Though Iranian cinema is one of the well-known and respected members of the global world of cinema, thanks to filmmakers such as Kiarostami, Farhadi, Panahi, etc.; none of the Iranian films that have made a mark on the world stage have been animations. A few amateurish Iranian animations, targeted strictly at kids, have had some local box office success but they've not been of a standard which could be exhibited in foreign markets.
However, with The Last Fiction, this pattern is set to change. The Last Fiction is an animation film based on the stories of The Shahnameh, a massive 11th-century work by Persian poet Ferdowsi, arguably the greatest book in the Persian language. A sort of Persian Lord of the Rings, written all in verse, it tells the stories of legends, heroes and villains, monsters and myths. In the opening credit sequence of the Iranian-American director Ramin Bahrani's recent remake of Fahrenheit 451, The Shahnameh is one of the great works of world literature which is shown burning.
A young Iranian animation director, Ashkan Rahgozar, for his feature film debut, has somehow not only found financial backers for this ambitious project but has also amassed a galaxy of Iranian film stars to voice the characters. Rahgozar wisely uses only a miniscule part of the Shahnameh and focuses on the stories of the evil ruler Zahak, his young nemesis Afaridoun and, what must be one of the earliest working-class heroes in literature, Kaveh, the Blacksmith. All the traditional elements of such stories are there: sword and sorcery, monsters, a love story, setbacks and triumphs.
The animation techniques used in The Last Fiction are head and shoulders above all the other Iranian animated films and compare favourably with great works of world animation. Using beautifully drawn animations, supplemented by powerful music and backed by a strong narrative, The Last Fiction is a highly impressive debut and a landmark in the history of Iranian cinema. Though familiarity with stories and legends of The Shahnameh helps, even those unfamiliar with this book, should be able to follow the narrative without any difficulty and take pleasure in its audio-visual delights.
Wes Anderson is one of the most original film makers working today. None of his films can be categorized into any particular genre. His latest, The Grand Budapest Hotel, which opened the Berlin Film Festival, continues that trend. It is a tale within a tale within another tale. Whilst every shot has been meticulously arranged as though a work of Art hanging in a museum, story wise Anderson has let his imagination run wild. Though the tale (with Tom Wilkinson as the author of the story) and the tale within the tale (with Jude Law as the young author & F Murray Abraham as the mysterious owner of THe Grand Budapest Hotel) have straightforward narratives, the tale within the tale within the tale, which comprises the bulk of the film and is set in the years preceding the Second World War, is a wild uproarious train ride of story telling. It also boasts the cast of a life time: Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Harvey Keitel, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson & countless cameos. It will delight Anderson fans but is more likely destined for Art house cinemas as it is too off center for mainstream audiences. The production design and music are outstanding and even the end credits are imaginatively done (and received another ovation from the audience).
Denis Villeneuve, whose last two films were the hugely impressive Incendies and Prisoners, has concocted a real oddity here. If you can imagine David Lynch adapting a Kafka novel, then you will be in the right neighborhood! In Incendies and Prisoners,Villeneuve inserted serious moral and social issues in the context of first rate thrillers' Here he follows the same tradition but the tone is more abstract and absurd. Neverherless, Enemy, adapted from a novel by the Nobel prize winner Jose Saramago, is always gripping and totally fascinating. A man (Jake Gyllenhaal) gets a recommendation from a colleague to watch a particular video. The main actor in the video appears to be his doppelgänger and the two agree to meet. To reveal any more would lessen the enjoyment of this highly original film. Well worth catching.
One knows that a Jim Jarmusch movie about vampires is not going to be like any other vampire film. In fact it would be unkind to class this as a vampire movie. Only Lovers Left Alive is a highly stylized and atmospheric film bemoaning the passing of the great rock n roll and Hippy era. Here we have a vampire couple (Swinton & Hiddleston - both excellent and perfectly cast) living an isolated life in an abandoned house in Detroit, USA. Hiddleston used to be a famous rock n roll artist who has become a recluse collecting old guitars and records. They survive by purchasing blood samples from a corrupt doctor. We also have one of their old vampire friends (John Hurt) living in Tangiers where the blood is specially pure. Things take an unexpected turn when Swinton's mischievous sister (Mia Wasikowska) visits them. Only Lovers Left Alive has cult film written all over it. The music is great too and blends perfectly with the atmosphere. Essential for Jarmusch fans and recommended to others too!
