The French cinema kept expanding on both the commercial and personal horizons, as former New Wave directors pursued their own objectives. Meanwhile, a new wave of highly commercial filmmakers, who championed what became known as “cinema du look,” made more accessible, mainstream films, with a highly polished sheen of technical execution. One of the key inspirations for the French New Wave, the classicist Robert Bresson, made his final film during this period—L’Argent (Money, 1983), a superb psychological study of the effects of a 500-franc counterfeit note on the lives of a number of unsuspecting victims.
The astoundingly prolific Jean-Luc Godard directed Passion (1982), Prénom Carmen (First Name: Carmen, 1983), Je vous salue, Marie (Hail Mary, 1985), King Lear (1987), Allemagne 90 neuf zéro (Germany Year 90 Nine Zero, 1991), For Ever Mozart (1996), Éloge de l’amour (In Praise of Love, 2001), and Notre musique (Our Music, 2004), all riveting personal statements. Godard, however, was now living in Switzerland, and although he remained identified as a French filmmaker, he was far from the mainstream.
The relaxation of censorship allowed for a more frank depiction of sex and violence. In the late 1990s and the early part ofthe new century, Catherine Breillat’s explicit Romance (1999) and Gaspar Noés drama of rape revenged, Irreversible (Irréversible, 2002), were among several European films that demanded the right to depict the entire range of human experience on the screen without censorship. These demanding movies were often a trial for audiences, and yet they told a simple truth: the cinema was no longer a place of refuge in the world. Instead, it now reflected our deepest fears, and confronted, rather than comforted, the viewer.
The reigning king of contemporary Spanish cinema, and the spiritual heir to Buñuel’s spirit of anarchy, is Pedro Almodóvar, who attracted international attention with Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, 1988), a screwball comedy about extremely dysfunctional family life, and La Ley del deseo (Law of Desire, 1987), a freewheeling romantic comedy with a transsexual twist. Almodóvar, who is openly gay, generally celebrates the absurdities and excesses of modern life in his many films, but in Todo sobre mi madre (All About My Mother, 1999), La mala educación (Bad Education, 2004), and particularly Volver (Return, 2006), he has demonstrated a deeper understanding of human emotion in his work and moved away from the freneticism that marked his earlier efforts.
In Portugal, the unstoppable Manoel de Oliveira, who began his career as a director in 1931 and was still going strong in his nineties, has directed an astonishing series of emotional and yet rigorously personal films, such as Vi-agem ao Princípio do Mundo (Voyage to the Beginning of the World, 1997, Marcello Mastroianni’s last film) and Um Filme Falado (A Talking Picture, 2003), starring an international cast headed by John Malkovich.
A more romantic note was struck by Swedish director Lukas Moodysson, whose Fucking Åmål (Show Me Love, 1998) is, despite the title, a gentle and tender love story of a young girl’s battle to find her sexual identity in a small Swedish town. In Tillsammans (Together, 2000), Moodysson casts a nostalgic eye on Swedish youth in the 1970s, as the members of a commune fight among themselves in the quest for a Utopian existence that predictably eludes them. Moodysson’s Lilja 4-ever (Lilya 4-ever, 2002) is a more somber film, in which a sixteen-year-old girl (Oksana Akinshina) lives in a small town in post-Soviet Russia and dreams of a new life elsewhere. After this film, which has some echoes of Show Me Love (albeit in a much darker hue), Moodysson turned to increasingly experimental works, such as Ett Hål i mitt hjärta (A Hole in My Heart, 2004) and the absurdist black-and-white film Container (2006).