Safar e Ghandehar **/**** starring Niloufar Pazira, Hassan Tantai, Sadou Teymouri written and directed by Mohsen Makhmalbaf
by Walter ChawKandahar is a science-fiction film about a terrifying and unknowable alien culture and the human anthropologist who must disguise herself to gain entry into its Byzantine infrastructure (thus often reminding me of Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow), and it is the recipient of perhaps the most serendipitous release in film history. Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf's Kandahar is either a stunningly incompetent film or an amazingly evocative one. Perhaps best described as both, the piece alternates between sledgehammer images and awful didactic exposition. An argument can be made, and a good one, that the plight of Afghani women under the medieval rule of The Taliban deserves to be treated as a medieval passion play, with all the implied attendant allegorical characters (the pilgrim, the fallen child, the doctor, the thief) and mannered execution.
Raye makhfi ***½/**** starring Nassim Abdi, Cyrus Abidi, Youssef Habashi, Farrokh Shojaii written and directed by Babak Payami
by Walter Chaw It begins and ends with waiting, while the middle of Babak Payami's Secret Ballot (Raye makhfi) is invested in the Theatre of the Absurd--this is Samuel Beckett, in other words, applied to the Iranian voting process, as an unnamed election agent (Nassim Abdi) travels to a remote Persian island on a quest to gather votes from citizens who may not know that it's election time, are probably unfamiliar with the candidates, and almost certainly aren't affected by the outcome anyway. If anything, Payami's picture confirms that things are the same all over.
Oligarkh *½/**** starring Vladimir Mashkov, Mariya Mironova, Levani Outchaneichvili, Aleksandr Baluyev screenplay by Aleksandr Borodyansky, Pavel Lungin, Yuli Dubov, based on Dubov's novel Bolshaya pajka directed by Pavel Lungin
Zir-e poost-e shahr Under the City's Skin ***/**** starring Golab Adineh, Mohammad Reza Forutan, Baran Kosari, Ebrahin Sheibani screenplay by Rakhshan Bani Etemad, Farid Mostafavi directed by Rakhshan Bani Etemad
STONE READER */**** directed by Mark Moskowitz
by Walter Chaw The collapse of oppressive regimes is a double-edged sword for a country's film industry. Official censors are out of work, but they take their government's sponsorship of the film industry with them. Entertaining a stream of strange bedfellows from the United States and France, the Russian cinema in the age of Perestroika struggled to find a balance between artistry and commerce--the same instinct that promoted the creation of underground trades in fake Levi's spawned, too, a steadily gathering horde of cheap knock-off films designed, like their Yankee brothers, for minimal but satisfactory fiscal return. Departing quickly from the early optimism of pictures like Alexander Sokurov's Days of Eclipse and Pavel Lungin's Taxi Blues, the "Russian New Wave" (led like the French nouvelle vague by a cadre of critics) has expressed itself lately through cultural remakes of classics of world (including early Russian) cinema. The S. Dobrotvorsky-scripted Nicotine, an interesting take on Godard's Breathless, is the best of the cultural doppelgängers; Lungin's Tycoon is among the worst.
August 25, 2002|I met Babak Payami last week while he was drinking an espresso in a leather-upholstered booth at a chichi Denver eatery. In town to discuss his second film, Secret Ballot (Raye makhfi), Payami was not the craggy visage in a fisherman's knit-wool sweater with a shock of white hair--the living incarnation of Samuel Beckett as would befit the author of a film that plays like a cross between "Waiting for Godot" and "Endgame"--I expected. Instead, I was greeted by a compact, powerful-seeming man in a sweater. Articulate and confident, yes, but there the similarity to papa Sam ended.
Talaye sorkh ****/**** starring Hussein Emadeddin, Kamyar Sheissi, Azita Rayeji, Shahram Vaziri screenplay by Abbas Kiarostami directed by Jafar Panahi
by Bill Chambers Those planning on taking in Roland Emmerich's The Day After Tomorrow this weekend solely to judge the credibility of its disaster-movie hijinks would be better off buying a ticket to its competition in several North American markets, Jafar Panahi's Crimson Gold (Talaye sorkh), in which a scenario of inevitable, cyclical doom unfolds with astonishing veracity. The shooting of a jewellery-store owner by a thief who turned the gun on himself inspired master filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami to reverse-engineer the thief's motives in a screenplay written specifically for his former assistant director Panahi, fresh from the bittersweet triumph of The Circle. (Widely acclaimed everywhere, it was banned in his native Iran.) Some details specific to Iran's theocracy notwithstanding (a party is raided by police because men and women are dancing together), Crimson Gold is arguably a more globally inclusive film than The Circle, as it deals with the insidious threat of classism that on some level affects us all.
April 13, 2008|I sat down with Iranian writer/cartoonist/columnist and now filmmaker Marjane Satrapi at Denver's Hotel Monaco, right off 16th Street Mall--just a few minutes from the Convention Center, where this year's Democratic National Convention will be held. I thought it a serendipitous place to interview a figure known for being outspoken on at least two of the three subjects you don't talk about: politics and religion. Colorado is traditionally a Red State, which belies the way its cultural centres, Denver and Boulder, vote--offset, perhaps, by nearby Colorado Springs, home to Ted Haggard's New Life Church, the Air Force Academy, and Focus on the Family. Always dangerous for me to stray too far from movies (I don't actually know very much about anything outside of movies, let's face it), but I savoured the chance to wade into deep water with the author, touring the U.S. with the film adapted from the two volumes of her brilliant Persepolis. Someone who says things impulsively that tend to get her in trouble, Ms. Satrapi's a kindred spirit.
Jodaeiye Nader az Simin ***½/**** starring Peyman Maadi, Leila Hatami, Sareh Bayat, Shahab Hosseini, Sarina Farhadi written and directed by Asghar Farhadi
by Angelo Muredda In Armond White's latest "Better-Than" list, the champion of surreal juxtaposition pits Asghar Farhadi's A Separation against Joe Cornish's Attack the Block and finds the former wanting. "Action vs. Talk," he summarizes, in the poetry of tinyurl. Apart from the arbitrary matchup he stages between two very good films about getting to know your neighbours under the harshest of circumstances, White isn't completely off the mark. I won't defend his trite claim about A Separation's alleged "Iranian didacticism," but the film certainly is voluble. Farhadi wears his dramaturgy on his sleeve, opening with a carefully trained two-shot of middle-class couple Nader (Peyman Maadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami) at divorce court, parked in adjacent chairs as if settling in for a parent-teacher interview. They face us directly as they make their respective cases to a bored, unseen auditor: Simin wants to emigrate to the West; Nader refuses to leave his dementia-suffering father behind or grant his wife permission to leave with their eleven-year-old daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi, the director's own daughter)--more an effort to stall their separation, it seems, than an arbitrary flexing of his patriarchal muscle. Voluble, as I said, but not verbose. It's a provocative and deceptively straightforward setup, promising naturalism via Maadi's and Hatami's easy rapport while undercutting it with the artifice of their situation. Though the judge is unmoved by either side in this rhetorical showdown--"My finding," he tells Simin, "is that your problem is a small problem"--the stakes of this "small" quagmire, which is also a national and a gendered one, are made painfully clear to us by the couple's impassioned performances.