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What Is an Auteur?

MUBI Special

The idea of a film director being the “auteur”—or author—of a film is one that was put to paper by François Truffaut in the 1950s, reformulated by American critic Andrew Sarris in the 1960s, and has been debated and re-interpreted ever since. MUBI’s new series aims to explore the increasingly complicated question of what constitutes an auteur. With this ongoing program, arranged in a series of director double bills ranging from the likes of Alfonso Cuarón to Claire Denis, we hope to elucidate this nebulous term while also shedding light on some of cinema’s finest masters along the way.


Jonas Mekas United States, 1969

We conclude our year-long survey of various kinds of personal artistic cinema by celebrating the birthday of a great pioneer of first-person moviemaking, Jonas Mekas. His art is inextricable from his life, and is in fact woven from it, as showcased by this tremendous classic of diary filmmaking.

Lost, Lost, Lost

Jonas Mekas United States, 1976

A deeply personal, delightfully idiosyncratic, remarkably free-ranging, and ultimately powerfully searching diary film from Jonas Mekas. An interpretive chronicle of the Lithuanian’s struggle to find a sense of home in mid-century Brooklyn, it’s a profound expression of longing and hope.

The Grief of Others

Patrick Wang United States, 2015

Next in our double feature devoted to American independent cinema’s best kept secret is the writer-director’s adaptation of the Leah Hager Cohen’s novel: a drama that unfurls the many cycles and domino effects of grief with immense empathy and acuity. A uniquely renewing emotional experience.

In the Family

Patrick Wang United States, 2011

With his latest film A Bread Factory recently on MUBI, we proudly present a double feature of Patrick Wang’s previous films beginning with his impressive and intimate directorial debut, In the Family, in which the writer-director also stars. A humane, deeply felt family drama of growth and survival.

The Princess of France

Matías Piñeiro Argentina, 2014

Our second film by Matías Piñeiro is another ingenious and spry blend of pure cinema and the pleasures of Shakespeare. A whirlwind of young women swirl around and intersect with the life of a radio director in Buenos Aires in a multiplicity of relationships, love, and play. A gentle delight.


Matías Piñeiro Argentina, 2012

Over the course of his enchanting filmography, Argentinian auteur Matías Piñeiro has been re-imagining Shakespeare’s masterpieces on his delightfully intimate, lively canvas. With Viola, he spins Twelfth Night into a rich yarn of life-imitating-art… or might it be the other away around?

When Pigs Fly

Sara Driver Germany, 1993

Ten years after the sublime Sleepwalk, Driver followed it with this oneiric, jazz-infused ghost story. Set in a small port town and haunted by a host phantoms (one played by the always brilliant Marianne Faithfull!), When Pigs Fly is a completely beguiling invocation of the unresolved past.


Sara Driver United States, 1986

Curses and endless night engulf this hypnotic film and the drifting woman at its center. One of the great New York filmmakers of the “No Wave” generation, the feature debut by Sara Driver is a jagged maze of puzzles with an irresistible dreamlike flow. Featuring cinematography by Jim Jarmusch!

Death Laid an Egg

Giulio Questi Italy, 1968

Giulio Questi’s second film is a brilliantly unidentifiable genre hybrid, combining giallo with a love triangle and sharp critique of capitalism. Giddily stylized, with an ace cast including Jean-Louis Trintignant and Gina Lollobrigida, it marked an apotheosis of 1960s modernist Italian cinema.

Django Kill... If You Live, Shoot!

Giulio Questi Italy, 1967

Italian wildcard Giulio Questi pushed the limits (and censorship!) of what one could show in a movie in his brilliantly twisted cinema. With this, his debut, he forged what boldly stands today as perhaps the most bloody, reviled, and ecstatic of spaghetti westerns. Not for the faint of heart!

My Name Is Joe

Ken Loach United Kingdom, 1998

One of Ken Loach’s lesser-known films, yet no less compassionate and sincere. A story of love and solidarity gone awry, My Name is Joe portrays with care its larger-than-life titular character, interpreted with visceral fervor by Peter Mullan, who won the Best Actor award in Cannes for the role.

Sweet Sixteen

Ken Loach United Kingdom, 2002

Ken Loach, Britain’s cinematic voice of the proletariat, even today continues his commitment to charting the lives of working people at the ripe age of 83. Rewinding back to 2002, Sweet Sixteen is one of his most potent works: a raw, uncompromising view of surviving youth at the fringes of society.

When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism

Corneliu Porumboiu Romania, 2013

Romanian New Wave director Corneliu Porumboiu turns his hilarious deadpan style to a behind-the-scenes look at moviemaking in Bucharest. This duet (or is it a duel?) between a director and actress is a clever self-critique about what matters in cinema, as well as a withering satire of masculine ego.

