Finnish director Renny Harlin has one of the most schizophrenic CVs in movie-dom. He’s directed some of the most beloved action films of the last 20 years, including Die Hard 2, Deep Blue Sea, The Long Kiss Goodnight and, of course, Cliffhanger (sample dialogue: “I must say, you’re a real piece of work.” “I must say, you’re a real piece of shit.”). His latest, the faintly-ridiculous but always-enjoyable 12 Rounds continues this tradition.
He’s also, however, responsible for two of the most reviled movies of recent times — for notorious flop Cutthroat Island and for taking a hatchet to Paul Schrader‘s The Exorcist: The Beginning. For someone with such a varied back catalogue, we had no idea what his five favourite movies would be.
“I would say that one of the most profound memories was when my mother – who was film fanatic and loved thrillers – took me to see Rosemary’s Baby when I was nine years old. The film had a huge impact on me and, of course, scared the shit out me! I certainly wouldn’t take my 10-year-old to see Rosemary’s Baby.
“It is a masterpiece in terms of the way it uses the language of movies and it directed me towards Hitchcock and that kind of visual storytelling, and thrillers in general – or maybe more psychological thrillers. So that was my first and most memorable movie. It was the psychological fear and oddness, the oddness of the characters; I remember I didn’t even understand it all when I first saw it. Visually there were so many things that I hadn’t seen before that have stayed with me.
” I don’t know what it was about that movie that was just incredible. It was something about the storytelling, the characters, and the pace of the movie, the atmosphere of it and the tragic ending that absolutely blew my mind. It made me realise movies could tell stories in a different way. That was the day – when I was 11 years old – when I decided to get involved in movies. It was when I said to myself, “I want to be a director.” It was so powerful to me. It’s really worth seeing; it’s an amazing bleak, beautiful, tragic movie.”
“It’s a typical choice maybe. I’m a huge Coppola fan – I’ve seen it many times in many different versions and formats and that movie, to me, is just fantastic storytelling, interesting characters, maybe the best war film I’ve ever seen. You are transported into his incredibly exotic world and it tells the story of something that is based on reality but the director kind of creates his own reality. He constructs this horrible place – his own interpretation of hell and he that makes me believe in it. It’s a movie that I can always watch again and never get tired of, and it always feel like I’m in the presence of a genius magician. I think I prefer the theatrical cut of the movie. The Redux, with the scene with all the French colonialist people, I didn’t feel added much.”
“Another movie that is hugely influential to me and I never get tired of watching it. The cinemascope photography is unbelievable, evolutionary and fantastic. The performances, the production design and the pacing – it’s kind of slow but it draws you into it and it makes you wish there could still be movies like that nowadays. I mean most movies these days are made for teenagers. It’s almost as if people’s brains work differently these days. Maybe its commercials and music videos and videogames and you just want more stimuli at a faster pace. Filmmakers seem to be afraid to trust the audience more. I don’t mean that movies should be slow and boring, but if you have a good enough script you should be able to use the power of the image to tell a story. It’s like if you look at Pixar movies like Wall-E, actually I do think they have a slower pace, there’s such richness in every frame.”
“Despite the kind of movies I make, I love small, little movies. I love foreign films in general, I love to see something that really moves me emotionally, and that moves me to tears. Maybe Cinema Paradiso is a little bit of a cliché, but I’m sure every cinema lover lists it as their favourite movie. There’s something so beautiful about it, I love the milieu of the little town and this boy’s story and what the whole thing says about how lives go and about our dreams and memories. When he grows up and goes to the movie theatre and sees all the bits that the priest cut out and it reminds him of his childhood… Cinema doesn’t get more beautiful. The whole film is about the incredible nostalgia of movies in general.”