Influential World Filmmakers: Kurosawa to Bergman
A World of Stories
The lights go dim. The theater falls silent. You wriggle in your seat in anticipation and prepare to be carried away to places you’ve never seen. The international film festival is about to begin. You’re looking forward to viewing films by master filmmakers, like Akira Kurosawa, Sergei Eisenstein, Federico Fellini, and Jean Renoir. You know that these filmmakers are some of the world’s most prominent storytellers. Indeed, international filmmakers are in a unique position to bring their nations, cultures, and heritages before the eyes of the world through their films. The best ones do their job so well that their personal vision, as well as their culture, translates onto the screen, and their work stands the test of time and changes the history of film. In this lesson, we’ll meet a few of the great international filmmakers.
The Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa had a knack for blending Eastern and Western elements in his films. This painter-turned-director created everything from traditional Japanese samurai films, like the epic Seven Samurai and Kagemusha, to comedies like Yojimbo to adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays, like Throne of Blood, which is based on Macbeth, and Ran, which is based on King Lear. Kurosawa’s technique of using a telephoto lens to achieve creative shots and his use of heroic characters have become a model for other filmmakers. Kurosawa is also known for editing his own films, thereby achieving his desired level of perfection.
Russian Sergei Eisenstein only made nine feature films during his career, but those nine often made strong statements about Russian politics. For instance, Eisenstein’s 1925 film The Battleship Potemkin explores the psychological and spiritual effects of the Russian Revolution of 1905. The movie October portrays the power shifts of the 1917 revolutions, and Old and New focuses on the push for collectivism in Russian agriculture. Eisenstein was a pioneer in editing his films to create emotional montages designed to inspire particular strong opinions in his viewers.
Unlike Eisenstein, who worked with politics and history, Italian Federico Fellini dealt in fantasies, dreams, memories, and desires. His movies were highly stylized, and he emphasized visual elements that captured his surrealistic tendency to explore the human subconscious. Fellini’s movies include La Dolce Vita, Nights of Cabiria, and Casanova. His style became so well known that it has been termed ‘Felliniesque.’
European-born filmmaker Billy Wilder began his career as a journalist but ended up as one of the most productive and flexible directors in Hollywood. Wilder made over 60 films in about 50 years, including such classics as Double Indemnity, Some Like it Hot, The Apartment, Sunset Boulevard, and The Seven Year Itch. Wilder was comfortable working across genres. He had a keen eye for observing human behavior, and his leading characters tended to get themselves into all sorts of mischief that they had to work hard to get themselves out of.
French filmmaker Jean Renoir was the son of famous Impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and he is famous for bringing his father’s artistic techniques to the big screen. Renoir sought to use light, camera angles, and locations to bring a truly human perspective to his work and to explore the relationships between people, society, and surroundings. Renoir’s most famous films include Grand Illusion, which is set in a prison camp during World War I, and The Rules of the Game, which satirically explores French high society.
Frenchman Jean-Luc Godard was a rule breaker when it came to filmmaking. As an independent filmmaker, he struck out with a 16mm camera and proceeded to shoot his own films, pushing all the limits of what movies are supposed to be. He played with long shots, camera angles, disjointed cuts, unique viewpoints, and the separation of sound and image. Godard could be scandalous at times, getting himself in trouble with French censors for nude scenes and shocking characters. Some of Godard’s most well-known films include the 1960 movie Breathless, the 1962 Vivre sa vie (My Life to Live), and Une Femme Mariée from 1964.
Finally, the Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman is often considered one of the most intellectual filmmakers of all time. Bergman was a storyteller who didn’t shy away from strong emotions, striking observations of human nature, moral considerations, and religious and philosophical exploration. He was especially interested in how people relate to themselves, to others, and to God. Preferring a strong narrative to special effects, Bergman wrote his own screenplays and used lighting techniques to emphasize his themes of illness, death, insanity, and betrayal. Bergman’s films include The Seventh Seal, Winter Light, The Passion of Anna, The Silence, and Shame.
Now that we’ve met several influential world filmmakers, let’s review. International filmmakers are some of the world’s most prominent storytellers, and they are in a unique position to bring their nations, cultures, and heritages before the eyes of the world through their films. The best international filmmakers perform their task so well that their personal vision, as well as their culture, translates onto the screen, and their work stands the test of time and changes the history of film. Some of these great world filmmakers include:
- Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, who blended Eastern and Western elements in his films and is known for his use of a telephoto lens and his creation of heroic characters
- Russian Sergei Eisenstein, who used his movies, including The Battleship Potemkin, to make strong statements about Russian politics
- Italian Federico Fellini, who explored fantasies, dreams, memories, and desires through his films
- European-born Billy Wilder, who made over 60 films in about 50 years, including such classics as Double Indemnity, Some Like it Hot, and The Seven Year Itch
- Frenchman Jean Renoir, who used light, camera angles, and locations to bring a truly human perspective to his work and to explore the relationships between people, society, and surroundings
- Frenchman Jean-Luc Godard, who was a rule breaker and an independent filmmaker who could be quite scandalous
- Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman, who was an intellectual storyteller who didn’t shy away from strong emotions, striking observations of human nature, moral considerations, and religious and philosophical exploration
No one can really know much about a filmmaker without watching his movies, so the next step for any film student is to watch the great works of these world filmmakers. So, sit back, relax, and enjoy some classic films.
After watching this lesson, you should be able to identify key contributions of influential filmmakers such as Akira Kurosawa, Jean-Luc Godard, and Ingmar Bergman.