Josh and Benny Safdie, otherwise known as the Safdie brothers, are among the most important working directors, having established a frenetic, American identity for use in each and every one of their films so far. They’re filmmakers born from the stylistic influence of classic American directors Martin Scorsese and the Coen brothers, with a significant European inspiration galvanising their characters and stories. Revitalising the career of Adam Sandler as an eccentric American living on a constant knife-edge and loving every minute of it, the Safdie brothers are riding at the very brink of the industry’s innovation.
Becoming cult favourites of cinema lovers at the very same time, Josh and Benny are purveyors of classic cinema often noting their love of both classic films and modern releases. In conversation with Criterion, the Safdie brothers discussed their appreciation for the horror genre, and particularly any film that creeps under the skin and surprises you with its terror. As Benny comments, “good horror movies for me are ones which scare me in ways that I don’t necessarily know that I could be scared, so they might not necessarily be a horror movie”.
Noting the Coen brother’s Blood Simple as one of their all-time favourites, Josh notes one particular scene in the film that still gives him the creeps. “When Emmet [Walsh] is shooting the wall and those lights are coming in, it turns into a monster movie” he comments about the Coen’s debut feature film starring Frances McDormand.
The second film they mention is the crime thriller, Night of the Hunter directed by Charles Laughton that Benny describes as “not necessarily a scary movie but there are moments where I am genuinely petrified”. Continuing, he elaborates, noting, “when they’re on that river and there’s the singing, and there’s that music, and there are close-ups of those animals I’m frightened but I don’t know why I’m scared but I’m just scared it’s just a deep emotional vibration where it’s like, I want this to end and I want it to keep going”.
The final film they dive into is the classic science fiction film from David Cronenberg, Videodrome that Josh exclaims is “one of the best films ever made”. Explaining his love for the iconic director, Josh states, “Existenz as well, Scanners too, they’re all dealing with this deep deep untrust with how life is presented and how you can usurp them with art in a weird way but at the same time it will destroy you”.
Benny Safdie prefers Roman Polanski, however, and in particular the 1965 film Repulsion that follows a woman repulsed by the idea of sex who disapproves of her sister’s boyfriend and sinks into a horrific form of depression. “With me, it’s Polanski a lot, it’s like I don’t expect to be scared and then I am beyond frightened like there’s a moment in Repulsion where I remember watching it for the first time… I stopped the movie, I got up and said ok ‘I need to leave and just experience life and then I’ll come back to the film’. I couldn’t continue watching it. I was that scared, I’ve never had that happen” the director comments.
As they continue to inspire filmmaking with their excellent cinematic efforts, Benny Safdie has also started to pursue further acting roles in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza and Disney’s Obi-Wan Kenobi series. One thing is for sure, they’ll be movie lovers forever.
Check out the full discussion of the Safdie brothers and Criterion below: