attention paid to instances where the passion for place is most evident.
We will engage our films chronologically with an eye toward how each adopts a unique cinematic approach to its subject city. We commence with Akira Kurosawa’s early noir masterpiece, Stray Dog (1949), which paints an indelible portrait of an impoverished Tokyo in the wake of World War II. We then turn to Soviet director Mikhail Kalatozov’s inventive political film, I Am Cuba (1964), a “lost” classic depicting Havana on the eve of revolution and given new life in the States via a re-release spearheaded by Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola. Heading east to Cold War Berlin, we return to the Wim Wenders classic, Wings of Desire (1987), a romantic meditation on mortality, spirituality, and finding humanity in inhumane times. Finally, we journey to Bombay, India, with Mira Nair’s bracing Salaam Bombay! (1988), a film that immerses us in the fragile lives of children surviving in the poorest corners of this vibrant city, and serves as an especially fitting end to our journey.
Lewis Mumford, the great historian of urban life, wrote in 1938 with his typical ambivalence: 'This metropolitan world, then, is a world where flesh and blood is less real than paper and ink and celluloid . . . where the great masses of people, unable to have direct contact with more satisfying means of living, take life vicariously, as readers, spectators, passive observers: a world where people watch shadow-heroes and heroines.' Mumford's artful take on urban existence sets the stage for our exploration of distinctive American cities as depicted on screens big and small, with special attention paid to instances where the passion for place is most evident.
The course will commence with Curtis Hanson's neo-noir masterpiece, L.A. Confidential (1997). We then turn to William Friedkin's brooding and frenetic slice of New York, The French Connection (1971). The road south takes us to Baltimore as David Simon's proxy for all American cities in crisis—a Charm City depicted with as much love as outrage in what is arguably television's greatest drama, The Wire (2002-08). In our final week, we will take a comparative approach in discussing scenes from a wide range of films set in Chicagoland—from comedies such as John Landis's The Blues Brothers (1980) and John Hughes's Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986), to edgy classics such as Haskell Wexler's Medium Cool (1969) and Steve James's riveting documentary, Hoop Dreams (1994).
In the 19th century, Argentine President Domingo Faustino Sarmiento described the dichotomy of civilization and barbarism as a way of expressing the cultural, moral, and spatial differences between the urban and rural portions of the nation. These themes continue to resonate today, and are evident even in the cinema of Argentina.
This class will show two pairs of films that contrast contemporary interpretations of 'civilization' and 'barbarism' within the nation. In the Buenos Aires crime thriller Nine Queens (2000), elements of greed and morality come into play as con artists try to pull off a swindle; whereas in The Aura (2005), a man with epilepsy tries to commit the perfect crime in a forest. The witty romantic comedy Sidewalls (2011) depicts the trials and tribulations of modern urban life, while Hawaii (2013), set at a country estate, is a more serious romance that addresses issues of class and sexual identity. These films, made by key Argentine filmmakers, are prime examples of their respective genres that utilize cinematic style and pacing to inform urban and rural oppositions, while also revealing much about human behavior—especially as it relates to love and immorality.
Coming of age in Latin American cinema often takes place against dramatic backdrops ranging from stressful domestic situations all too familiar to American audiences, to political revolutions that are, thankfully, a good deal less so. This course examines Latin American personal identity, culture, and recent history from the perspective of the region's children and adolescents, with each film depicting different pressures youth face. The Way He Looks is a charming romance about a blind, gay teenager in Brazil, while Kept and Dreamless explores the relationship between a young girl and her irresponsible mother. Machuca, set in 1970s Chile, depicts a young boy's political awakening, while Gods is a caustic Peruvian drama about class and family.
We will consider social issues, including gender, sexuality, class, disability, and politics in the context of Latin American identity, culture, and history through films that privilege the subjectivity of children and youth as a means of delivering a scathing critique of the adult world. These contemporary films subvert traditional Hispanic notions of the child's place in the family and the nation, and explore what it means to grow up in a society where the most vulnerable members often do not have their basic needs met.