Police, Adjective

Corneliu Porumboiu Romania, 2009

Romanian New Wave director Corneliu Porumboiu won two prizes in Cannes for this dark comedy of the mentality and excruciating bureaucracy of his nation’s police. With a deadpan mix of bleak settings and odd situations, Police, Adjective draws a wry portrait of a country in a state of paralysis.

The Exterminating Angels

Jean-Claude Brisseau France, 2006

After a guilty charge of sexual harassment during auditions for Secret Things, Jean-Claude Brisseau brazenly made a film seemingly inspired by the scandal. The result is lurid—and to many, tasteless—but also surreal and sensual, an exploration of the mysterious desires conjured during filmmaking.


Jean-Claude Brisseau France, 1992

First associated with Rohmer and, much later, with scandals of harassment, the movies of Jean-Claude Brisseau are hard to find and strange to encounter. Mislabeled as a social realist, he is in fact the rare director to embrace the fantastic, here in a powerful tale of female friendship and healing.

Day Night Day Night

Julia Loktev Germany, 2006

Tactile, ambiguous, and alive to the ideological dangers of modernity, Julia Loktev’s Day Night Day Night immerses one entirely into the perspective of an insurgent on the precipice of attacking Time Square. A rare sense of immediacy tempers this film’s risky yet unforgettable moral challenge.

The Loneliest Planet

Julia Loktev United States, 2011

The extraordinary talent of Julia Loktev is this week’s director focus. Her second film takes us through a startling journey with a couple—Gael García Bernal and Hani Furstenberg—who have to face the limits of what defines human relationships: love, trust, fortitude, and selflessness.

Che: Part Two (Guerrilla)

Steven Soderbergh Spain, 2008

Guerilla concludes Steven Soderbergh’s broad-canvas biopic in a more subdued style, finding Che Guevara as he resurfaces in Bolivia, preparing the Latin American Revolution. Lead by another tremendous performance from Benicio del Toro, who won the Best Actor prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

Che: Part One (The Argentine)

Steven Soderbergh Spain, 2008

The first part of a project not just split down the middle, but fractured in a more abstract sense, this bold reconstruction of the Che’s life (charting the revolutionary’s time in 50s Cuba) challenges our every expectation. An unconventional biopic from the always risk-taking Steven Soderbergh.


The Son of Joseph

Eugène Green France, 2016

Eugène Green brings his delightfully idiosyncratic touch to this unusual version of the Nativity story involving a quest to find a boy’s true father, a hilarious satire of the French literature scene, and, as always with this filmmaker, moving doses of profound emotional and spiritual sincerity.


La sapienza

Eugène Green France, 2014

Next subject in our What Is an Auteur? series is French-by-way-of-America director Eugène Green, whose movies are spare—he counts Bresson as an influence—yet refreshingly funny, forthright, and touching. With its stunning architecture tour, this wistful delight intertwines art into its drama.



Ulrich Seidl Austria, 2007

An epic exposé of the relationship between Europe and countries to its east, Ulrich Seidl’s drama is an engrossing and provocative tale of humans, economies, and dreams. Rooted in real-world research and stunningly photographed by the great Ed Lachman, this is a global story told on a human scale.

Jesus, You Know

Ulrich Seidl Austria, 2003

Fluidly moving between fiction and docs, the films of Austria’s foremost director, Ulrich Seidl, are a cross between Erich von Stroheim’s sensuous anthropology and Herzog’s ecstatic blend of fact and imagination. This confrontative inquiry of Catholicism is a direct revelation of individual faith.


Silent Light

Carlos Reygadas Mexico, 2007

Reygadas proved himself one of the most controversial contemporary directors when he won the Jury Prize at Cannes in 2007 with this gorgeous remixing of Dreyer’s Ordet. Weaving the sacred and the profane, the holy and the damned, Silent Light is one of the great modern films on the subject of faith.


Battle in Heaven

Carlos Reygadas Mexico, 2005

Behold! Art cinema in all its grandeur. If you miss the glory days of lauded, grandiose artists making controversial films with spellbinding visual approaches and headline-grabbing, risqué content, look no further than Mexican visionary Carlos Reygadas and his sophomore vision Battle in Heaven.


Claire Denis France, 2013

After the wide canvas of her Africa-set White Material, the great Claire Denis turned her sensuous storytelling to the black heart of contemporary film noir. Her fascinating, sinister thriller stars Vincent Lindon, Chiara Mastroianni, and two Denis regulars: Alex Descas and Grégoire Colin.

