“I agree that a film should have a beginning, a middle and an end but not necessarily in that order” once said Jean-Luc Godard. He made a habit of questioning the established rules of filmmaking in his work, as did most masters from the French New Wave. The 60’s were a period of disruption in society and in everything and many filmmakers played with story structure then, some did and many others have since. So here are 10 great non-linear films to enjoy in any order you see fit.
1941 -Citizen Kane
This movie is so exceptional it has been on top of virtually every “best pictures of all time list” since its release, it’s a masterclass in virtually every realm of filmmaking and this list is no exception. Following the death of magnate Charles Foster Kane, we set out to find out the meaning of his final word, “Rosebud “, and thus start a tightly-written journey of revelations in moments of his life as told through his friends, former wives, collaborators and enemies. The script, written by Orson Welles along with Herman Mankiewicz, earned Welles his only competitive Academy Award, and the film remains one of the all-time greats.
1959 – Hiroshima mon amour
One of the earliest films of the French New Wave (it was released the same year as Truffaut’s equally disruptive The 400 Blows), it became a landmark for the liberties it took with its narration. The screenplay was written by Marguerite Duras, who was a figure of the Nouveau Roman (new novel) literary wave that aimed at deconstructing all known codes of narration, so it’s no surprise that the first of her many cinematic stints was also innovative in its storytelling. Director Alain Resnais used miniature flashbacks in order to illustrate the conversation of two lovers about memory, to great emotional effect.
1977 – Annie Hall
This movie has been described by critic Roger Ebert as “just about everyone’s favourite Woody Allen movie”, and it certainly is the most “Woody Allen” Woody Allen movie. It was a departure from his earlier slapstick comedies as it delved into the depths of the relationship between his and Diane Keaton’s eponymous alter ego, yet without losing his signature wisecracking dialogue. The narration goes back and forth between memories at different times in their relationship as well as memories of his childhood. It has been widely acclaimed as a landmark in American film and won the best picture Academy Award in 1977 against Star Wars.
1994 – Pulp Fiction
This Raindance alumni (screened at our festival in 1994) has become a cult classic for many reasons: whether it’s Quentin Tarantino’s stylised direction, his signature, epic dialogue or simply the ensemble of characters he created and the world the roam, there’s always a good reason to go back to this film. It went farther and more broadly into Tarantino’s narrative idiosyncrasies -which were already visible in Reservoir Dogs– which definitively put Tarantino on the map as a major talent, and reinvigorated independent film in the process.
2000 – Amores Perros
The landmark first collaboration between director Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritù and writer Guillermo Arriaga intertwines the lives of three people who come from different social classes, yet who all struggle with loss, regret and love. It’s a brutal and harrowing film whose inventiveness shines in the way those three stories are intersecting. It has been widely acclaimed for its vision, cinematic style, originality and story.
2000 – Memento
Another Raindance alumni in this list is Christopher Nolan’s breakthrough film. The main character, played by Guy Pearce, suffers from short-term memory loss and is on a quest to avenge the death of his wife. The story is actually told in reverse in such a way that your perception of the events will be the same as that of the character. This plays as a clever, gripping intellectual game in an extremely tense atmosphere, which serves as a reminder that Nolan has always liked to play with our senses, long before Inception.
2003 – 21 grams
This second collaboration between Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu and writer Guillermo Arriaga brings together a group of troubled people dealing with matters of life and death -a terminally ill Sean Penn, Naomi Watts in the aftermath of the death of her loved ones, and ex-con Benicio Del Toro- whose lives are intertwined following a fatal car crash. Arriaga’s script brings bits and pieces of his character’s life in what seems to be no particular order, until they gradually lead the viewer to an understanding of the emotional intricacies of their situations to incredible emotional power.
2004- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Charlie Kaufman always goes high-concept, and after having written such classics as Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, he went for a reflexion on the nature of romance, and touched on the feeling of being so broken-hearted you’d actually want someone erased from your memory. Most of the film takes place in the main character’s head, and the exploration of memories calls for a non-linear narration. This original structure was given even more emotional impact thanks to Jim Carrey’s and Kate Winslet’s stellar performances, as well as Michel Gondry’s visual zest and deftness.
2006 – Babel
A gunshot in the middle of the Moroccan desert can go a long way. The last collaboration between Iñarritù and Arriaga before they had a falling out explores the implications of such an event all the way to America, Mexico and Japan. Like in their previous collaborations, the visuals suggest the invisible, the subtle, unexpected links in which people’s existences can be poetically related. The film was critically acclaimed and both Iñarritù and Arriaga were nominated for Academy Awards for their work.
2009 – (500) Days of Summer
This indie hit took a page from the Woody Allen playbook by being bold about its voice, and going for unabashedly sweet romance. As Joseph Gordon-Levitt tries to understand what went wrong in his relationship with Zooey Deschanel’s Summer, his mind peruses a number of memories. Altogether clever and honest, it makes great use of the non-linear structure to give a charming romance a bittersweet turn.