Death is My Profession can perhaps be best described as a thriller with a social conscience. It bears a striking resemblance to Yilmaz Guney's Yol and, to a lesser degree, Nuri Ceylon's Once Upon a Time in Anatolia. Three men try to steal electric cables from pylons by cutting them. Things go wrong. One is electrocuted to death, another kills a guard and runs away and the third one is captured. Then we follow the fate of the two remaining men as one takes on a dangerous journey through the snow covered mountains with his little daughter to escape from the law while the captured one is taken on an equally treacherous journey by a couple of police officers in the village to hand him to authorities in the nearest town. Writer-director Saghafi succeeds in making a few strong statements regarding the plight of unemployed and desperate young men in Iran who have to resort to any means possible to feed their families. At the same time, Death is My Profesions is a tense thriller, strikingly photographed in the Iranian countryside. Well worth catching.
Trapped (Darband)is one of the better films in the recent Iranian cinema output. It features a stunning debut by the young actress Nazanin Bayati as Nazanin, an academically bright pupil from provinces who has just entered university in Tehran. She encounters difficulty in finding university accommodation but gets an offer from Sahar (Pegah Ahangarani), a happy go lucky girl working in a ladies makeup accessories shop. While Nazanin is trying to support herself by giving private tuition, Sahar is the polar opposite, partying all night and hanging out with dubious friends. Soon Nazanin is involved in Sahar's problems and the film enters the Farhadi territory of film making. The casting is one of the standout elements of Darband in which each character is perfectly cast. One of the main themes of the film is loss of innocence and that to survive in a big city like Tehran, academic intelligence is not enough and being street smart is an absolute necessity. Recommended.
I Am a Mother (Man Madar Hastam)caused some controversy when it was shown in Iran. The reason was that it included a few subjects normally taboo in Iranian films such as characters drinking alcohol & getting drunk and sex between unmarried couples(implied but not shown). The opening of the film where an old lady called Simin (Pantea Bahram) is describing an event to her psychiatrist, is strangely reminiscent of the beginning of Amadeus where Salieri is making his confession. We then flashback to the past where the Simin character has just entered Iran after living abroad for a lengthy period and thereafter we have a social melodrama, very well acted and strikingly photographed in bold primary colors. Both its theme and direction / photography remind one of the films of Douglas Sirk. As the title suggests, its theme is about the sacrifices parents make for their children, with particular emphasis on the Iranian society with its traditions.
Quai d'Orsay is based on a comic book by Abel Lanzac (pseudonym for Antonin Baudry) who worked at the French Foreign Ministry (known colloquially as Quai d'Orsay, after its location in Paris) as former foreign minister Dominique de Villepin's speech writer for several years.
In the film we have Arthur (Raphaël Personnaz) , a young speech writer for foreign minister Alexandre de Worms (played with relish by Thierry Lhermitte) who suffers from the minister's continuous barrage of shallow slogans instead of helpful directives. Tavernier has portrayed de Worms as a pretentious, shallow person with few redeeming features who appears to spend all his working hours highlighting quotations by his favorite authors with yellow highlighters. The film itself is a fast moving and reasonably funny farce focusing on the minister's helplessness in encounters at the UN, lunch with a Nobel Laurette, managing crisis at home (where he is ever reliant on the old hand Claude (played by the veteran actor Niels Arestrup) ad so on.
Quai d'Orsay passes the time quite pleasingly mainly thanks to fine acting and brisk direction but is not a high point in Bertrand Tavernier's body of work.
