10 Surreal Films That Inspire Visionary Director Lucile Hadžihalilović

From Giallo classics to Czech fantasies and Lynch bangers, the "Earwig" director walks us through her top ten.
Romane Hemelaers as Mia in Lucile Hadžihalilović’s's film Earwig
Romane Hemelaers as Mia in Earwig. Photo: Anti-Worlds/Petit Film/FraKas/BFI/Channel Four

I first saw Lucile Hadžihalilović’s debut, Innocence, back in 2004. The opening image - a private school for girls where the new students arrive in coffins - has stayed with me since. Her new coming of age film, Earwig, confirms her visionary status and offered up another movie that has stayed with me:  a mesmerising fable of long-repressed secrets and awakening memories from the mysterious and oneiric world of Hadžihalilović. Here the director takes us through ten movies that have inspired her work.


Deeper into Movies

‘Inferno’ (1980) by Dario Argento

A magnificent, nightmarish requiem, even more beautiful and more radical than Suspiria. Inferno makes the list for its dreamlike logic, based on analogies and oppositions, and not altered or confined by explication, psychology or realism. Also for the dramatic strength of its liturgical rituals in a world where everything is sacred and wonderful: wind, water, fire… The film’s ominous bestiary combines with its iconic characters and its theatrical scenery, which is the real protagonist.

‘‘Last Year in Marienbad’ (1961) by Alain Resnais

I picked this for its staggering plays on time and space - the way it explores the mechanisms of the brain and memory. The vertiginous feeling that both characters and actions simultaneously exist and don’t exist.

The film has deliberately rigid acting from its protagonists who, like the living dead, haunt the corridors of this limbo hotel, adding to the dreamlike feeling.

It is an unexpected and unique variation on the myth of Orpheus and Euridyce. I love the film’s Escher-like scenery which, like the film itself, never yields its secrets. And, of course, there’s the wonderful performance from actress Delphine Seyrig.

‘Jeanne Dielman’ (1975) by Chantal Akerman

The plot follows a lonely widow who turns to prostitution to make ends meet for herself and her son, before things change when she kills one of her clients with a pair of scissors. I enjoy the film’s depiction of Jeanne’s tedious daily life and repetitive chores, its radicalness, and the use of repetition and its extreme stylisation of the mundane. There’s also its ostentatious dilatation of time and its use of sudden ellipses.


The steady camera and unmoving framing becomes a window in which the actress must stay if she doesn’t want to be partly cut from the film. And, once again, I selected this movie in part for Delphine Seyrig’s performance, which stands in such total contrast to her previous roles.

‘Eraserhead’ (1977) by David Lynch

These organic nightmares, rendered in black and white, are among the most poetic and powerful ever filmed. David Lynch’s haunting soundtrack, and the unforgettable song of the woman in the radiator are standouts for me. What a hyper-moving performance from Jack Nance, playing Henry Spencer as he struggles with a terrifying, inhuman, yet touching baby. The film created mysteries and a fascination that remains intact after almost half of a century.

‘Valerie and the Week of Wonders’ (1970) by Jaromil Jires

A captivating and disconcerting way of exploring the inner geography of a teenage girl. This Czech surreal fantasy-come-horror embodies a unique mix of seriousness and lightness, terror and wonder, with a poetic, free-flowing, almost experimental narration. The film’s musical construction, its formal beauty and its surrealist imagination and sensual lyricism make this coming of age story an ode to life. 

‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’ (1975) by Peter Weir 

A dreamlike and mysterious dive into the desires and feelings of a group of teenage girls oppressed by a religious education. The plot involves the disappearance of a group of schoolgirls in Australia, and the film has a truly captivating sensuality. It creates a feeling of almost hypnotic attraction to nature, in both the girls at the narrative's core, and in the audience. 


There is a graceful and subtle way that the film dissolves the borders between art and life, dream and reality, always choosing suggestion and imagination rather than explanations. It disrupts time and space and preserves the sense of mystery in the viewer, long after the film has ended.

‘Spirit of the Beehive’ (1973) by Victor Erice 

I picked this Spanish masterpiece for the mystery and poetry of a film that transports the viewer into the mind of a child, where dreams and reality are intermingle. The film’s protagonist - young Ana Torrent - who is still able to believe in monsters and wonders, is fascinated by the movie Frankenstein. This is one of the most beautiful films about the magic of cinema.

‘Tropical Malady’ (2004) by Apichatpong Weerasethakul 

The melancholic tiger haunting a forest as deep as our unconscious. The constant duality between day and night, reason and madness, reality and myth, the visible and the invisible, flesh and dreams. I selected this film for all of those, but also for its artful use of allusion and its hypnotic qualities, immersing us in a floating world and contaminating us. And, finally, for its belief in cinema. 

‘Stalker’ (1979) by Andrei Tarkovsky

I love the fervour with which the wind in the grass and the water in the streams are filmed in this Soviet sci-fi great. The way that the beauty and mystery of our world are captured, powerfully enough to re-enchant the viewer. Its hypnotic, dreamlike quality, and its slow pace - it feels so confident. The “Zone” - a restricted site the film’s central character (the Stalker) takes his clients to - is both frightening and marvellous, and I love the freedom the film gives us to find our own path within it. Also I love the cruel way the film resonates today.

- Lucile Hadžihalilović