3 Movies Like A Pure Formality (1994)

Staff & contributors

Barbara (Petzold regular Nina Hoss) has fallen from grace, at least by the standards of 1980s Germany. A renowned doctor at a prestigious East Berlin hospital, she has been demoted to a paediatrician at a tiny town on the Baltic coast: a punishment for daring to try and leave the DDR. The Stasi spy on her, threaten her, and on occasion, abuse her. But Barbara does not give up in her attempts to establish a better life for herself, if only she could cross the sea and dock in Denmark. With such a politically-conscious premise, Christian Petzold's sixth film became a hit on the European scene and transformed his relatively modest career into something more transnational. Even if Barbara feels very local—the way in which Germany's divide conditions every movement and gesture of its characters—the tropes of a spy thriller come to the fore and make a legible, rewarding viewing out of something one may deem too particular. The film owes a lot to its lead, Hoss, who has become a staple of Petzold's career, with her stoicism and towering presence as Barbara – a symbol of obstructed mobility.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alicia von Rittberg, Christina Hecke, Christoph Krix, Claudia Geisler-Bading, Irene Rindje, Jannik Schümann, Jasna Fritzi Bauer, Jens Okking, Kirsten Block, Mark Waschke, Nina Hoss, Peter Benedict, Rainer Bock, Ronald Zehrfeld, Rosa Enskat, Susanne Bormann, Thomas Bading, Thomas Neumann

Director: Christian Petzold

Before Games of Thrones delivered court intrigues, shocking murders, and adulterous affairs, Queen Margot delivered all these nearly two decades earlier, depicting the dramatized, real life events of the French Wars of Religion. While it doesn’t have dragons, it has style, with some of the most stunning scenes intercut with some of the most gruesome, pushing the envelope with a freedom only possible due to none of their descendants still holding the French throne. It’s also one of the most expensive French films ever made, but every franc was put to good use, with luxurious sound, sets, costumes, and camerawork excellently supporting the cast’s performances. Initially released to mixed reception in America with 20 minutes cut from the runtime, La Reine Margot has thankfully been restored and re-released in full for its 20th anniversary in 2014.

Genre: Drama, History, Romance

Actor: Asia Argento, Barbet Schroeder, Bernard Nissile, Bernard Verley, Bruno Todeschini, Charlie Nelson, Claudio Amendola, Daniel Auteuil, Daniel Breton, Dominique Blanc, Dörte Lyssewski, Emmanuel Salinger, Grégoire Colin, Isabelle Adjani, Jean Douchet, Jean-Claude Brialy, Jean-Hugues Anglade, Jean-Marc Stehlé, Jean-Philippe Écoffey, Johan Leysen, Julie-Anne Roth, Julien Rassam, Laure Marsac, Luís Gaspar, Marc Citti, Marina Golovine, Miguel Bosé, Nicolas Vaude, Orazio Massaro, Otto Tausig, Pascal Greggory, Philippe Duclos, Thomas Kretschmann, Tolsty, Ulrich Wildgruber, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Vincent Perez, Virna Lisi

Director: Patrice Chéreau

In a time where the Metaverse feels more and more a looming presence, hoping to crown our complex realities with its utopian promise, it's only natural to expect a film set precisely there. Director L.E. Staiman took a chance with Love Virtually, but his attempt to make a zany, absurdist rom-com (riffing off the title of your aunt's annual Christmas rewatch) simply fails. The premise sees a few couples on the brink of breaking up reconnect with the help of VR headsets, challenging each other's commitment, or cheating with each other (without knowing it of course). A rather funny gambit gets sucked into a vortex of dullness when the characters speak, their dialogues irksome to the point of second-hand embarrassment. Instead of exploring the possibilities of VR relations through an ironic lens, the film seems to not even care enough to look for the genuine comedic potential of the Metaverse as a concept-turned-space. Even the three separate references to Timothée Chalamet don't make a difference to how surprisingly retrograde and somehow banal all of this feels.

Genre: Comedy, Romance

Actor: Adam Ray, Cheri Oteri, Danielle Krivak, Henry Dittman, Nikki Alexis Howard, Paul F. Tompkins, Peter Gilroy, Ryan O'Flanagan, Stephen Tobolowsky, Tom Virtue, Vincent Washington

Director: L.E. Staiman