I watched The Fits yesterday night. I keep letting myself in for these experiences that are not, for me, the most satisfying when I watch these art house films. They’re so beautiful to watch. Often as not, the cinematography is beautiful and the plot is a seductive jigsaw puzzle. But also often as not, that irresistible mystery at the plots core is left unresolved.
Maybe you’re someone who is totally fine with that, in which case this is the list for you! But being someone who loves closure, I always feel frustrated and honestly a bit distressed by the lack of resolution. And because I do truly enjoy the viewing experience, I’m not likely to learn my lesson anytime soon.
So a collection of unorthodox films verging on the incoherent, with philosophical themes and symbolic overtones? Aesthetically pleasing and little-known? Films centered on women? Finales that leave you biting your lip and obsessively googling to find “the meaning”? Here you go.
- Picnic at Hanging Rock, 1975
A classic of this clumsily-defined genre. Via IMDb: “During a rural summer picnic, a few students and a teacher from an Australian girls’ school vanish without a trace. Their absence frustrates and haunts the people left behind.” Me. I am one of those people left behind. Frustrated and haunted.
But it’s so visually pleasing! Light and breezy white textiles, brushy woodland, summer flowers, unforgiving rock formations for exploring, and a looming atmosphere of “something’s not quite right”. Apparently a favorite of the late, great, and also disturbed designer Alexander McQueen, which is how I originally heard of it, I believe. There’s also a pretty worthwhile book that it’s based on, but i worn you that the book does absolutely nothing to tie up the loose ends. And I found it kind of distressing, but I was having a period of depression at the time, so the reading experience was certainly shadowed by my mood.
But why? Why was I reading this book during a period of depression? Yeah, got me. Bad choices. If nothing else, you will be convinced of the beauty of the name Miranda. As if the fact that it was invented by Shakespeare wasn’t enough.
- Suspiria, 1977
“A newcomer to a fancy ballet academy gradually comes to realize that the school is a front for something far more sinister and supernatural amidst a series of grisly murders.” Honestly I’m just putting this out there because I think it fits even though I wasn’t able to make it through the film. It’s more on the horror side than any of the others.
- The Fits, 2016
The film that prompted this list. I watched it last night and I’m still wondering what the hell happened and googling for the song they use because I can’t find it anywhere and I think I love it? But anyway, the blurb: “While training at the gym 11-year-old tomboy Toni becomes entranced with a dance troupe. As she struggles to fit in she finds herself caught up in danger as the group begins to suffer from fainting spells and other violent fits.” And especially as a dancer, I love it. These films are all so fascinating and engrossing and then they end and all my feelings are left just hazing around me, generally confused.
- The Neon Demon, 2016
“When aspiring model Jesse moves to Los Angeles, her youth and vitality are devoured by a group of beauty-obsessed women who will take any means necessary to get what she has.” Well, that was weird. Probably the second-closest to horror after Suspiria. It’s kind of beautiful to watch; beautiful actresses, beautiful cinematography, settings… and a semi-incomprehensible indictment of the eat-them-up-spit-them-out scheme that is the fashion industry? I think?
- The Red Shoes, 1948
The Red Shoes is probably my favorite of all of these- it has the most comprehensible plot, probably because it’s the oldest. What was groundbreaking then is more conventional now, so my brain was more willing to accept the strangenesses here. And there actually is kind of an ending. In fact, it may not belong on this list by virtue of being kind of coherent. But it is surreal. And fairly suspenseful. And centered on the universal topic that is the reciprocal and intense relationship between a woman and her shoes. Also, more dancing! It’s a short description, “A young ballet dancer is torn between the man she loves and her pursuit to become a prima ballerina.” And apparently it’s based on a Hans Christian Anderson story (like The Little Mermaid)? Now I have to find it and read it.
- Mulholland Drive, 2001
“After a car wreck on the winding Mulholland Drive renders a woman amnesiac, she and a perky Hollywood-hopeful search for clues and answers across Los Angeles in a twisting venture beyond dreams and reality.” A twisting venture beyond dreams and reality. I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN! But I was still blind-sided. I watched this months ago and I still want answers.
And the one movie that kind of fits on this list but I’ve made the decision not to include: Black Swan. Even though it would replace The Red Shoes as my favorite on this list. I think the plot is too coherent for its inclusion. And honestly from me that’s high praise.
How you feel about these films, whether or not you feel they’re worthwhile, I think really depends on the weight you give art and aesthetics in film making. Of course there are other virtues to recommend them: experimental plots and a focus on personal interpretations over concrete meanings.
Open-ended films. They’re a thing and they can be a beautiful thing, even for someone like me who loves neat packages tied with bows. 🙂