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The film Martin Scorsese called "the most moving of its era"


Making his mark with such films as Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, Raging Bull and Casino, the cinema of Martin Scorsese films is typified by gritty, enigmatic stories about troubled individuals on the brink of personal transformation. Though Martin Scorsese may be a world-famous filmmaker above anything else, he is also a wise purveyor of classic cinema with a near-encyclopedic knowledge of world cinema. 

In fact, when it comes to the director’s own favourite films, there is no doubt that Scorsese prefers the classic films of the past rather than contemporary efforts in cinema, looking to the likes of filmmakers such as Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, Jean Renoir, Michelangelo Antonioni, Federico Fellini and Jean-Luc Godard. 

When asked by Criterion to pick out his top ten picks from the well-known collection, it was Jean-Luc Godard’s 1963 movie Contempt that caught his attention, speaking in depth about his love for the influential French romance. 

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“I used to think of [Jean-Luc] Godard and [Michelangelo] Antonioni as the great modern visual artists of cinema—great colourists who composed frames the way painters composed their canvases. I still think so, but I also connect with them on an emotional level,” Scorsese explained, comparing the French filmmaker to the Italian auteur behind 1961s L’Avventura. 

Going on to pick out his favourite Godard movie, Scorsese explains, “For me, Contempt is one of the most moving films of its era,” gushing over the film’s yearning romance. Continuing, he adds, “over the years Contempt has grown increasingly, almost unbearably, moving to me. It’s a shattering portrait of a marriage going wrong, and it cuts very deep, especially during the lengthy and justifiably famous scene between Piccoli and Bardot in their apartment”. 

Contextualising the movie within the failure of Godard’s own marriage at the time, Martin Scorsese adds, “even if you don’t know that Godard’s own marriage to Anna Karina was coming apart at the time, you can feel it in the action, the movement of the scenes, the interactions that stretch out so painfully but majestically, like a piece of tragic music”.

Preferring the realism and the multi-layered fascination of such classic European movies, Scorsese has brought a similar sense of classic filmmaking to his own releases, reflected in the likes of 2016’s Silence.

Speaking about the nature of his cinematic tastes, Scorsese has previously noted: “I prefer the escapism of fantasy, rather than the escapism of incredible sentimentality,” he said. Clarifying how this links back to his own love of classic cinema, he adds: “What I’m afraid of is pandering to tastes that are superficial. There’s no depth anymore. What appears to be depth is often a facile character study… But they’re making a product, and a product’s gotta sell”.