Exploring The Vast Landscape of Cinema Through MUBI’s ‘The New Curriculum’ Curation9 min readReading Time: 7 minutes
Riding off the back of my last piece where I explored the work of Wong Kar-Wai for the first time in my life, I decided to continue exploring films outside of my comfort zone and expanding my view on film as a whole. There was no better time to do this too since film streaming platform MUBI handpicked a new curation for students called The New Curriculum.
Here at Sinema, we have worked with the good folks at MUBI before such as in a giveaway we held last month. I signed up for their student membership when I wrote my review for Fundamentally Happy and with this, I was able to access many other films too. MUBI offers a free 30-day trial for those who want to give it a shot.
MUBI is not your typical film streaming platform. It has a curated collection that is constantly updated with films from both established and up-and-coming filmmakers. The New Curriculum focuses on socially conscious films, coming of age films, and must-watch classics that will interest modern youths. When I first looked through the curation of films, most of the titles were new to me and I may have never stumbled upon them if not for MUBI’s library. I picked four films from different countries and styles to explore.
Dir. Sean Baker
The first film I saw was Tangerine, an American film about the life of a transgender sex worker Sin-dee who just got out of a jail sentence and her relationship with her best friend and fellow transgender sex worker Alexandra. Part of the experience of watching this film was finding out how it was made. I was amazed to learn that it was shot on the iPhone 5S and this challenged them to find ways to make phone footage look cinematic while also benefiting them because a huge portion of production cost was reduced by shooting with smartphones.
The film touches on subjects that we may consider taboo in Asia or Singapore but it is fascinating to see how Tangerine frames its transgender cast and how it humanises them in a way that more conservative cultures may not yet be ready for. Tangerine is one of those films that really open your worldview and makes you think about how societal and cultural norms function in different environments.
Tangerine was a thoroughly enjoyable watch. It was dramatic, hilarious, heartbreaking, all in one. The characters were charming and despite their shortcomings, this film manages to make you feel sympathetic towards their plight.
The Terrorizers (1986)
Dir. Edward Yang
The second film was The Terrorizers, which centres around the stories of four individuals — a young woman involved in a gang, a doctor and his novelist wife, and a photographer. It is quite cryptic and abstract, which brought out a similar feeling that I had when I was watching Wong Kar-Wai’s films for my last piece.
I rarely see films that were made before I was born because those that predate the modern internet era can be difficult to find and I obviously never had the chance to catch them in cinemas. Such films being accessible on MUBI helps prevent them from being forgotten and instead passes on their cultural and artistic significance to future generations.
As I watched The Terrorizers, I felt like I was being handed a videotape of someone’s life. I was watching a snippet of their day-to-day life without any prior context or knowledge of these characters. The film was slow, but I believe this was intentional to capture the element of realism that is integral to this film.
The Terrorizers shows us a glimpse into what the 80s was like, specifically in Taiwan where the film takes place, and what the filmmaking styles of that era were. I could imagine that films in a similar vein to The Terrorizers would have shaped the industry at that time and by extension shaped audiences too. Film is both a catalyst and a reaction to society, thus I can only picture the influence that a film like this would have had in its time.
The Terrorizers was released in 1986, right in the middle of the new wave of Taiwanese cinema. This new wave was sparked by initiatives to promote Taiwanese filmmakers to compete with the emerging Hong Kong film industry. True to films of this era, The Terrorizers moved away from stereotypical Asian cinema which consisted of action and martial arts, but instead sought to capture a more realistic picture of everyday life. Films in this era including The Terrorizers focused on the relationships between their characters and reflected the pressing issues that Taiwan faced at the time.
The 400 Blows (1959)
Dir. François Truffaut
Moving on, the third film I saw was The 400 Blows. This French film dates all the way back to 1959 and could not look more different from what I am normally familiar with. The 400 Blows is a pretty simple story about a mischievous young boy, Antoine, who is constantly running into trouble with his teachers at school and his parents.
The 400 Blows is a coming-of-age story that captures Antoine’s struggles with being misunderstood. Ironically, the audience understands Antoine better than his own parents and teachers because we get to see him in moments that they do not. This slice of youth and adolescence is painfully relatable.
It seems as though films lately have been getting longer and longer as three-hour-long films have become increasingly popular while films back in the 1950s were only just starting to become longer than 90 minutes.
Watching The 400 Blows without any context may make it seem like just any other film, but its background and history are very important. It is a new wave film like The Terrorizers but for that of French cinema. The French New Wave of cinema is a rebellion against traditional filmmaking methods and was very significant to film history as a whole.
Watching this film felt less like entertainment and more like an appreciation of history and culture. This would be a must-watch in any film history class and for good reason. It makes perfect sense that MUBI would include this in their curation for students and I look forward to seeing more films of such significance making their way to the platform so that even in the modern era their legacy continues to live on.
The Holy Mountain (1973)
Dir. Alejandro Jodorowsky
The last film I saw was The Holy Mountain. I have seen my share of abstract and experimental films before, but The Holy Mountain was on a whole new level. This Mexican film is difficult to succinctly describe but it borrows elements from tarot, Christianity, astronomy, and other spiritual ideas.
The Holy Mountain is exactly the sort of film that challenges your view on film. It makes you think about the purpose of films and what the audience’s role is in it — are we supposed to understand what is going on or is there beauty in the mystery? How do we go about appreciating films as mind-boggling as The Holy Mountain?
I believe this film’s emphasis is on its visual symbolism. I particularly liked the references to religious symbols and it was interesting to see how they were all weaved together. In fact, the film is so committed to representing a spiritual experience that the director Alejandro Jodorowsky, his wife, and the cast practised various spiritual exercises and they even used psychedelic drugs.
The Holy Mountain was probably the most difficult watch of the four films, but it is the film that best helped me achieve my objective of exploring cinema outside of my comfort zone and expanding my understanding of cinema beyond blockbusters and conventional drama stories.
Going through MUBI’s curation for students, The New Curriculum, I can safely say that such a wide selection will surely have something for everyone. I would highly recommend this for anyone who wants to venture into something new. You can try something not too challenging like Tangerine or strap yourself for a completely wild ride like The Holy Mountain.
I understand how intimidating it can feel to approach a more artistic film that doesn’t promise an easy viewing experience or a clear narrative. There is a common misconception that films that are not made for mainstream commercial consumption are made for highbrow audiences, but I think this experience has taught me that this is not true. Film is not an art form that anyone should be trying to gatekeep. In fact, something as beautiful as film should be shared with everyone.
If you too are looking to discover something new or something niche, I would highly recommend you do so! With some knowledge of these four films you may pick from this list, or feel free to browse MUBI’s catalogue for yourself! Remember, their library is constantly being updated. Some of these films may not be available all the time but there will be fresh picks to replace them too.
MUBI is a film streaming platform with a curated library that handpicks the very best films from around the world for you to watch. From film festival darlings to indie favourites, their extensive catalogue features titles from both esteemed and emerging filmmakers and is constantly being updated with more high-quality films. The works of legendary auteurs Agnes Varda, Abbas Kiarostami, Andrei Tarkovsky, Satyajit Ray, and so many more — all available on MUBI.
Subscriptions start at $13 per month, with students enjoying the discounted rate of $8 per monthly subscription. Find out more here.