Tag Archives: academy award nominee

Review: ‘The Salesman’

dfn-the-salesman-300In the opening of Asghar Farhadi’s seventh feature film, The Salesman, Emad (Shahab Hosseini, who won the Best Actor award for his role here at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) are violently shaken from their apartment home. Confused and scared, they quickly join their neighbors in fleeing from their multi-level housing unit.

Deemed structurally unsound, the ruptured foundations of their building present a literal and figurative metaphor that will haunt them for the remainder of the film. In some cases, this narrative device would come off as obvious or stilted. In the capable hands of Farhadi, it adds a magnificent gravitas to his already precise manner of storytelling.

As he did in A Separation (2011) and The Past (2013), The Salesman takes a simple disturbance between a couple in various stages of their relationship (or post relationship) and spins it into a dizzying examination of not only their interaction but their place in Iranian society. Divorce proceedings, hidden secrets, missing friends as in About Elly (2009), all are fodder for his films that play out like internalized action films.

And the internalization begins fairly quickly in The Salesman when, seeking a quick solution to their housing problem, Emad and Rana rent an apartment from a friend and move in even though the previous tenant’s belongings are still shuffled around the home. It’s as if they’ve entered the play of another’s life, another fitting metaphor since Rana and Emad co-star in a production of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman,” which Farhadi uses as a backbone for a majority of his film. The neighbors murmur about the past tenant’s unusual lifestyle. The cellphone conversations between the landlord/friend (Babak Karimi) and the tenant are cryptic. Uncomfortable with the whole scenario but having little choice, Emad and Rana go ahead with their living conditions.

It’s a decision that, like so many in Farhadi’s universe, will eventually have dire consequences. At home alone one night, the buzzer rings and Rana leaves the door open for the caller, assuming its Emad returning home late from rehearsals. She continues her routine and goes into the bathroom to finish her shower. Farhadi’s camera, set at medium height, lingers quietly on the slightly ajar door or a few beats longer than necessary, allowing for all types of portentous emotions to swirl over the viewer.

With a single cut in time, Emad returns home, finds the door open and sees evidence of blood splatters. He finds Rana at a local hospital, unable (or more likely unwilling) to divulge exactly what happened that night.

What occurs in The Salesman from that point on is so precise, intellectually thrilling and morally complex that it’s easy to understand why it’s the front runner for this year’s Academy Award for best foreign-language film.

Farhadi is a filmmaker who works incrementally, slowly revealing and uncovering layers with the utmost care. I’m sure if I’d been more educated on the vagaries of Miller’s play that I’d be more impressed by the similarities of Emad juggling both his obligations to the stage as Willy Loman and acting as independent investigator for what happened to his wife. Is there some veiled comparison about the failures of masculinity? Exactly how do the Iranian censors view this rendition of the play? In one scene, someone mentions to Emad that he must meet with them and talk about certain scenes before going on.

Regardless, The Salesman operates on a level that anyone can understand. Part revenge film and part meta-cinema about two people coping with anger and embarrassment both onscreen and off, Farhadi’s search for equivocal harmony continues. It’s simply one of the year’s very best films and deserves to be seen.

The Salesman opens in the Dallas/Fort Worth area on Friday, February 10, at the Angelika Film Center Plano and Landmark Magnolia.

Review: ‘The Boy and the World’

dfn-o_menino_e_o_mundo-poster-300A sparkling gem, The Boy and the World lives up to its title, following a young boy whose search for his father leads him to all corners of his native land, both for good and for bad.

Written and directed by Alê Abreu, the animated adventure was made in Brazil by a relatively small team; the style of animation resembles handmade line drawings, and looks extremely simple by the standards of today’s extravagant, computer-aided blockbusters. While I’m certainly not an expert on movie animation, it reminds me of indie comic books that must compete against those published by Marvel and DC. The big companies can produce work that looks marvelously complex and detailed, yet is still dependent on relatable characters and a strong story.

While The Boy and the World does not have a compelling story — much of the time, the titular boy wanders with little rhyme or reason from one scenario to the next — the characters more than make up for it. The little boy is beguiling, and “the world” soon becomes its own unique character. It can be baffling to try and understand its likes and dislikes, its dangers and rewards, its charms and snares.

Yet Abreu and his team tap into a childish perspective on life. Of course it’s not always easy to understand what’s happening; that’s how it appears to children, and perhaps some of us can remember times in our childhood when adults did things that were not logical; that events occurred that seemed neither fair nor rational; that feelings and emotions were often more powerful than comprehension or even understanding.