Mohammad Rasoulof's film was made clandestinely under highly secretive conditions. Due to its controversial and politically sensitive content, even after its release the cast and crew (bar Rasoulof) remain anonymous.The film has been made with a digital camera using non-actors. The title of the film is taken fro a sentence in Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita. Manuscripts... is "inspired" by real events in Iran where a series of intellectuals were murdered in what was called "Serial Killings". These murders have largely remained unresolved. The film treats these events in a very realistic and matter of fact way which makes them even more chilling and disturbing. The two main protagonists assigned with the killings go about their daily life in a very normal manner, one tending to his sick child at the hospital while the other offers prayers to God so that the child can get well soon! Rasoulof's use of camera and sound is exemplary, achieving maximum tension and sustaining it for most of the film. Highly recommended but not for the squeamish.
A police sergeant, driving at high speed to hospital to witness his wife's child delivery, causes a fatal accident. A corrupt colleague who arrives on the scene (a terrific performance by the director Yuri Bykov), offers him two choices: make an honest report and damage your career or we will help you blame it on the other driver (a woman whose child was killed in the accident). There follows a gripping thriller which poses serious moral questions. The Major packs a heavy punch and Yuri Bykov is obviously a name to watch. An atmospheric, beautifully acted film with direction, photography and editing to match. A real find and highly recommended.
Prisoners is extremely suspenseful and equally disturbing. Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, whose last film was the equally spellbinding and disturbing Incendies, builds up the tension from the first frame and does not let up for the full 153 minutes of the movie. Aaron Guzikowski's script, though on the surface a child kidnapping thriller, bucks all Hollywood trends and, as well as being a taut thriller, poses serious moral issues. It also helps that the film has a first rate cast doing outstanding work: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, Terence Howard, Melissa Leo, Maria Bello and Viola Davis. Prisoners is not for the faint heated but is likely to feature strongly at next year's Oscars.
Taboor, according to ancient legend, refers to a point at the centre of the earth where cleansed human spirits gather. Fans of narrative driven cinema are advised to stay away from this film. However, if you like works of Tarkovsky, early Lynch, Kubrick of 2001 A Space Odyssey, Resnais, to name a few, then you will find a film to savour. Taboor is devoid of any coherent story or even dialogue (save for a few voice overs). It is composed of a series of long shots emphasizing the significance of time and how time stands still at times. It is also a statement on human condition, who controls our destiny and the sadomasochistic nature of some forms of human relationship. Taboor is a film which requires the viewers patience and total absorption in the environment created in the movie. The director Vakilifar is a visionary artist whose films are not made to capture box office but will be a source of enjoyment and contemplation by cinephiles.
Yeralti, which in Turkish means "underground', is based on Dostoyevsky's Notes from Underground. The setting has been changed from St.Petersburgh to Ankara. The protagonist, Muharram, is a failed writer now trapped in an empty and boring existence working as a civil servant and living alone. He tries to be honest to himself and others and tell people exactly what he feels. However, this non-conformity has backfired on him and he has become a recluse with no real friends and the object of ridicule by those around him. He values real friendship based on honesty and trust but not on that based on false compliments and hiding the truth. For him time passes very slowly (emphasized by long static shots) and he feels neglected and suffocated. The film, like the book, is a combination of observations (provided by Muarram in the form of voice over) and events. Yeralti is very well directed and acted and is a thought provoking film. It picked up the Best Film and Best Actor prizes at the 2012 Dubai International Film Festival.
Tehran Tehran is composed of two segments. The first is directed by the veteran Iranian director Dariush Mehrjui whilst the young director Mehdi Karampour helm ed the second. Both were made for Tehram Municipality with the intention being to highlight Tehran's many interesting locations and attractions.Also, it seems Mehrjui was requested to aim his film at the older audience whilst Karampour's brief was to target his segment at the young generation.
Mehrjui has done a similar film in the past where he made arguably the best segment in Tales of Kish, a similar project composed of multi segments made for Kish Island's Municipality.
In Tehran Tehran Mehrjui has skillfully inserted a narrative in a Tehran travelogue. A relatively poor family are sitting at home awaiting the Iranian New Year when their roof collapses and they are temporarily homeless. Help arrives in the shape of a party of old age pensioners who are going on a tour of Tehran and offer ride and shelter to this family. There are echoes of Mehrjui's The Tennants and Mum's Guest and his use of veteran actors such as Katayoun, adds to the nostalgic theme of his story.