In recent years, Israeli cinema has flourished, receiving critical acclaim both at home and abroad, because its films—comedies and dramas alike—have illuminated the contradictions, debates, and complexities of a nation still struggling to survive in the cauldron that is the Middle East. The films featured in this class reveal the dilemmas Israelis face in their society between tradition and modernity, marriage and divorce, religion and secularity, Israeli and Palestinian.
In Late Marriage, set in a community of Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet republic of Georgia, Zaza is a personable 31-year-old man who has still not met his obligation to marry and multiply. He has a secret that has kept him single despite his parents' best efforts, and when they discover it, Zaza must choose between family tradition and personal fulfilment.
In Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem, the anguished title character seeks to divorce her longtime husband, Elisha, with whom she has had several children and an unhappy life, and who refuses to present her with the eponymous document, a religious bill of divorce required under Israeli law for all such proceedings. This stark and intensely powerful film asks important questions about love, marriage, and human rights, and is grippingly set almost entirely inside a rabbinic court presided over by three judges who not only represent orthodox Jewish law, but also the weight of tradition.
Footnote explores the rivalry between two scholars, both experts in the highly specialized and fiercely competitive field of Talmudic studies, who also happen to be father and son. The father has devoted his life, much of it in obscurity, to removing minute inconsistencies in various versions of the key rabbinic text, while his son is an academic celebrity whose books on Judaic lore are best sellers and who appears often on television. It is a biting satire, a poignant family drama, and an examination of the competing claims of honesty, loyalty, ambition, and love.
In A Borrowed Identity, Eyad, a gifted Palestinian Israeli teenager, is given the chance to study at a prestigious Jewish boarding school. Yet, despite forging a bond with another outsider and falling in love with a Jewish student, Naomi, he discovers that he will have to sacrifice his identity in order to be accepted. The film avoids polemics to offer a textured portrait of a young man dealing with a set of crises, both personal and cultural, and in the process, illustrates the malleability of self, and how society can impose aspects of identity on individuals.
Join us, then, for a cinematic exploration of the spiritual lives, ethical quandaries, and ongoing cultural conflicts experienced by a range of Israelis through some of their country's more compelling and nuanced recent films.
The cinema of Latin America offers a vibrant portrait of a continent and its people possessed of rich contradictions between cultural colonialism and indigenous expression, turbulent civil war and stable democracy, and the preservation of tradition and the confrontation of modernity.
Consequently, this region's cinema is distinguished by its unconventional approach to financing and distributing films, as well as its refusal to merely dramatize stories popularized by Hollywood and other Western film industries. For the goals of these films from such countries as Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, and Chile are to extend the possibilities of cinematic expression and to provide audiences with new ways of seeing their sociopolitical reality.
As a result, Latin American cinema's portrayal of stories about love and treachery, peace and war, oppression and freedom, and doubt and faith are fresh, compelling, and illuminating. Films to be discussed include Like Water for Chocolate, Amores Perros, Four Days in September, Camila, and Pan's Labyrinth.
From the sly, surrealistic greatness of Luis Buñuel (Tristana) to the colorful, exuberant irreverence of Pedro Almodóvar (Volver), Spanish Cinema has consistently cast a vivid, penetrating gaze on the history and culture of that impassioned country.
Recently, that gaze has led Spanish filmmakers to explore new approaches to traditional genres, and aided by such accomplished actors as Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, and Maribel Verdu, these films have enjoyed critical and popular success internationally. In examining Spanish Cinema from the Franco era to the present, we will discuss The Spirit of the Beehive, That Obscure Object of Desire, The Others, and The Sea Inside, among many others.
For many Americans, their exposure to Japanese cinema begins and ends with Akira Kurosawa, and while his work is an eminently sensible place to start, there is so much more to see, learn from, and enjoy by venturing further into this nation's film culture. In this course, we endeavor to enrich our understanding of Japan's complex and important cinematic tradition with a close look at four essential directors.