What comes across very clearly is that The Boy and the World is fascinated by the varying environments in which we live. Whether a rural property, apparently located in the middle of nowhere, or a bustling city, or any landscape between here and there, the boy remains curious about his surroundings. He doesn’t shy away from factories or farms or public transportation or any sort of new experience, which is a rather bold stance that reflects the fearless nature of childhood and helps to make the film endlessly confusing and amusing.

The driving force for all this wandering is that the boy’s father has left home, suitcase in hand. Is he seeking new employment to provide for his family? Is he heading off to help other family members in need? The purpose of his journey appears to be discussed by him and his wife, but the words are not meaningful in the context of the story. No subtitles are provided, and the dialect spoken is apparently gibberish. What’s more important are the strong emotions that are evoked. By keeping such story details off the table, our focus turns to the visuals, and they are marvelous indeed.

Despite its title, The Boy and the World will not necessarily translate well for all people, but for those who are as open as the boy to new experiences, it’s a rather glorious trip.

The film, which has been nominated for an Academy Award as best animated film, opens at Angelika Dallas and Angelika Plano on Friday, February 12.

Review: ‘In Darkness’

'In Darkness' (Sony Pictures Classics)
'In Darkness' (Sony Pictures Classics)

Who knew that raw sewage was such a strong aphrodisiac?

Poland’s submission for Best Foreign Language Film, In Darkness ended up with an Academy Award nomination this year, though the far superior A Separation won the Oscar. It’s easy to understand why In Darkness received a nomination; not only is it difficult for the Academy to resist a Holocaust-themed drama in general, this particular one boasts a distinguished director in Agnieszka Holland (Europa Europa, Copying Beethoven) and a story that is not overly familiar.

The Jewish residents of Lvov, Poland, are in fear for their lives during World War II, threatened with extermination by the Nazi regime. But, as emphasized in the film, the terrorized men and women have the same physical needs that are common to all people. Before descending into the city’s sewer system in order to escape certain detention and likely death, one couple fulfills their sexual desires under the disbelieving eye of the man’s wife and daughter. Later, after a small group has taken refuge in a cramped chamber underground, a lonely woman is so aroused from watching a couple make love amidst the filth that she masturbates — until she realizes someone else is watching her.

It’s all rather sordid, though it contributes to the sense that Holland wanted to make a Holocaust story in which no one appears too noble. Indeed, she has succeeded to such a degree that the movie is a stifling, oppressive affair, filled with all-too-human characters whose imperfect actions speak much louder than their softly-uttered words.

— From my review at Twitch.

In Darkness opens today at Landmark Magnolia and Angelika Plano.

Review: ‘A Separation’

Leila Hatami in 'A Separation' (Sony Pictures Classics)
Leila Hatami in 'A Separation' (Sony Pictures Classics)

Moments. Director / writer Asghar Farhadi understands that life is composed of moments, one following the other. Sometimes those moments lead to wonderful pleasure. Sometimes those moments lead to gut-wrenching tragedy.

A Separation, nominated for an Academy Award as Best Foreign Language Film, as well as for Best Original Screenplay, begins with one such moment, in which Simin (Leila Hatami) and Nader (Peyman Moadi) sit facing the camera, explaining their situation. They are married, but Simin wants a separation.

Strike that; Simin doesn’t want a separation: She wants to leave Iran and emigrate to America with her husband and teenage daughter, Termeh (Sarina Farhadi). When pressed, she explains that she fears for Termeh’s future prospects, which she believes are limited. Simin speaks respectfully, but with great passion. Equally passionate is the argument from Nader, who insists that he must remain in Iran to care for his father (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi), who is suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. Nader does not believe the family should be split up, and refuses to grant Simin a divorce.

Left unspoken in that initial discussion is the reality of modern-day Iran’s cultural practices and the restrictions of a strict legal system. Simin chafes under those restrictions and struggles to work within them in order to honor her own conscience. But Nader is doing the same thing. And, in her own way, so is Termeh, who is caught in the middle. If only circumstances were different, perhaps they all could achieve their goals and enjoy a happy, satisfying family life.

But they live in Iran, and the separation has far-reaching, unexpected consequences. Each moment that is depicted follows from the one before. It’s not fate that is being played out, though, it’s the reality of the lives of Simin, Nader, Termeh, and others who fall within the powerful pull of their emotional gravity.

All the drama adds up to a crushing, powerful film that placed very high in my top 10 list for 2011. Local critics had the opportunity to see A Separation early in December for awards consideration, and the film has been on my mind ever since. Highly recommended.

A Separation opens tomorrow, exclusively at the Angelika Dallas.