Karampour on the other hand has treated his film as a short film with only a nod towards showing Tehran locations. His segment, which is reminiscent of Ghobadi's No one Knows About Persian Cats, follows members of an underground rock band in Tehran after their planned concert has been canceled at the last minute by the authorities. Lack of communication between the generations and ideologies appears to be the main theme here.
Older viewers are more likely to enjoy Mehrjui's segment whilst the younger generation may find Karampour's more interesting.
Araf/Somewhere in Between which won the Best Film prize in the 2012 Abu Dhabi Film Festival is an absorbing feature from Yesim Ustaoglu.
Zehra and Olgun are waiters at a café in a service station. They live monotonous lives and are going nowhere. Olgun loves Zehra but is not able to express himself. Zehra is feeling suffocated in her house under her strict parents and is looking for a way out. To her it seems that Mahur, a truck driver offers the best chance of escape to a better life.
There is a scene inside a ladies toilet involving Zehra which is reminiscent of Mungiu's 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days and in my view director Yesim Ustaoglu goes a step too far. Overall though Araf offers assured direction and very good performances. It is yet another impressive film from the Turkish cinema.
Great Expectations is one of my favorite novels and I have seen every screen adaptation to date. None has made more impact on me than the David Lean version. I was so looking forward to Mike Newell's version which seemed to have the perfect casting. I was though quite disappointed. Granted that it is very difficult to tell this story in a couple of hours of screen time, but that is no excuse for making a film which rushes through the events in the book without providing sufficient depth of the characters and motivation for their actions for the audience to feel empathy with them. Such a story deserves a longer screen time or alternatively cut out some of the secondary characters and provide more focus on the main characters. The film has a very "Harry Pottery" look which is no surprise since Newell made one of the films in that series. Performances are generally fine, with Ralph Fiennes and Helena Bonham Carter predictably stealing the main honors.
Raa (Nermina Lukač) lives with her father, a Muslim immigrant from the Balkans, in Sweden. She has a job on the assembly line of a food producing factory and , since his father is disabled, is the breadwinner of the family. She is content with her life, working in the day and going off with her mates for a drink in the evenings; hence Eat, Sleep, Die of the title. That is until she is laid off from her job and finds out how difficult it is to find any job as a female Muslim immigrant with no good looks in Sweden.
The film is shot documentary style with hand held camera and the performances, specially that of Nermina Lukac, are very natural and totally believable. Eat, Sleep, Die is a welcome change from the glitzy soap dramas made in Holloywood and is worth catching.
Patrice Leconte has given us such gems as Monsieur Hire, Hairdresser's Husband and Ridicule. These could all be classed as "black comedies". Lately, however, his output has been disappointing with films such as the lame comedy Beauties at War. The Suicide Shop, which is a 3D animated musical, is at least a part return to form.
Based on a graphic novel, the story concerns a family who run a shop selling all the means to commit suicide: poisons, ropes, razor blades, etc. Their sales pitch is to project a grim view of the world and encourage potential clients to top themselves. However when the the mother in the family gives birth to a new child, who has an ever optimistic view of life, things get complicated.
The animation and the use of 3D are very creative though I did not find the songs (in French) that catchy.
Emin Alper's Beyond the Hill is a master class in film making and in particular the use of sound in movies. With a soundtrack composed of only natural sounds found in nature and without any music (except at the very last scene) Alper manages to build unbearable tension.
A small landowner has punished some people living beyond a hill whose goats were grazing in his land by taking one of their goats and killing it to make a feast for his son and grand sons who are visiting him. Will those people now take revenge and what form would that be? From the moment the landowner's family arrive Alper builds up the tension expertly and manages to maintain this tension throughout the film.
In the Q&A after the screening Alper confirmed that his film is a political allegory about Turkey and its neighbors. In parts it is reminiscent of Once Upon a Time in Anatolia and clearly Emin Alper is a name to watch out for.
