5 min read.Updated: 29 May 2020, 11:10 AM ISTRaja Sen
Mubi has a new Library section with hundreds of classics, underrated masterpieces and arthouse novelties available to subscribers
It is the most exquisite betrayal. Mubi is an American streaming service for cinema that takes pride in the finite. It features a selection of 30 films; a new film is added every day and an old one bid adieu. Mubi India, which launched last year, allows Indian subscribers twice as much: two parallel Mubi streams to choose from, one for World Cinema and an India channel that shows finely curated Indian films. A call to action is built into the format: Watch that Mani Kaul film before it vanishes this weekend. But the deadlines are dying now.
Last week, Mubi opened its doors wide and announced a new Library section: hundreds of classics, underrated masterpieces, arthouse novelties. This banquet is made up of films that once played on the service but vanished thanks to the format, now resurrected, giving audiences a reprieve and allowing them to truly feast regardless of what flavour of film they might be craving. Going through a non-ephemeral Mubi selection feels like cheating but it’s hard to complain when Ida Lupino, Pere Portabella and Krzysztof Kieślowski stand on offer.
It is a formidable yet breezy selection, not as hallowed as the catacombs of The Criterion Channel—the almighty library I wrote about in this column in April 2019—which demands from us both reverence and patience. That remains the gold standard and while Mubi contains several of the same films (like, say, the classics by François Truffaut), it also tosses in oddities of bizarre shapes, as well as much more recent cinema, cinema yet untested by time and canon. Mubi feels like a do-it-yourself film festival where you can put together a movie mixtape based solely on vibe, genres and “interesting-sounding" foreign film titles.
Here, then, is my longlist of recommended titles for you to shorten at will.
The incredible Ida Lupino—also an actor and singer—became the first woman to direct a film noir with the 1953 film The Hitch-Hiker. Based on real-life killer Billy Cook, The Hitch-Hiker remains a tense, psychologically provocative film with immense performances. Lupino followed this up in the same year with The Bigamist, a stunning drama about fidelity starring Lupino and Joan Fontaine—the first film where a star directed herself. A haunting picture.
Mubi’s selection of films directed by women is a significant one, including Joanna Hogg’s immediately affecting Unrelated (2007), Marguerite Duras’ divisive, strangely poetic French film India Song (1975) and one of my absolute favourites, Mikey And Nicky (1976), by the brilliant Elaine May, a film where two old buddies struggle against the threat of a mobster even as the film slyly explores the bipolar nature of friendship and ego.
The Truffaut selection is a a bit light but includes the most-quoted hits, including the one that started it all, The 400 Blows (1959), the tale of a young, Balzac-worshipping schoolboy. Also featured are the path-breaking Shoot The Piano Player (1960) and the swoonworthy Jules Et Jim (1962).
Agnès Varda, the great female director of the French New Wave, is represented strongly, with films from every Varda era: Le Bonheur (1965), her satire on the desire for happiness; Jacquot De Nantes (1991), the striking film about the life and death of her husband, Jacques Demy; The Gleaners And I (2000), a harvest documentary that changed the way documentaries were made; and of course, Cléo From 5 to 7 (1962), her marvellous meditation on mortality, narrated through the eyes of a pop star awaiting a potentially fatal medical prognosis.
The films of Polish master Krzysztof Kieślowski—the man whose Dekalog series inspired composer Vishal Bhardwaj to become a director—display complete control of tonality. The Double Life Of Veronique (1991) is a mesmerizing film about love and doppelgängers. One should start, however, with his landmark Three Colours trilogy, where I believe Three Colours: White— starring Julie Delpy and appearing much frothier than the other two films—remains underrated despite being the most subversive.
Speaking of subversion, David Lynch is around and all three featured films by the wild-haired maestro—Eraserhead (1977), Lost Highway (1997) and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992)—deserve careful attention. Kick things off with Lost Highway. It’s a noir thriller impossible to look away from, with a killer Trent Reznor soundtrack featuring Marilyn Manson and David Bowie.
The Indian selection is rightfully eclectic. I loved Mehboob Khan’s Andaz (1949), a romance featuring Dilip Kumar, Nargis and Raj Kapoor all being ridiculously stylish. Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa (1957) has been restored recently and those glorious black and white frames look more striking than ever. There are a handful of Satyajit Ray films (Agantuk, Shatranj Ke Khiladi, Ghare Baire) alongside less-feted films like Bimal Roy’s Naukri (1954), a treatise on unemployment featuring Kishore Kumar in a serious, introspective role, and Mrinal Sen’s Padatik (1973), a politically forceful film about fissures within revolution.
The Hindi parallel cinema wave is marked by Govind Nihalani’s Party (1984), Shyam Benegal’s dazzling debut, Ankur (1974), and Ketan Mehta’s Mirch Masala (1987), featuring the most incendiary climax of any Hindi film. Other Indian recommendations include Mani Kaul’s Duvidha (1973), Gurvinder Singh’s Anhey Ghohrey Da Daan (2011) and Kamal Swaroop’s deliriously influential cult-classic Om Dar-B-Dar (1988).
The Mubi Library selection varies in each territory, and while India doesn’t get their Federico Fellini retrospective, or the gorgeous documentary Hoop Dreams, here are films I recommend blindly: The Scent Of Green Papaya (Tran Anh Hung, 1993), La Jetée (Chris Marker, 1962), Upstream Color (Shane Carruth, 2013), Demonlover (Olivier Assayas, 2002), Ecce Bombo (Nanni Moretti, 1978), Cuadecuc, Vampir (Pere Portabella, 1971), The Silence Before Bach (Pere Portabella, 2007), The Kidnapping Of Michel Houellebecq (Guillaume Nicloux, 2014), Mala Noche (Gus Van Sant, 1986), Duelle (Jacques Rivette, 1976), Secrets & Lies (Mike Leigh, 1996), Two Drifters (João Pedro Rodrigues, 2005) and A Bigger Splash (Luca Guadagnino, 2015).
In these locked-down days, I have got used to a fine Mubi habit: Every morning I check what has been added and often find myself gravitating to something unexpected instead of one of my many, endless to-watch lists across various services. With this Library—delicious as it may be—Mubi will be consumed like any other streaming service.
I have, for instance, been thrilled about watching Céline Sciamma’s wildly acclaimed Portrait Of A Lady On Fire (2019). Now, knowing the film will wait for me, I may put it off till next week, or next month. A problem of plenty is still a problem.
Stream of Stories is a column on what to watch online. Raja Sen is a film critic and the author of The Best Baker In The World (2017), a children’s adaptation of The Godfather.