On watching "serious" films

Why is it, I wondered after a recent comment from my good friend Lani, that I watch so many "serious" films? And what is it that makes a film "serious"?

It's not a strange question. Many people around me don't understand why I watch all these films in black and white, all these films from directors whose names they don't even know. It's put all the more starkly into relief now with the passing of Bergman and Antonioni, two masters who showed that films were not just movies, that films nowadays are often little more.

I don't argue that every film needs to be high art. I fell in love with the medium of cinema precisely because it can be so much: it can be art, it can be a document, a critique, and it can also just be pure undiluted entertainment, and there's nothing wrong with that. The problem is that there is much less wiggle room in the film-as-entertainment genre, and that once you've seen quite a few, the rest often don't have many surprises.

There are exceptions, definitely: I greatly enjoyed Fast Times at Ridgemont High when I finally saw it, even if many of its elements have been imitated by so many other high school movies, and I had a blast with Ocean's 13, not so much because it surprised me but because it was so nimble and so light. But when weighing seeing the nth threequel of the summer(*) against watching one of the many classics I haven't seen yet, the latter almost always wins.

Many people nowadays seem scared of "serious" movies. The moniker already says it all: they imagine those films unapproachable, humorless and obscure. To me, however, many of these films are much more entertaining than watching robots blow each others to smithereens (my inner geek gets a thrill out of watching robots fight, but does it need to last 2.5 hours?).

Take Cronaca di un amore. It's sexy. It's a simply story with beautiful people and even more beautiful outfits. What's so intimidating about that? Plein Soleil is likewise a thriller without a boring moment. It's not an art film at all, but because it's in French and made before 1980, it gets labeled as "serious". Even the Seventh Seal, while it's conversations about the absence of God can be daunting, is also surprisingly funny.

I understand the hesitations all too well. I, too, had for example never seen an Ingmar Bergman seen because I imagined them stark and Scandinavian, depressing and dull. I don't feel like Antonioni, Fellini or -a more modern maker of art films- Gus van Sant every night. The themes they broach are often heavier, the ruminations they inspire are more complex, and the feelings they evoke are more ambiguous and lingering. But especially because these films get to you more, because they are more layered than your average Adam Sandler movie, they're much more rewarding to watch.

So every once in a while, get over that hurdle. Take a deep breat and jump. You won't regret it.

(*) I am very excited about Bourne 3 though.

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