White Material

Claire Denis France, 2009

With her Robert Pattinson-led High Life in theatres, we pay homage to Claire Denis and her marvelous dancing impressionism. For this collaboration with Isabelle Huppert, the director, who grew up in French Africa, returns to her roots for a powerful story about the death throes of white colonialism.


Bruno Dumont France, 2006

Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, Bruno Dumont’s forlorn love story asks where the roots of modern violence is in the rural countryside. Flanders audacious finds the temptations of passion and cruelty both on the battlefield and in the illusion of peace at home.


Bruno Dumont France, 2009

Faith is an increasingly neglected theme in contemporary cinema, but not so for Bruno Dumont, who with each film challenges our understanding of modern spirituality. In Hadewijch he continues his search with the experiences of an exiled nun’s encounters with the transience and dangers of devotion.

Sex Is Comedy

Catherine Breillat France, 2002

Our next film by provocatrice Catherine Breillat gives you a glimpse behind the scenes: her signature dramas of sex and psychology, taking place on a movie set! Clearly inspired by the making of Breillat’s controversial Fat Girl, this is a bracing self-inquiry into the power-games of moviemaking.

Anatomy of Hell

Catherine Breillat France, 2004

Alert: Not for the faint-of-heart! Breillat approaches sex in ways no (male) filmmaker has ever done. Her unwavering exploration of femininity peaks in this loose sequel to Romance. Here she fearlessly blurs the line between porn and art—and casting porn legend Siffredi is just the beginning.

4:44 Last Day on Earth

Abel Ferrara United States, 2011

Cinema has seen its share of apocalyptic scenarios, yet none fuse intimacy with prescience like this one. Eradicating all spectacle from the dramatic palette, 4:44 is instead a frequently oneiric, entirely humanist reckoning with the end of existence from the perspective of a Manhattan apartment.

King of New York

Abel Ferrara United States, 1990

Abel Ferrara, the iconoclastic cinema-poet of New York City, directs this sleek, savage masterpiece. Walken gives a career-best performance as the titular socialist gangster (you read that right) whose name was even taken up by late rapper Notorious B.I.G. as a pseudonym. A key film of the 1990s.


Christian Petzold Germany, 2014

Our second film by contemporary German auteur Christian Petzold is his biggest hit to date, a devilishly clever and twisting adaptation of Vertigo to the suspicions and unease of a post-war Germany left in ruin. Like Barbara, it stars the inimitable Nina Hoss in a challenging but unforgettable role.


Christian Petzold Germany, 2012

With the new thriller by Christian Petzold in cinemas (read our interview about Transit) our auteur series turns to highlighting this brilliant German. Adroitly combining genre cinema with deeper inquiries into his nation’s painful 20th century, Petzold’s films are as enthralling as they are smart.


Mathieu Amalric France, 2017

French pop legend Barbara is far too special to make a normal biopic about. Instead, Mathieu Amalric, subject of this week’s double feature, creates an imaginatively free and dazzling portrait not just of Barbara, but of the challenge of an actress (Jeanne Balibar) to embody such a unique person.

The Blue Room

Mathieu Amalric France, 2014

Next in our survey of the signatures of great filmmakers is a double feature by one better known as an actor: Mathieu Amalric. Yet Amalric’s films behind the camera are distinct, sly and enthralling, especially this puzzlebox neo-noir which cleverly fragments a crime of passion into a mystery.

Blue Steel

Kathryn Bigelow United States, 1989

One of the most under-valued films by the director of The Hurt Locker, Bigelow turns a male-oriented genre upside down in this gritty, gripping policier by putting a female cop (Jamie Lee Curtis at her best) in the lead. As in the best cop thrillers, the personal and professional are inextricable.

Near Dark

Kathryn Bigelow United States, 1987

Master auteur Kathryn Bigelow has crafted some of the most purely sensorial and kinetic genre cinema of our time. Exhibit A: Near Dark, her sophomore film, is a bewitching vampire-action-horror hybrid that descends into the hidden worlds of rural America to find hell. Erotic, violent, and essential.

Y tu mamá también

Alfonso Cuarón Mexico, 2001

Alfonso Cuarón’s excellence became crystal clear with his fourth feature, Y tu mamá también. The birthplace of both Diego Luna and Gael García Bernal’s stardom, this deceptively sublime road movie broke ground by expressing the many complexities intrinsic to the sexual odyssey that is youth.

Sólo con tu pareja

Alfonso Cuarón Mexico, 1991

This year we’re excited to launch “What Is An Auteur?,” a new series of double bills dedicated to exploring what defines the style, sensibility and perspective of directors. With Roma being one of last year’s true masterpieces, we’re starting with Alfonso Cuarón and his satiric, sexy Mexican debut.

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