Lovely to look at and filled with improvised Buddhist exercises, Kim Ki-duk’s film Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter . . . and Spring takes place entirely on a gorgeous man-made lake, in the center of which floats a monk’s shack. Five seasons (spanning decades) transpire, tracing the hardly simple spiritual education of a young boy. The tug-of-war between the body’s need for satisfaction and the mind’s need for purity is vividly played out.
Ersatz New Zealand visionary Vincent Ward had his last Hollywood shot with What Dreams May Come, a poundingly romantic dream tribulation, in which Robin Williams, enjoying a digitally splashed-out heaven, must travel down to the depths of the underworld to save the soul of his dead (by suicide) wife (Annabella Sciorra). No painterly, impressionistic (or expressionistic) idea has been left out, and the oddly affecting thing about the film is that everybody involved seems to mean it.
One of Woody Allen’s richest films, and one that dares to take on the weightiest of moral dilemmas, as Martin Landau’s tortured Manhattan ophthalmologist is confronted with saving himself, his wife, and his lifestyle from the destructive forces of Anjelica Huston’s unstable girlfriend. Crimes and Misdemeanors asks: what can we live with? What price can we, and others, pay for peace and happiness? With Mia Farrow and Alan Alda.
Danish heavyweight Carl Dreyer shot this French film using bare, expressionistic sets, the immolated saint’s actual trial transcripts, and a stage actress named Maria Falconetti, who delivered what many have considered to be the most beautiful and affecting film performance of all time. Of course the issue at hand is spiritual integrity—do you surrender your beliefs, or say you do, in exchange for clemency from an evil empire? Who does God’s work, anyway? One of the faithful, Dreyer was intent on communicating the tormenting experience of spirit-body conflict, and The Passion of Joan of Arc, a well-worn art-house cornerstone, still astonishes.