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Nuri Bilge Ceylan was born in Istanbul, Turkey, 1959. After graduating from the Engineering Department of Bosphorus University, Istanbul, he studied filmmaking for two years. When 'Uzak' (2002), the final film in his 'provincial trilogy' ('Kasaba' (1997), 'Clouds of May' (1999)) won the Grand Prix at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival, Ceylan became an internationally recognized name.
A visual stylist par excellence, whose penchant for violence is matched by a mastery of atmosphere and fascination with moral ambiguity, Park Chan-wook is the most celebrated of the South Korean directors to emerge from the country's cinematic boom of the late 1990s. Originally a film critic, director Park's early features are entertaining, but lack the authorial stamp of his later work. His breakthrough came with the short 'Judgement' (1999). A dark satire, it referenced the Sampung department store collapse in 1995 which led to the deaths of over 500 people. Then came the acclaimed Vengeance trilogy: 'Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance' (2002), 'Oldboy' (2003) and 'Lady Vengeance' (2005) each deserves attention for its exploration of morality and our basest desires. His audacious take on the vampire myth 'Thirst' is the filmmaker's personal favourite of his work to date and cemented director Park's reputation as one of contemporary cinema's leading filmmakers. Park Chan-wook captures the intoxicating atmosphere of the Deep South gothic in 'Stoker' (2013), while 'The Handmaiden' (2017) is a marvellous, labyrinthine narrative of twists, turns and double-dealings. Based on Sarah Waters' novel 'Fingersmith', Park transposed the action from Victorian London to 1930s, Japanese-occupied Korea.
He’s made just three features – only two of which most people have seen – but Damien Chazelle has jumped to the front rank of American filmmakers. Much of his appeal lies in his skill at balancing the anguish of moody characters with a tone that can be breathless and euphoric. His breakthrough was 'Whiplash' (2014). No one was interested initially, so he made a short to convince studios. They were. The result is a frenetic account of the relationship between a talented jazz drummer and his bullying teacher. As played by Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons, who won an Oscar for his performance, they are compelling, papering over even the largest holes in the narrative. The climactic on-stage solo – which is in fact a duet between the two actors – is a stunning feat of direction, editing and sound mixing (Oscars were won in the latter two categories). And now it feels like 'La La Land' (2016) has taken the world by storm. But it wasn’t Chazelle’s first musical. His Mumblecore-inspired debut 'Guy and Madeleine on a Park Bench' (2009), an ultra-low-budget black and white tale of lost love, was also a musical. To watch it now is to see many of the ideas explored in his latest film at their most rudimentary stage (it also features a fantastic tap sequence in a confined space). 'La La Land' hints at the pizazz of old-school Hollywood musicals. Ryan Gosling (who will feature in the director’s next film, playing Neil Armstrong) and Emma Stone are game, the opener would put a smile on the face of the most curmudgeonly cinemagoer and the final ‘what could have been’ sequence is a joy.
Mark Cousins is a writer and filmmaker from Northern Ireland. He is the creator of 'The Story of Film: An Odyssey' (2011), a 15-hour television series, 'A Story of Children and Film' (2014) and 'The Eyes of Orson Welles' (2018). In 2009, along with actress Tilda Swinton, he mounted a portable cinema and hauled it manually through the Scottish Highlands. The result was a travelling film festival which featured in a documentary called 'Cinema is Everywhere'.