Top 5

Cult auteur Albert Serra selects five influential films
By Barry Pierce | Books | 15 May 2024

Still, ‘Story of my Death’ dir Albert Serra, 2013

There are few directors out there like Albert Serra. To suggest his films are operatic feels like something of an understatement, so grand are they in their scale, vision, and ambition. Not many directors would attempt to invoke Miguel de Cervantes for their first major film, but Serra’s Honour of the Knights (2006) took the characters from Cervantes’ Don Quixote and placed them into a slow, contemplative journey of his own creation. It is this brashness, paired with often glacial pacing and a general disregard for plot, that have made Serra’s subsequent films, Story of My Death (2013), The Death of Louis XIV (2016), Liberté (2019), and Pacifiction (2022) into unlikely hits.

Now, Serra is turning his attention to the written word with his first book published in English, A Toast to St Martirià. The text of the book is made up of an improvised speech given by Serra at the St Martirià fiesta in Banyoles, the town of his birth. Transmitting his subversive attitude and impulsive lust for life, it is a journey through his formative years and early relationships – established in the nightlife of his hometown – that have shaped his unique conception of cinema, art and life. This is Albert Serra in his own words.

In anticipation of the book and the director’s next film, Out of This World (2025), which will star Kristen Stewart, we asked Serra to take us through five films that have influenced him and his filmography.

Bulworth, dir. Warren Beatty, 1998

“We are talking about the films that have somehow influenced or inspired me in my life, not just in making cinema, and so first I’ll choose Bulworth by Warren Beatty. I think it’s one of the best films ever made about politics. I recommend it to everybody because it describes what politics is like nowadays; it’s a farce. But if you place a farce in the right world with the right director – like Warren Beatty – it can be incredible to watch. Some of the best technicians in film history worked on it, from music to cinematography. I just really like the spirit of this film. That someone like Warren Beatty decided to describe politics in this way, for me, it’s unbeatable.”

Warren Beatty in “Bulworth”, 1998


Cutter’s Way, dir. Ivan Passer, 1981

Cutter’s Way is one of my favourites. It’s a film I always have to choose whenever I do one of these lists. It’s about idealism, modern idealism, and the feeling of being alone against the system; against big corporations you cannot see, but still trying to be true to who you want to be. Like, you don’t see these big corporations but know there’s a great oppression going on, which can create a sense of repression and can destroy your personal life, but still – you stay standing! It’s a very complex film. The main character, or one of the most moving characters, is a veteran of Vietnam. The friendships he establishes are also something unseen; it’s a love triangle done in a very moving way. Again, it’s this sense of idealism. When you are alone you’re a maverick. You’re underground. And so this character has influenced me in that sense. It’s very complex, very beautiful and it gives you energy to follow your own path.”

John Heard in “Cutter’s Way”, 1981


Unforgiven, dir. Clint Eastwood, 1992

“This is a film I really love. I think it’s one of Eastwood’s best films, and definitely one of the modern American masterpieces. Again, it portrays the complexity of life; the dubious moral conflicts where nothing is black or white. You can never be attached to any of the characters, and this is why I find it interesting; the characters are good and, at the same time, bad. I like it especially because of a documentary I watched on YouTube about how the film was made; it’s quite a simple film in many ways. And the people who made it, mostly people who have been working with Clint Eastwood for years, they have this kind of attitude of all being inside the collective project together, and that’s a kind of attitude you don’t find it as much anymore. So, I recommend you watch the film and then see the documentary on YouTube, so you know who made this film alongside Clint Eastwood. This can change your perception of a lot of things.”

Clint Eastwood in “Unforgiven”, 1992

“As a filmmaker or human being, you want to see real images or be with real people.”


Losses to be Expected, dir. Ulrich Seidl, 1992

“Another film that influenced me is Losses to be Expected by Ulrich Seidl – such a good title for a film. I watched it and just wanted to live permanently in an artistic world like this, where you create films with these types of people. I like the idea of using these materials and mixing with these kinds of people; this class, this sense fun, and with this humanist point of view. He’s been accused of being very cynical, but it’s not true. It’s the opposite, because if you watch the film, you can really understand what’s going on from a human point of view, and also from an artistic point of view. I recommend it especially as now everyone is looking for stars in films, but most of the stars don’t have anything inside them, they’re empty. This can be useful for some kinds of films, but as a filmmaker or human being, you want to see real images or be with real people. For a real work of art, and for something very special, this is the film.”

“Losses to be Expected”, dir. Ulrich Seidl, 1992


I’ve Always Loved You, dir. Frank Borzage, 1946

“I like this film because of its subject. It’s about what the real demands of art are, and what kind of sacrifices art asks you to make for art’s sake. It’s also about how these sacrifices can be understood and accepted, as in: you make this sacrifice just for art, for nothing else, not even for success, and then it’s how people respond is more difficult. This puts a line between real artists and artists who are not real. In this case it’s about a conductor, musicians and an orchestra – so the music is beautiful. It’s also a Hollywood film, which could be seen as a little conventional, but what’s inside it and what it’s saying is not conventional at all. It’s alive today, this conflict, and it will always be alive.”

Philip Dorn, Catherine McLeod, and Bill Carter in “I’ve Always Loved You”, 1946

A Toast to St Martirià by Albert Serra, translated by Matthew Tree, is out now from Divided Publishing.

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