Apr 082012

A Separation

Asghar Farhadi wrote and directed A Separation, is an Iranian film of Shakespearean complexity of characters, moral and ethical ambiguity. Every social interaction has its consequence for which there is no resolution.

The plot – separated husband employs a woman to care for his father who has Alzheimer’s disease and inadvertently pushes her down the stairs, and act that may or may not have led to the death of her unborn baby – is simple in its outline and serves as the structure within which to construct an ever mutating fabric of social, legal and religious complexity.

The filmic style may initially be difficult for a western audience raised on Hollywood; natural lighting, environmental sounds and dialog recorded on location, hand held camera work that initially seems naive but becomes integrated with more traditional mounted tracking and pan shots but no long or wide angle lenses, only middle shots.

In addition, a western audience has to suspend judgment and view characters living within a very different set of culture norms. We are asked to take other people’s point of view of what is right or wrong, to accept the ways of another culture, to accept that there are difference in our view of the world. We cannot judge with western eyes. In truth, Farhadi has created a situation where we cannot, and should not, judge.

All five of the principals – Nader (Peyman Moadi), Simin (Leila Hatami), Termeh(Sarina Farhadi), Razieh( Sareh Bayat), and Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini) – are decent but imperfect people. Each one tries to do his or her best as each sees it; each one tries to do what they believe to be right but each is one without the tolerance to allow the other to do the same.

The film shows how culture and tradition infect the legal system, as true in any country as it is in the Iran of this film, and how each character is inflexible in his or her belief that he or she is behaving correctly under civil and religious laws. As the film unfolds we realize that, whatever we believe, none of us – the characters in the film, or people in the audience, each of us in our daily life – none of us has all the facts.

There are no villains, no black or white, only shades of gray. Roger Ebert summed it up when reviewing A Separation “Sometimes the law is not adequate to deal with human feelings”.

Finally, the ending of A Separation shows that there are no easy answers, if any answer at all.

Mar 182012

Pina - a film by Wim Wender

In this intriguing and fascinating film, the director Wim Wenders creates an elegy for his friend of 25 years, the German dancer, choreographer, and director of Tanztheater Wuppertal, Pina Bausch. It is telling that this is advertised as a being a film “for” Pina Bausch rather than “about” Pina Bausch. This is not a documentary but rather a tribute to this extraordinary creative artist; an eulogy since Bausch died a few days before the start of shooting the film and the sense of her loss permeates every frame.

Pina Bausch herself directed one film, Die Klage der Kaiserin (“The Complaint of the Empress”), in 1990, and Wenders parallels the form of that earlier film to a remarkable extent, as though channeling the recently deceased choreographer. Both films consist of an assemblage of choreographed scenes without explanation. In Wenders’ case, this includes scenes from Pina’s stage productions, in addition the choreographed dances and action outdoors in the countryside and in city streets that both use. Both films share a scene of a dancer sweeping leaves with a leaf blower however Wenders has nothing as startling as Pina’s image of dancer sitting on an armchair in the middle of city traffic nonchalantly smoking a cigarette. Perhaps the most striking of Wenders’ images is that of alternating age groups in a stage production that seem to change with every blink of the eye.

In remembering Pina, Wenders conveys, through the medium itself, themes that Pina had conveyed in her own film and dance: a sense of loss, of disorientation, physically and emotionally, searching, trying to find one’s way literally or metaphorically, eyes bound or closed. Maybe one could condense these into one over-riding theme: Finding your way in an a surreal world.

Pina Splashing Water
The film was shot in 3D and this is used to give depth and clarity to the images. Only once does the third dimension call attention to itself, when dancers splash water onto a rock and those splashes appear to fall onto the viewer’s laps.

This is such a beautiful, funny, sad, intriguing, captivating film that the viewers cannot help but share in Wenders’ sense of wonderment and loss and though this vision we feel the force, almost physically of Pina Bausch when she said “Dance, dance … otherwise we are lost.”

Feb 122012


Anthony Hemingway is a prodigious director of television episodes (Fringe, CSI: NY, The Closer, Treme, to name but a few of the 36 shows for which he is listed as either director or assistant director of numerous episodes for each show) but Red Tails is his first feature film. In addition, taking into account that George Lucas was the executive producer, one could be forgiven for not expecting too much social content in this action-packed film which follows the exploits of a squadron of the all black Tuskegee training program stationed in Italy during the Second World War. You would not be disappointed in that regard. The film is short on reflection and philosophical consideration. The plotting and dialog is formulaic with one each of the stock character types for such films, including a single, token woman. However, the film does not disappoint in the many action sequences, despite more predictability and more formulas. Most of all, Red Tails is entertaining and a feast for fans of WW2 aircraft.

Feb 052012

Albert Nobbs

The center piece of this film is Genn Close as the loney, repressed, Alfred Nobbs who not only does not have a life of his own but does not realize that a life might be possible until he meets another woman forced to disguise her gender in order make a life for herself, Janet McTeer as Hubert Page.