First, with Kenji Mizoguchi's Sisters of the Gion (1936), we explore a film made on the eve of the Second World War, and one surprisingly critical of contemporary Japanese society and its mistreatment of women. We then turn to YasujirÃ´ Ozu's Floating Weeds (1959), a post-war meditation on the joys and agonies of family—both those bound by blood, as well as those we improvise amongst folks with a shared vocation. Next, we move into the tumultuous 1960s with Masaki Kobayashi's Harakiri (1962), the greatest and most compelling indictment of the samurai ethos in all of Japanese cinema.
Finally, we shift as Japan does into new aesthetic and historical territory with Kinji Fukasaku's Battles Without Honor and Humanity (1973), a bracing and controversial template for every Yakuza film that follows. With these directors, our course will celebrate four master filmmakers and trace Japan's journey from pre-war paranoia to post-war malaise.
This course examines a range of films from Islamic countries, both Arabic-speaking (Lebanon and Egypt) and non-Arabic speaking (Iran and Afghanistan). In doing so, we consider how film is used not only to entertain, but also to address some of the region's social and political issues.
We also discuss the stylistic, cultural, and ideological characteristics of these films and the ways in which their directors manage to overcome the religious and political constraints imposed upon them. Students will gain a better understanding of the Arab and Islamic world by considering the cultural and political similarities and differences that exist between it and the West, especially the United States.
Some of the films to be discussed include: Caramel, a Lebanese film by critically acclaimed director and actress Nadine Labaki; The Yacoubian Building, by Marwan Hamed of Egypt; and The Color of Paradise, by the brilliant Iranian filmmaker Majid Majidi.
Vigorous, diverse, and inventive, the Italian cinema has produced throughout its history a body of memorable films that have left an indelible imprint on international culture. This course will present an historical overview, beginning with the post-World War II movement known as neo-realism, characterized by stories (like Bicycle Thieves and Rome, Open City) set among the poor and working class, filmed in long takes on location, frequently using amateur actors for secondary and sometimes primary roles.
We will then turn to the 1950s and 60s, when economic, social, and technological conditions changed significantly, and important filmmakers like Federico Fellini and Michelangelo Antonioni emerged to create new forms of cinematic expression that explored the alienation and neuroses of modern life. Italian comedy will be explored as well, beginning with the popular style known as La commedia all 'italiana, which evolved into a new form in recent decades with the films of Nanni Moretti and Roberto Benigni.
Il Viaggio in Italia through its cinema continues. Building on The Italian Cinema course presented last year, this new class will provide an historical overview, beginning with the influential films of the 1960s and 1970s, continuing through the 1980s and 1990s, and ending with the most evocative movies at the beginning of the 21st century.
We begin with a brief consideration of the final works of the acknowledged masters of neorealism—Vittorio DeSica, Luchino Visconti, and Federico Fellini—before discussing the next generation of dynamic writer-directors who reinvigorated Italian film. Through new forms of cinematic expression, they examined the legacy of World War II and fascism (Bernardo Bertolucci's The Conformist); class struggle and gender politics (Lina Wertmuller's Swept Away); memory, loss of national identity, and modern ennui (Francesco Rosi's Three Brothers); and terrorism (Marco Bellocchio's Good Morning, Night).
The course concludes with Italian comedy, starting with a brief look at the popular style known as La commedia all 'italiana, which evolves into a new form with the films of Nanni Moretti and Roberto Benigni.
This course explores a range of contemporary films made by some of the Middle East's most renowned directors, and considers the ways in which they stylistically and thematically reflect and engage with various themes within both regional and global contexts. The goal is to examine the means by which such films mirror, contribute to, and challenge the dominant values and cultures of Middle Eastern societies—and vice versa—while also striving to maintain and advance the formal aspects of film art. This class offers an instructive and engaging opportunity to appreciate how filmmakers from this region tell their own stories through their own lenses. Put another way, Middle Eastern cinema will be examined as a product of the very societies it aims to influence.
Family, class, gender, politics, and individual identity, are among the themes to be addressed through a selection of films that have left a significant mark on the landscape of the Middle East and global cinema. Those to be discussed include Philippe Aractingi's Under the Bombs (Lebanon, 2007), Where Do We Go Now? (2011), by acclaimed Lebanese director and actress Nadine Labaki, and Asghar Farhadi's A Separation (2011), which garnered Iran its first Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.