Tuesday, July 26, 2016

2011 Winner, A Separation

A Separation

Director: Asghar Farhadi

Distributed by Filmiran;

Released: February 2011

Country:  Iran

When you see a film (or read a novel, for that matter) that’s set in a time or place wholly unfamiliar (i.e., foreign) to you, yet you empathize with the characters and understand what they are going through, that is truly great storytelling.  Such is the case with this gem set in modern day Iran, A Separation.  I have no idea what it must be like for someone to live in the Middle East, particularly in a place that has been led by crazy Ayatollahs and deranged haters of the West for decades.  This film doesn’t really serve us up a day-in-the-life of an Iranian; rather, it shows us however different their lives may be from ours, they still share the human experience with us.

Not THAT Nader!
Nader, played with simmering agitation by a remarkable actor named Peyman Moaadi, is in a difficult position:  His wife Simin does not want to raise their 11-year old daughter, Termeh, in Iran because it’s, well . . . Iran.  She wants to move out of there.  Nader, though, has an aging father with Alzheimer’s who he feels he cannot abandon.  When Nader tells her he will not leave Iran, she moves back with her parents. 

Now, Nader has a job to go to but now has lost his live-in dad-sitter.  Nader hires a very religious and very unqualified woman named Raziah to watch the Old Man.  She means well, but one day she isn’t paying attention and next thing you know, Pops is out wandering in traffic.  The next day, to solve that problem, she ties him to the bed while she steps out for a bite to eat.  Problem solved?

Nader then comes home with his daughter early from work and finds his dad passed out on the floor, poop in his pants, tied to the bed.  Nader loses it, and his reaction drives the rest of the story.  Nader is really a good guy, but a bit of a hot head.  His next actions will affect his relationship with his daughter and his wife, and possibly his life.  Anyone can understand how he feels, and really, anyone can empathize at least a little bit, with every character in the story.  How this plays out is suspenseful, uncomfortable, and completely understandable.

The Iran of this film is drab and joyless (a BFF theme?), and I don’t remember any of the characters smiling at any point.  But I couldn’t help but be drawn in, and I found myself hoping for the best for all concerned, even Raziah, the Babysitter from Hell.  The acting is terrific and Director Asghar Farhadi paces the film perfectly--I really can't wait to check out more of his work.  A Separation, for a Westerner like me, did the opposite of its title in regard to understanding a people so different and so far away.  Deep down, maybe the regular folks in Iran are just like us.

Father/Daughter, Papa Don't Preach:  Are we that different?
The Title:  جدایی نادر از سیمین  (man, was it hard to find the characters for this one on Word).  A marriage that would possibly otherwise be successful is strained by forces beyond the characters’ control, both political and personal.  Who else or what else will Nader be separated from?

The Culture:  The film depicts differences in Iranian society—the educated couple, the religiously conservative Raziah, and the ethical and personal challenges their society gives them.

Agenda Danger:  There is a tacit understanding that getting the heck out of Iran would probably be a good idea for someone with a brain.  Politics are pretty much left alone, though.

Best Picture that year:  The Artist

Rating:  You will relateThis one is a treasure.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

2012 Winner, Amour


Director: Michael Haneke

Distributed by:  Les Films du Losanges

Released:  May 2012

Country:  France

When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore.  When you watch a dull film where an old lady dies, that's Amour

Don't worry, that's not a spoiler:  You will learn in the first few minutes of the film that Anne, the woman with the hands around her head in the picture above, will eventually be meeting her dieu.  From there we flashback a year or so and meet Anne and her husband, Georges (no, she is not a bigamist; in French they add an “s” to the name), who are a sweet elderly couple living out their golden years in a Paris apartment. Two retired music teachers, they are enjoying a quaint, quiet life when one day during breakfast, Anne freezes up like she is trying to win a stare-down with Georges.  Georges begs her to knock off the kidding around, but she either wasn’t acting or else was really committed to the prank.

A big pizza pie
Ostensibly, the title of the film refers to the relationship between Georges and Anne, and probably more specifically the way Georges acts with Anne.  He is a loving husband, gracefully and without complaint enduring every setback and ferociously protecting his wife.  He insists on caring for her himself, even when it is clear he cannot do it all himself, because he promised that he would never put her in a home.  It is clear that he is acting out of his amour for her.

Because we know Anne's fate, the film feels like a quiet death watch.  Oddly enough, I am reminded of Oliver Stone's The Doors, a movie about the late Jim Morrison that similarly felt like a depressing wait for the inevitable. We all gotta go sometime, I guess, but if it is going to be a slow, depressing decline, let's not film it, shall we?

Spoiler:  How "The Doors" ends
Also, as I watched I honestly couldn’t help but marvel at the conspicuous lack of faith or any kind of support system existing in this couple's lives.  Georges and Anne were living in a World of Two before the stroke, and after it, Georges is pretty much on his own as he struggles to be her caregiver.  I doubt the filmmaker intended it, but I found not only their situation, but more importantly their relationship, to be a depressing cul-de-sac, a dead-end.  Typically modern-European, Georges and Anne's France doesn’t seem to need or want God or family inserting themselves into their private relationship.
Of course, there are some plot points along the way that do make this story a bit more watchable.  Without giving anything away, I found the ending, presumably intended to be liberating and hopeful, to be a dread.  And “amour” is a word that should hold no dread, in French or in any language.

The Title:  Love, I guess.

The Culture:  I don’t think we learn anything about France, the French, or the culture.  I would say that this story could have happened anywhere in present Western civilization, but I do note the godless mentality of modern Western Europe hangs over the story like a dreary, gray cloud.

Agenda Danger:  My bet is that most people wouldn’t have the issue that I did about the isolation of Georges and Anne’s marriage, and I don’t think director Michael Haneke intended for it to be seen the way I did.  Georges certainly loves Anne and selflessly cared for her.  But I thought a couple of his choices missed the point of what love is.

Best Picture that year:  Argo

Rating:  Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel once said, “The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference."  I wouldn't say this movie is the opposite of love, but I give it a solid: "Meh."