The subject matter, the suppression of women in society and in the work place, the plight of orphans, the difficulty or raising out of the social miieu in which one is trapped, deserved a more engaging treatment. But Glenn Close, looking like an androgynous Charlie Chaplin, was so withdrawn into her sad character that it was difficult to identify with his attempts to escape his plight.

Ms. McTeer captured the screen with her expressive, soft, brown eyes, and injected the only spark of life into a film that was as repressed and bloodless as Alfred himself so that it was difficult to empathise with any of the characters. Even the context was muted – with sketchy charicatures of the mise en scene seeming as though rescued from a BBC Dickens production cutting room floor – and only came to life whenever Janet McTeer strode into view.

Feb 022012

My Afternoons with Margueritte

With Mona Achache’s recent The Hedgehog and now Jean Becker’s My Afternoons with Margueritte, French cinema seems to have a corner on unassuming but beautifully observed vignettes of human relations. At first glance My Afternoons with Margueritte can seem but a delightful amuse-bouche but peel away the surface and we find that the film is stuffed full of a number of social concerns, such as the nature of aging, friendship, parenting, childhood trauma, and self worth. Both Gérard Depardieu (as Germain Chazes) and the 95-year old Gisèle Casadesus (as Margueritte) are perfectly cast respectively as the bumbling, relatively illiterate village handyman, and the very literate, frail old spinster. Only the intrusion of Chazes’ implausibly younger and pretty girlfriend strikes a discordant note. Like the gentle kiss planted on the sleeping princess, Margueritte touches Germain’s soul and from that first tender meeting on a park bench we watch, during the course of this enchanting film, the flowering of belief in self worth and the awakening of a dormant intelligence within a thoroughly decent human being.

Jan 262012

Noomi Rapace in the 2009 Swedish version portrayed more of the glowering sulkiness that one visualized for Lisbeth Salander than does Rooney Mara but otherwise this new American version of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattooo” is in it’s own way every bit as successful as the earlier Swedish adaptation of Larson’s book. Nor does this Hollywood remake pull any punches in the violent sex scenes which appropriately recall Larson’s original title, “Men who hate women”. However, good as Daniel Craig is, the difference between his more comfortable portrayal of Mikael Blomkvist and the less confident character created by Michael Nyqvist (2009), as well as slightly more plot detail, tilt the balance towards the the Swedish film. This film is not to be missed, though, if only for the wonderful graphics of the opening credits.

Jan 262012

The Artist

An appreciation of early film-making has resulted some notable new films. Following on ‘Hugo’, Martin Scorsese’s magical homage to Georges Melies, comes ‘The Artist’, Michel Hazanavicius’ engaging and loving rejuvenation of the black and white and silent film. Engrossing, witty (yes, a silent witty film!), warm-hearted, lyrical, deeply moving, and beautiful to look at, The Artist is a joy from begininng to end. Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo are utterly captivating as flawed hero and perky heroine and John Goodman steals every scene in which he appears. A brilliant conceit, flawlessly executed.

As Hazanavicius said, “It was important not think of [‘The Artist’] as an ‘old movie’. It’s now, it’s new. But you have the benefit of this neglected format which gives you some exciting options as a storyteller.”


Jan 262012

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

There were four of us. I, the first, had read the book, seen the BBC television series, listened to the audio book, and heard the BBC radio series, so I already knew what was going on. The second said, “that was really complicated”. The third said, ” I didn’t understand any of it”. The fourth said, “That’s the most boring film I’ve ever seen.”

I understand the reactions. The film captured the mood of Le Carre’s novel, the photography was evocative, the editing well paced. Gary Oldman (Smiley), Benedict Cumberbatch (Guillam) and Tom Hardy (Ricky Tarr)were excellent but the identity and motivation of the rest of the characters were never satisfactorily established; nor were the elements of the plot. In the end, the sum of the film added up to no more than random scenes from the novel shuffled into an incoherent order, the victim of attempting to distill 400 pages of complex plotting, character development and social observation into 127 minutes.

Jan 262012

Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life

From the lighthearted beginning through the Faustian contract with an alter ego Mephistopheles to a descent into a personal Hell, it is hard to believe that this brilliant work is the first time film by Joann Sfar. Those who carp that some of the details of of Gainsbourg’s life are incorrect are like those who would say that Bacon’s Screaming Pope is not and accurate portrait of the Pope and fail to appreciate an exceptional work of art.

Jan 262012

I’m not sure what the best films that I saw during 2011 were, or even what best means in this context. But here is a list of the most memorable films that I saw during the year in the Cinema; films that I enjoyed above the norm and that stuck in my mind, films that stimulated questions and discussion, films that gave me the pleasure of watching artists at work, be they directors, actors, camera men, writers or musicians.
The criteria were that, irrespective of when they were issued, I saw the films during 2011 and they were films that I saw in a theater. The order in which they are listed is arbitary.
Le Quattro Volte
Le Quatrro Volte
The Guard
The Guard
Of Gods and Men
Of Gods and Men
Another Year

The Tree of Life
The Tree of Life
The King’s Speech
The King's Speech
The Mill and the Cross
The Mill and the Cross
The Hedgehog