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Masterpieces of Cinema


Admission requirements



While this course has been scheduled in timeslot T8 (Tuesdays 13:15-15:00 + Fridays 17:15-19:00), the film screenings will take place on the Monday evening, most likely between 17:00 and 20:30. Attendance of these screenings is strongly recommended for students enrolled in the Masterpieces of Cinema course. Please keep this in mind while signing up for this class.


Since the earliest cave paintings 64,000 years ago, art has reflected, deepened, and enriched the human experience. Therefore, it is an essential component of a liberal arts education. Arguably, cinema is both the most ‘complete’ and the most influential form of modern art. Cinema is ‘complete’ because it incorporates numerous major art forms (theatre, photography, literature, painting, and music), blending them into a unique format. And it is influential because it shapes modern global culture like no other, simultaneously reflecting and moulding our collective imagination. Our past, present, and future are imagined and reimagined, and our hopes and dreams, fears and nightmares are experienced not just individually, but also collectively through the medium of film.

Because of its uniqueness and power, cinema has been used – and abused – by elites to shape the popular imagination and to manipulate public opinion. It is not a coincidence that politicians as diverse as Adolph Hitler and Al Gore have commissioned films to mould public discourse to fit their ideological agendas and political goals. On both a personal and societal level, then, media competence in general and film competence in particular are key skills. They enable us to appreciate the beauty and opportunities inherent in art while resisting manipulation and ideological entrapment.

In the classic tradition of the liberal arts, this course introduces you to film through the study of masterpieces. Similar to a ‘Great Books’ course, you get the opportunity to experience and discuss a selection of the most critically acclaimed and widely celebrated works of all time. We will do this with a twist, however, taking into account the Global Challenges focus of our College and the diversity of our community. So, unlike many ‘Great Books’ courses, we will cover films about timeless subjects, e.g. love, desire, the meaning of life, as well as contemporary challenges, e.g. environmental crisis, terrorism, homophobia, and AI, from diverse cultures on five continents.

The course will comprise recent masterpieces, such as Moonlight (Barry Jenkins, 2016) and Portrait de la Jeune Fille en Feu (Céline Sciamma, 2019), and classics from the dawn of the art form, including Nosferatu: Eine Symphonie des Grauens (F.W. Murnau, 1922) and Bronenosets Potyomkin (S.M. Eizenshteyn, 1925). Also, we will survey key genres, such as war/anti-war film Maʿrakat al-Jazāʾir (Gillo Pontecorvo, 1966) and Das Boot (Wolfgang Petersen, 1980), drama Cidade de Deus (Kátia Lund, 2002], science fiction Solyaris (A.A. Tarkovsky, 1972) and WALL-E (Andrew Stanton, 2008), satire Fight Club (David Fincher, 1999), historical epics Shichinin no samurai (Kurosawa Akira, 1954), and genre-defying hybrids Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001) and The Big Lebowski (J. Coen, 1998).

Course Objectives

The course has four main objectives.

  • It exposes students to some of the most acclaimed pieces of cinematic art, equipping them with a canon of cultural knowledge widely expected of a liberal arts student.

  • Students will learn how to independently analyse film semantically (content analysis and interpretation) and, to an extent, technically (camera movement and angles, editing, sound design).

  • Students will acquire media competence, including the ability to identify and critically reflect on how global challenges are represented. This includes examining why some challenges are frequently featured while others are marginalized or absent altogether. It also comprises critically questioning the very notion of a ‘masterpiece’, asking who gets to define cultural hierarchies, how, and for what purpose.

  • Students will train writing skills across two genres. Specifically, they will practice crafting accessible and critical yet balanced pieces, including personal reflection essays (genre: creative non-fiction) and a film review or an interview with a film director, producer, or actor (genre: journalism).


Timetables for courses offered at Leiden University College in 2020-2021 will be published on this page of the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction

The course consists of two seminars per week. Each session will discuss one film, which we will discuss collectively. At times, the discussion will be kick-started by a student presentation. In addition, a weekly screening of the masterpieces will be organized in the auditorium (Day/time TBC); attendance is strongly recommended.

Assessment Method

Participation (19%)
Group presentation (19%)
Reflection essay (15%)
Film review or interview (15%)
Final exam (32%)

Reading list

David Bordwell, Kristin Thompson, Jeff Smith 2019: Film Art: An Introduction, 12th edition, McGraw Hill.


Courses offered at Leiden University College (LUC) are usually only open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Leiden University students who participate in one of the university’s Honours tracks or programmes may register for one LUC, if availability permits. Registration is coordinated by the Education Coordinator, course.administration@luc.leidenuniv.nl.


Dr. Kai Hebel