Justine Bateman: 5 Films I Can't Get Out Of My Head
Justine Bateman
Justine Bateman

At 19, I knew I wanted to direct films. Weaned on the European films of the ’60s and ’70s, I had already been writing for years, and had fallen into acting a few years prior, but the directing moment was not yet there. Timing is a big component in my life and I knew enough to feel that the timing to direct had not arrived. Thirty years later, that timing suddenly locked in and I started running as hard as I could in that direction. In the ensuing three years, I shot two shorts and my first feature film, Violet (in theaters Oct. 29). Finally, I am able to fold together and bake all the art and films I have ever seen, music I have ever been influenced by, the writing I have ever read or created myself, and all the experiences I have had or witnessed or studied into cinematic collages to emotionally infect and compel a viewer. I feel very fortunate to finally slide into this level of creativity.

8 ½
8 1/2
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This is my favorite film. Fellini creates a world with his story, his composition and his disregard for standard story structure. is a unique and specific world that one can enter over and over again with each viewing. It is remarkable how filmmakers can capture and retain an entire experience/environment/feeling within an armful of film footage. And it’s remarkable that this potency remains undiluted over time. I think I’ve seen this film 10 times, and I feel lucky that I get to see it as many more times as I like. 

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This film was a key reference film for me and my cinematographer, Mark Williams, when we shot my film Violet. The composition in the vast majority of this film’s shots is on par with the world’s most revered paintings. Additionally, [director Götz] Spielmann’s use of locked-off shots, and the actors’ movements in and out of those shots, are some of the most compelling scenes in film. On top of all of that, the story has the best ethical twist since Louis Malle’s Elevator to the Gallows. Visually and conceptually compelling.

Days of Heaven
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There is the intriguing story, the brilliant cinematography, the engaging tales of shooting techniques (the swarm of locusts ascending, etc.), but there’s something else that won’t leave me about this film that’s difficult to put my finger on. Perhaps it’s the loose attachment we all enjoyed in that era, regarding our past, back before cohesive personnel records and digital tracking bound us to just one invention of identity. Maybe it’s the feeling of a body unrestrained by the clock or personal definition, because the world was not bound enough yet for a body to feel tethered or hemmed in at all. Regardless, [director Terrence] Malick captured all of that, in the story, the cinematography, the editing, the music, etc. He did what a director is supposed to do: create an experience with all the tools at his disposal that captures an intangible human experience.

La Ciénaga
La ciénaga
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[Lucrecia] Martel is one of the best directors alive. She creates films you can feel on your skin and in your throat from the very first moments. She latches that onto you and never lets go. Even after her films have ended, they linger within you forever. The textures of the objects in the shots, the rawness and honesty of her actors, the (sometimes harsh) lingering of the camera in moments that we are unsure the character would have wanted us to see. These elements conspire to spread Martel’s work under our skin and cause us to dwell on the concepts and feelings long after. 

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I was drawn to this film because of its dynamic poster, and thankfully, the film truly expanded from that and poured a cornucopia of delicious color, extreme emotions and epic strife into my lap. It’s a film you almost don’t want to watch, but can’t look away from. It washes over you and pounds your center until you are as consumed with conviction as Nicolas Cage’s character, Red. The film’s welcome, relentless style; the intense acting; and the surreal scenes that serve as support posts for the story’s frame comb through you and leave pieces of itself there. It becomes the picking of a scab you shouldn’t touch: slightly painful, but strangely satisfying and impossible to ignore.

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