There are numerous arthouse movies that have either been neglected or underappreciated. From existential dramas to suspenseful thriller, here is a list of some hidden gems of the art-house cinema that you have probably never seen.
10. La Luna (1979)
Directed by the legendary Italian filmmaker Bernardo Bertolucci (“Il Conformista”,”Last Tango in Paris”), “La Luna” is an emotionally demanding Arthouse Movies about an incestuous relationship between a mother and her beloved son. This challenging melodrama is also a deep exploration of the Oedipus complex as well as an ode to Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory.
To be more specific, the film follows the unconventional story of Caterina Silveri (Jill Clayburgh), an opera singer, who embarks on a trip to Italy along with her teenage son Joe (Matthew Barry) after the death of Joe’s father. Joe is a troubled and lonely boy who has strong feelings for his mother, whereas Caterina a gorgeous opera diva who is absorbed by her work. When Caterina discovers that her son is addicted to heroine, she desperately tries to save him. They form an incestuous relationship, and she reveals that Joe’s real father is another man.
It goes without saying that “La Luna” is a disturbing drama that examines the Oedipus complex excellently. Bernardo Bertolucci manages to create a realistic depiction of an incestuous relationship. This is also a psychological study of two tormented characters as well as a philosophical examination of the unconscious.
On the other hand, the spellbinding performances, the visually stunning photography and the great classical music score enhance the tense atmosphere.
Despite the fact that the film has received some mixed reviews, “La Luna” is a hidden gem of Bertolucci’s filmography that deserves more love and attention.
9. Irma Vep (1996)
“Irma Vep” is a criminally underrated avant-garde drama created by the French director Olivier Assayas. Inspired by François Truffaut’s “La Nuit Americaine” and Rainer W. Fassbinder’s “Beware of the Holy Whore”, the film is an effort to depict the French film industry of the 1990s. Arthouse Movies
This genuinely unique film follows the renowned director René Vidal (Jean-Pierre Léaud) as he decides to make a remake of Louis Feuillade silent film “Les Vampires”. Maggie Cheung stars as the main character of this experimental remake of the black and white film. She plays the role of Irma Vep (an anagram for the word “Vampire”), a burglar with a black latex suit. When Maggie learns that a crew member Zoe has a crush on her, everything goes out of hand. What follows is a bleak depiction of the chaotic process of filmmaking as well as a surreal presentation of Vidal’s unfinished film.
It is quite obvious that “Irma Vep” is an academic study of the French avant-garde cinema as well as an ode to the silent films. The decline of French cinema of the 1990s is presented through the eyes of a Hong Kong actress Maggie Cheung.
Moreover, Olivier Assayas manages to create a realistic portrait of a true artist. In addition, both performances by Jean-Pierre Leaud and Maggie Cheung are absolutely phenomenal.
To sum up, “Irma Vep” isn’t just a rare gem of the French art-house cinema, but also a hidden jewel of Assayas filmography.
8. Mikey and Nicky (1976)
“Art films aren’t necessarily photography. It’s feeling. If we can capture a feeling of a people, of a way of life, then we made a good picture.” – John Cassavetes
Influenced by the cinematic style of John Cassavetes, Elaine May creates one of the most underrated American films of all time. This unsung masterpiece isn’t just a highly entertaining drama about a true friendship, but also a subtle commentary on the American Dream.
John Cassavetes stars as Nicky, a small time bookie that stole some money from his mob boss. Nicky is hiding in a hotel room because there is a contract on his life. When Nicky calls Mikey (Peter Falk) to help him get out of this trouble, the two of them embark on a crazy adventure through the dark alleys of Philadelphia.
Although the film begins as a typical gangster movie, it soon evolves into a deep and heartwarming drama about friendship. This is clearly a mediation on true friendship, as well as a psychological study of two paranoid characters.Through long dialogues and close shots, Elaine May manages to capture the feeling of a real friendship. Additionally, John Cassavetes delivers one of the best performances of his acting career, whereas Peter Falk is also sensational.
Overall, “Mikey and Nicky” is an emotionally demanding film about the true meaning of friendship. This underappreciated gem of Elaine May will be a pleasant surprise for those who enjoy the independent cinema of John Cassavetes.
7. Milou en Mai (1990)
“Milou en Mai”, also known as “May Fools”, is delightful comedy directed by the French filmmaker Louis Malle. Set in France during the May 1968 student unrest , the film depicts the impact of the cultural revolution on a bourgeois family.
