You’re at university now—no more Avengers, no more fun explosions. It’s time to become a real adult, with refined taste and an interesting indie sensibility. Resident film expert, Thomas Giblin, provides you with a pathway to a more nuanced understanding of film. You’re going to be so much fun at parties!
These past few years have been like no other—that is an undisputed truth. We are near the end of this semester where many of us are saying goodbye to a university experience that was not what we expected, nor wanted it to be. Now is the time though to take a breather from the pains of assignments and exam preparation, and reflect on what came before and what comes after.
This list looks at the films that best describe that feeling of saying goodbye to someone or something, whether that is the cusp of adulthood or a loved one. In my case, it’s Craccum [Arts Editor Note: we’ll miss you Thomas!] and the University of Auckland. It’s only fitting to feature some of my favourite films on this list as a final hurrah.
Look no further for a film to earnestly depict the trial and tribulations of being an angsty teenager. Lady Bird, for many (rightly so), is the coming-of-age film that resonates most. Actor turned writer-director, Greta Gerwig, paints a series of universal truths about being a teenager on the cusp of adulthood that experiences the kaleidoscope of emotions that we all go through as we wonder what comes next in life. Her observations never feel fake or cringe, as many other coming-of-age films do (looking at you Booksmart). They feel lived as if Gerwig is chasing the ephemerality of first love.
The titular Lady Bird, played by the force of nature that is Saoirse Ronan, is astonishing as a character that we can all see a bit of ourselves in, whether we like it or not. I see myself most in her angst as she longs to attend a prestigious college in “a city with culture,” whilst ignoring the reality of the opportunities afforded to those who come from a lower-class family. It is also impossible to ignore Laurie Metcalf’s performance as Lady Bird’s mother, Marion, who is the film’s real heart. Yes, it is Lady Bird’s story as the titular character, but it is in Marion’s interaction with her daughter that will shatter your heart then slowly piece it back together.
I laughed and I wept, and I’m sure you will too. If you need an extra reason to see the film, dare I mention the name Timothée Chalamet? Don’t let his perfect cheekbones and luscious locks distract you from this film, which is a gift to anyone who was ever a teenager.
Yes, The Farewell is a true story, which is a shock to many (the quote above prefaces this fact). Billi, played by a whirlwind Awkwafina, comes to find out that keeping a grandparent in the dark about their own illness is a common cultural practice. Written and directed by Lulu Wang, this film didn’t move me, but instead gently swayed me. It left me infatuated with Zhao Shuzhen as Nai Nai, the grandmother I never had. For just over an hour and a half Nai Nai is the grandmother who spoiled you with love and home-cooked food. Her screen presence radiates warmth and life, which is a testament to her as an actor, and to Wang as a writer. For a film that is so concerned with death, it never feels depressing (an impressive feat). Supported by Anna Franquesa Solano’s sumptuous digital cinematography, The Farewell is a deeply personal story that might just resonate with you. If it does, make sure to have some tissues on hand.
For me, this is the coming-of-age film that I adore most. Dazed and Confused is sheer perfection and is considered by many to be a masterpiece of American cinema. It has no grand narrative but yet is profoundly cosmic, as is the magic of writer-director Richard Linklater who is responsible for so many classics such as the Before Trilogy, Boyhood, and School of Rock. Nothing happens, yet everything does. They get high, drink beer, drive around, try to get laid, play pool, and do some more driving. It feels aimless, yet there is a clear purpose from Linklater, whose evocation of the American high school makes me nostalgic for a time and place I never lived in.
There are so many great quotable performances, a highlight being Matthew McConaughey as David Wooderson, the creepy alumni who still hangs around with high schoolers. The line “Alright, Alright, Alright” has infiltrated pop culture, as has the title to this write-up. Let’s not forget the soundtrack though. It rocks and is set to be the soundtrack of my summer (if Covid permits us one).
I wish I could keep singing its praises but it’s clear that Dazed and Confused is one of my favourite films of all time. If you sit down to watch it, I’m sure it’ll become one of your favourites too.
Speaking of American classics, let me hit you with another one. Kogonada’s debut feature, the aptly named Columbus, is a heart-achingly beautiful film that will remind you to find the beauty in all that’s around you. Spaces once old become new, as buildings that were lifeless become painfully human. Each arch or hallway has a story to tell. This is the beauty of connection as a chance encounter between two strangers in the form of Jin (John Cho) and Casey (Haley Lu Richardson) blossoms into the most beautiful of friendships. Together they encourage each other to adopt new perspectives of the world and to seek out new beginnings which is something we all need right now. They rekindle each other’s passions for life which many of us need now as university can turn our interests into dislikes (I speak from experience).
On an aesthetic level, each shot is magically composed, akin to a photograph, as each frame reveals a new layer peeling back the aura of indifference surrounding those spaces we live in. You’re invited to trace and explore the lines of a rooftop to see where it takes you, often it leads you to peer into your own soul which is a beautiful thing. Columbus, to use a cliche, is a masterpiece.
The famed Korean auteur, Hong Sangsoo, is an inaccessible director for many. His style can be described as erratic and, at times, plain confusing. But if you love one of his films, you’ll love all of them. This isn’t giving you much of a reason to watch On the Beach at Night Alone, but take a chance with this film and you’ll be shocked at its raw honesty surrounding the pains of love.
Kim Min-hee, Sangsoo’s muse and lover, which was widely publicised in Korean tabloids, plays Young-hee, an actress wandering around a seaside town, pondering her relationship with a married man. This blurring of reality, a common trait in his films, spins a Lacanian labyrinth of self-reflection that plays out rather simply (for once) as Sangsoo’s style of reductive minimalism focuses on long takes with little camera movement. Often it is just two characters talking over food or soju that provides sharp insights about what it means to love and be loved. “Do I deserve love?” Young-hee asks herself. Yes, we all do, but this film reminds us that it is the most complex of emotions. This makes On the Beach at Night Alone a beguiling watch.