No takes a different look at the events in Chile under Pinochet's brutal military rule, and in particular, the 1988 referendum which his government, under pressure from its western allies, organized.
The approach No takes is to focus on the NO supporters' advertising campaign and in particular the creative force behind it, played convincingly by Gael García Bernal. If you can imagine an episode of Mad Men set in Chile, during the late 80's, you will get a feel of NO. It has been shot in what looks like low definition video to match the historical footage. NO makes for an entertaining, and at the same time educational, movie.
The Patience Stone is based on an old Persian fable about a stone to whom one can confide all one's problems and worries. Here though the stone is an Afghan man, reduced to a vegetable state by the war. His wife (Golshifteh Farahani) uses his inability to comprehend and talk back to tell him things that she would not dare to say otherwise. With his disability she's been left to feed herself, her two children and continue buying medicine to keep her husband alive. The only job available for an Afghan woman in her desperate situation it seems is prostitution.
Atiq Rahimi has directed from his own novel. He wrote the script with the renowned veteran screen writer Jean-Claude Carrierre. It is, I feel, a story best suited to theatre with its long monologues. The film however, belongs to and is carried by Golshifteh Farahani's magnificent performance. This is a very tough role where she has to, for most part, talk to a body lying motionless and unresponsive on the ground, unable to engage in any dialogue. A poetic film which is not for all tastes but which will richly reward those who appreciate its form and messages.
Flight will rank alongside The Lost Weekend, Leaving Las Vegas, etc as one of the classic films about alcoholism. It features, in my view, Denzel Washington's greatest performance to date. It is so easy to overplay a drunk but extremely difficult to get it right and Denzel is spot on and totally believable here as an alcoholic. Also, not many A list actors would play such an unsympathetic character.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is Robert Zemeckis's decision to do what is basically a character study. However, as shown in his previous films what he brings to the table here is to ensure that as well as studying this flawed character, we have a thoroughly gripping and entertaining movie. In addition to Denzel's standout performance, all the other performances are great. John Goodman balances the drama with the right dose of humour. Go and see it, but not on board a flight!
Love is All You Need is a real crowd pleaser, feel good type of movie. It may not be very original and ground breaking but it is expertly put together and will make the viewer leave the cinema feeling good and uplifted.
Somehow, it is reminiscent of Mamma Mia!, specially with Pierce Brosnan's presence in both movies. Here, he plays a successful businessman whose son is marrying the daughter of a Swedish hairdresser with an unfaithful husband. The wedding is set in romantic Sorrento and unexpected events happen which keep the film continuously interesting. Brosnan is particularly good and this film has the potential to become a big hit.
Being an avid Kubrick fan, I could not wait to see this film even though The Shining is one of my least favorite of his movies. I did enjoy Room 237; it's a fun movie. Like Kubrick himself you never know whether it's being serious or poking fun at the viewer. Some of the "hidden messages" that Kubrich is supposed to have put into The Shining are patently ridiculous but some others will make you want to go & watch The Shining again, and again! The masterstroke here is when someone states that Kubrick was meticulous about arranging every frame in his movies (which every Kubrick fan knows to be true) and no object appears in any frame by accident. Of course the film makers then take this to an extreme but it does make for a quite funny and entertaining time.
Clandestine Childhood is a coming of age story with a difference. As the title suggests, it is growing up under secrecy. The film is set in 70's Argentina where the military junta rules the country and opposition groups are clandestinely active. We follow a 12 year old son of one of these revolutionary couples who is growing up under a cloud of secrecy to protect the identity of his parents. The boy is a normal child who wants to invite his friends home, have a girlfriend and all that but can not do so due to the risk of exposing his parents who are wanted by the military dictatorship.
The politics and the history, though ever present, are kept firmly in the background and the film focuses on the boy's story. The fact that the film is based partly on the director's own childhood, and specially knowing (as he told the audience after a screening) that his mother was one of the "disappeared" during that era, makes the film very poignant. An added bonus is the great music in the film.