When Milou’s (Michel Piccoli) mother dies, the rest of the family along with some friends and unexpected guests gather at the countryside estate to attend the funeral. Unfortunately, the deceased mother can’t be buried since everyone is on strike.
At first everyone is interested in the inheritance, but soon the become worried about the events of May 1968, such as protests and general strikes. The death of the mother as well as the consequences of the cultural revolution force them to reevaluate their lives. Through some insightful conversations and adult games, hidden secrets are revealed.
Despite the fact that “Milou en Mai” was overshadowed by Louis Malle’s other great works, such as “Au Revoir les Enfants” or “Elevator to the Gallows”, it is an excellent portrait of the May 1968 uprising. This farce is not only a social critique of the bourgeois lifestyle, but also a great character study. Michel Piccoli delivers an outstanding performance as middle aged man at an existential crisis.
All in all, “Milou en Mai” is a heartwarming film about the events of May 1968 in France that has been neglected for a long time. This hidden gem of the French art-house cinema of the 1990s is one of the most underrated works by the renowned director.
6. L’important c’est d’aimer (1975)
“L’important c’est d’aimer” (also known as “That Most Important Thing : Love”) is an underrated masterpiece directed by the Polish filmmaker Andrzej Zulawski. Although the film is based on the novel “La Nuit Américaine” by Christopher Frank, Zulawski manages to create a genuinely unique art-house drama about love.
The film tells the story of Nadine Chevalier (Romy Schneider), a b-movies actress who meets Servais Mont (Fabio Testi), a young photographer. When Servais Mont falls in love with Nadine, he decides to borrow some money to produce a theatrical adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “Richard III”. He gives Nadine the role of the main character and hires the paranoid director Karl-Heinz Zimmer (Klaus Kinski). Nadine, who is married to Jacques, has second thoughts about her marriage. Everything goes out of hand when Servais’ plan to seduce Nadine fails.
Despite the fact that unrequited love is the main theme of the film, Zulawski manages to create a multi-layered film that excellently depicts the poignant meaning of art.
This intense drama not only features some powerful performances, but also some genuinely disturbing scenes. To be more specific, Romy Schneider received the César Award for the Best Actress for this magnificent performance. Additionally, the legendary Klaus Kinski delivers another spellbinding performance in a guest role.
Taking everything into consideration, this hidden gem of Andrzej Zulawski’s filmography is a triumph of art-house cinema. A visual poem about the dark side of love.
5. Heart of Glass (1976)
Directed by the German filmmaker Werner Herzog, “Heart of Glass” (“Herz aus Glas”) is mind blowing tale about power and corruption.
The film is set in a 18th-century Bavarian town, where a glass factory produces a rare piece of red ruby glass. The foreman of the glassworks is the only person that knows the secret to producing the mythical red ruby glass.
When he suddenly dies without revealing the secret, the local Baron who is also the factory owner becomes obsessed with the lost secret. Unfortunately, he is unable to discover the hidden secret and as a result he descends along with the rest of the town into depression and madness. The Baron begins to lose his sanity believing that the red ruby has magical powers. The whole story is presented through the eyes of Hias, a prophet who predicts the destruction of the factory.
It is quite obvious that “Heart of Glass” is an experimental film with improvised dialogues and unconventional techniques. To be more specific, Werner Herzog hypnotized most of the crew members for each scene. In addition, the gorgeous landscapes, the eerie music and the powerful performances create a mesmerizing atmosphere. It is undoubtedly a hypnotizing tale about madness and chaos, that depicts excellently the abyss of the human soul.
Despite the fact that this utterly bizarre film has received some mixed reviews, it is one of the best works of Werner Herzog. It is a hidden jewel of art-house cinema that will definitely be a pleasant surprise for those who love the poetic world of Herzog.
4. The Beekeeper (1986)
Theo Angelopoulos (“Ulysses Gaze”, “Landscape in the Mist”) creates another philosophical masterpiece about human despair and isolation. Written by the legendary Italian screenwriter Tonino Guerra, “The Beekeeper” is a deep existential drama. This visual poem is the second part of Angelopoulos “Trilogy of Silence” (“Voyage to Cythera”, “Landscape in the Mist”).
Marcello Mastroianni stars as Spyros, a middle aged beekeeper, who embarks on a spiritual journey through the breathtaking landscapes of Greece. He is a retired school teacher in a midlife existential crisis. He makes this trip to not only cultivate his hives, but also find the true meaning of life. When Spyros meets a young girl, everything gets out of control.
