A directorial debut typically captures a filmmaker at their purest yet most unrefined… Many of the great’s debuts are films they’d rather erased from their corpus altogether, take Kubrick’s 𝘍𝘦𝘢𝘳 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘋𝘦𝘴𝘪𝘳𝘦, or Fellini’s 𝘞𝘩𝘪𝘵𝘦 𝘚𝘩𝘦𝘪𝘬; while some others are never quite able to reclaim that spontaneity of their youth (Frank Darabont, 𝘚𝘩𝘢𝘸𝘴𝘩𝘢𝘯𝘬 𝘙𝘦𝘥𝘦𝘮𝘱𝘵𝘪𝘰𝘯). Sometimes it’s the raw energy of an amateur that we fall in love with, as in the case of Lynch’s 𝘌𝘳𝘢𝘴𝘦𝘳𝘩𝘦𝘢𝘥, Van Sant’s 𝘔𝘢𝘭𝘢 𝘕𝘰𝘤𝘩𝘦 or Wes Anderson’s 𝘉𝘰𝘵𝘵𝘭𝘦 𝘙𝘰𝘤𝘬𝘦𝘵 (I dare say, a dash of youthful impulse wouldn’t go astray in Wes’ recent films); and then, every once in a while that youthful exuberance amalgamates with a precocious level of restraint, as is the case for the top picks…
It should be noted that for the sake of variety I’ve tried to avoid any overlap with Max’s picks (as best I can)- so while 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝟺𝟶𝟶 𝘉𝘭𝘰𝘸𝘴 (Truffaut, 1959) would be my preference over 𝘉𝘳𝘦𝘢𝘵𝘩𝘭𝘦𝘴𝘴 (Godard, 1960) any day of the week, the latter does better encapsulate this youthful rebelliousness which I alluded to earlier.
𝘉𝘳𝘦𝘢𝘵𝘩𝘭𝘦𝘴𝘴 was to cinema what Punk was to music, as upon release it served as a middle finger to the traditions and expectations of the artform, and simultaneously announced Godard as the ultimate outlaw of cinema- a title he’d never relinquish, which is why his films seem to pinball from unwatchable to works of pure genius.
While I have given all the praise possible to my fourth pick, 𝘚𝘺𝘯𝘦𝘤𝘥𝘰𝘤𝘩𝘦, 𝘕𝘦𝘸 𝘠𝘰𝘳𝘬 (Kaufman, 2008), I still maintain that it falls into the same category as Lynch’s 𝘌𝘳𝘢𝘴𝘦𝘳𝘩𝘦𝘢𝘥 as an unpolished masterwork (granted, way more polished than 𝘌𝘳𝘢𝘴𝘦𝘳𝘩𝘦𝘢𝘥).
Never have the guilty seemed so innocent as in Malick’s 𝘉𝘢𝘥𝘭𝘢𝘯𝘥𝘴, the simple tale of two lovers on the run from the law- which somehow works as a poetically sweet portrait of American depravity while never seeming any more complex than a candid polaroid shot of South Dakota.
A discussion of debutants can’t really be had without mention of Welles’ 𝘊𝘪𝘵𝘪𝘻𝘦𝘯 𝘒𝘢𝘯𝘦, a film which simultaneously announced Welles as a powerhouse writer/actor/director and invented (or at least, introduced into cinema in an accessible way) so many of the customs you (still today) see in the artform- everything from lighting and camera techniques to the way a film narrative can be assembled. This is not one of those ‘eat-your-vegetables’ old movies, but a classic which has aged like few others.
In top spot we have 𝘚𝘱𝘪𝘳𝘪𝘵 𝘰𝘧 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘉𝘦𝘦𝘩𝘪𝘷𝘦, a story of a young girl in Franco’s Spain who attends a screening of 𝘍𝘳𝘢𝘯𝘬𝘦𝘯𝘴𝘵𝘦𝘪𝘯 (1931) in her tiny village, and, unable to distinguish between the fancies of the film and her real world, floats off into her own fantasy. The film is understatedly beautiful, poetically entrancing and a personal favourite. If you liked 𝘗𝘢𝘯’𝘴 𝘓𝘢𝘣𝘺𝘳𝘪𝘯𝘵𝘩 then go see this.
1. 𝘚𝘱𝘪𝘳𝘪𝘵 𝘰𝘧 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘉𝘦𝘦𝘩𝘪𝘷𝘦 (Victor Erice, 1973)
2. 𝘊𝘪𝘵𝘪𝘻𝘦𝘯 𝘒𝘢𝘯𝘦 (Orson Welles, 1941)
3. 𝘉𝘢𝘥𝘭𝘢𝘯𝘥𝘴 (Terrence Malick, 1973)
4. 𝘚𝘺𝘯𝘦𝘤𝘥𝘰𝘤𝘩𝘦, 𝘕𝘦𝘸 𝘠𝘰𝘳𝘬 (Charlie Kaufman, 2008)
5. 𝘉𝘳𝘦𝘢𝘵𝘩𝘭𝘦𝘴𝘴 (Jean-Luc Godard, 1960)