Monday, February 20, 2012

Foreign Disputes: A Separation

With a detached tone that never takes sides, that never relies on a musical score to cue an emotional response, A Separation examines interconnected hopeless situations in a foreign country.

In an opening scene set in a sterile bureaucratic office in a cold justice building, Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation plays out its first hopeless situation in a lengthy dispute in front of a legal official. Simin (Leila Hatami), a teacher, wants her family to leave Iran so that her daughter, Termeh (Sarina Farhadi), can enjoy better opportunities elsewhere. Her husband, Nader (Peyman Maadi), however, doesn’t want to leave his father who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. Simin suggests that she and Termeh go without him. After much dispute, Nader says that he is willing to go through a divorce, but if Simin wants to leave the country, she must do so alone. Simin pleads with the official. There is no recourse but to sign her name and leave the office.

Another hopeless situation arises when Nader must hire a housekeeper to take care of his father (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi), who needs constant watching. He hires Razieh (Sareh Bayat), unaware she is pregnant. More dispute. The economy is poor in Iran, as well, and Razieh argues for more pay, since her commute will be a long one and her ex-con husband, Hodjat (Shabab Hosseini) doesn’t make much as a cobbler. More problems arise when Razieh leaves the old man untended, Nader returns to find his father lying on the floor, and after a lengthy argument full of accusations, he pushes Razieh out of the apartment. When Razieh suffers a miscarriage and loses her child, Nader is accused of murder and sued for “blood money” by Hodjat. This leads to more appearances in barren legal offices where the ensuing disputes reveal that Hodjat suffers from serious anger management issues.

Played skillfully by Maadi, Nader is a man faced with a mess. He is suddenly single. He must go to work to pay the bills. His father needs care. His housekeeper accuses him of pushing her down the stairs. His housekeeper’s husband wants to bash his head in. If only he hadn’t lost his temper and pushed Razieh out the door. If only his wife hadn’t left him. Because Simin leaves, a chain of events unleashes conflicting needs that get tangled up together. Nader needs to care for his father. Razieh needs money so that her husband can pay his creditors and stay out of jail. Simin needs to take her daughter away from Iran.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Chronicle and Serendipity

After swearing I’ll never see another movie in the irritatingly persistent video vérité genre, I always end up seeing another one. In regards to Chronicle, I just had to see it because I love science fiction and because of a bit of serendipity I will explain later.

In Chronicle three high school senior guys, Andrew (Dane DeHaa), Matt (Alex Russell), and Steve (Michael B. Jordan), stumble upon an alien contraption at the bottom of a cave, and the thing gives them nose bleeds and the power of telekinesis (my favorite superpower). At first they just throw things around and assemble Legos without touching them. Later, they learn to throw themselves around with dramatic results. For Matt and Steve, it’s just a cool thing, and they want to set limits for their power, but Andrew, Matt’s cousin, is a more troubled individual.

An outcast at school, Andrew has a mother dying of a lung disease and a bitter, hard-drinking father who slaps him around. In addition, he goes around videotaping everything as a kind of security blanket. This is the premise that somewhat convincingly justifies that all that we are seeing is being caught on videotape. Fortunately, the camerawork isn’t shaky. Andrew has a steady hand and uses a tripod. Later, he uses his telekinesis to make the camcorder float in air.

For the most part, the whole captured-on-found-video thing seems totally unnecessary – though I guess if my friends and I were doing awesome things with telekinesis, we’d want to capture it on video. Very quickly, after the three buddies play out their teenage wish fulfillment, pulling off pranks, impressing their peers, and punishing bullies, the film turns into a very entertaining broad-canvas superpowers flick culminating in a huge CGI battle royale amidst the skyscrapers of Seattle that doesn't need the video gimmick. When Andrew goes haywire, however, his deeds are captured on security cameras, and this device proves quite powerful in its realism. But for the most part, when Andrew’s camera is floating steadily overhead, we either forget about the video device or don’t care because the story has taken a very serious turn that gives this little sci-fi movie a powerful kick.