It goes without saying that Theo Angelopoulos has managed to create a visually stunning masterpiece. The gorgeous photography of various parts of Greece, the realistic performances and the philosophical subtexture create a hypnotic atmosphere. This is also a philosophical study of existentialism and nihilism. To be more specific, “The Beekeeper” is a bleak depiction of a meaningless world. This is a pessimistic view of life as well as an exercise to magical realism.
On the other hand the performance by the great Marcello Mastroianni is absolutely sensational. This jewel of Greek art-house cinema was even nominated for the Golden Lion Award st Venice Film Festival.
Overall, “The Beekeeper” is a philosophical road movie about isolation and existential despair. A haunting visual experience that will definitely stay with you for a long time.
3. Le Boucher (1970)
“Le Boucher” is a 1970 French art-house thriller film directed by the pioneer of the French New Wave Claude Chabrol. It is a dark and suspenseful thriller with realistic performances and plot twists.
Set in the village of Tremolat in France, the film follows the story of a troubled butcher Popaul (Jean Yanne) as he falls in love with the lonely headteacher of the local school Helene (Stéphane Audran).
However, Helene refuses a physical relationship since she hasn’t recovered yet from her last relationship. Unfortunately, their relationship is plagued by a ferocious unknown serial killer that terrorizes this picturesque French village. When Helene suspects that the killer might be Popaul, she discovers the truth about her new friend. Arthouse Movies
It is quite obvious that Claude Chabrol has managed to create a Hitchcockian thriller with unexpected plot twists. In addition, the sparse use of camera movement, the realistic performances and the great film score create a tense atmosphere. Moreover, Stéphane Audran shines as a lonely headmistress who has to overcome her personal fears to solve these mysterious killings.
To sum up, “Le Boucher” is a triumph of the French art-house cinema as well as a suspenseful thriller. A hidden gem of Chabrol’s filmography for those who enjoy Alfred Hitchcock’s cinema.
2. After Life (1998)
Directed by the Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Koreeda, “After Life” is a documentary style drama that examines the power of memory. This thought provoking movie is also a meditation on life and death as well as a visual poem about the true essence of humanity. Arthouse Movies
This unconventional film follows the story of a group of dead counselors who help the recently deceased people to select the single memory that they can take to eternity. It is like a social service office where they process the memories of the recently deceased in order to rest in peace. Once they have selected their best memories, a group of dead filmmakers and workers try to recreate and film these memories. The film is screened in a movie theater which is a passage to heaven.
This experimental film examines the ethical dilemma of reevaluating your own life by selecting a single memory to keep for eternity. It is an optimistic view of the tragic event of death. Arthouse Movies
On the other hand, this heartwarming drama is an allegory for the process of filmmaking as well as an ode to Japanese cinema. In addition, the realistic interviews, the simple but immensely powerful performances and the innovative script create one of the most beautiful movies of the Japanese art-house cinema.
Taking everything into account, “After Life” is a touching drama with visually stunning cinematography and engaging performances. It is not only a criminally underrated masterpiece of the Japanese art-house, but also an immensely beautiful film that transcends time. Arthouse Movies
1. Woman in the Dunes (1964)
“Woman in the Dunes” is an existential thriller directed by the critically renowned Japanese filmmaker Hiroshi Teshigahara (“The Face of Another”). It was not only praised by the critics upon its release, but also nominated for two Academy Awards. Arthouse Movies
This haunting metaphysical movie tells the story of an entomologist Niki Junpei (Eiji Okada), who goes on an expedition to search and collect specimens of sand insects. When he misses the last bus to town, the local villagers suggest that he stay at the bottom of a sandpit where a widow (Kyoko Kishida) lives in a shack.
Unfortunately, he soon finds out that he is trapped by the local villagers to stay forever with this mysterious woman as well as to help her in digging sand. He has to not only find a way to escape from this eternal prison, but also stop the advancing sand dunes.
The great Japanese director manages to create a surreal drama with powerful performances and philosophical subtexture. Inspired by Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave”, this extraordinary story stands out as a metaphor for an eternal life imprisonment in the modern world. This is also a philosophical study of existentialism and absurdism. Additionally , it is a profound masterpiece with breathtaking photography and spellbinding performances. Arthouse Movies
Overall, “Woman in the Dunes” is probably one of the most underappreciated art-house movies of all time. It is not only a visually stunning film with dreamlike sequences, but also a genuinely disturbing thriller with great characters.
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