Feb 2, 2015

Screening Log: January

Abderrahmane Sissako's Timbuktu

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (Lowney, 2013, A-)
Relentlessly hilarious; and at a certain point, after the umpteenth laugh, all critical considerations can be thrown out the door.

Snowman (Mirbagheri, 1995, B+)
One of the most significant (and notorious) post-revolutionary throwbacks to the Tough Guy (jaheli) film, the most important pre-revolutionary Iranian genre; this neo-Tough Guy dark comedy was banned for three years mostly because its plot revolves around a man dressed as a woman, hence ensuring its status as a cult film before it was even released. Shrill, convoluted and hilariously overacted by the film's only actress, Azita Hajian, Mirbagheri's Istanbul-set film combines the verbose, low class poetry of jaheli parlance with the mercurial energy of three superb actors -- Dariush Arjmand, Parviz Parastui and Mehdi Fathi -- and the unparalleled comic genius of Akbar Abdi to paint a portrait of post-war Iranian diaspora that is at once unflattering and endearing. Mirbagheri is painfully (and gleefully) aware of the racist and chauvinistic tropes of the genre that inspires his film, but recalibrates those tropes to concoct a vibrant, absurd and deliberately archaic art work -- though it does succumb to a curiously sexist ending. Snowman is sharp sociopolitical commentary dressed as overblown genre fare; and one of the essential films of its era.

The Postman (Mehrjui, 1970, B-)
Mehrjui bites off more than he can chew in his thematic reach here, leading his film to tonal inconsistencies that undermine its rhythm. Still, The Postman's study of sexuality and male impotence is both frank and confrontational -- visually and because of its unprecedented power in Iranian cinema -- and symbolic: the impotent man who loses his wife to her infidelity with a bourgeois man who has just returned to Iran from the west is representing the traditional Iranian society crumbling under the weight of technological advances and the West's cultural influence. He is emasculated (figuratively) and dehumanized (literally). One only wishes these ideas had been served by a tighter film.

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (Amirpour, 2014, B-) (podcast)
The problems with the film are more evident on a second screening. Style seems to be the raison d'ĂȘtre for several of the film's scenes, hampering and slowing down the flow especially in the third half. Still, it's an impressive debut film with a clear vision, and one that makes me very excited for whatever Amirpour cooks up next.

Timbuktu (Sissako, 2014, A) (review)
Sissako's first film in eight years is a rich and nuanced portrait of Muslims living under the pressure of extremist violence. This is a sensational, deceptively simple film that reveals its depth over repeat viewings.

Mr. Gullible (Mehrjui, 1970, B)
Mehrjui's immediate follow-up to his classic film, The Cow, is rather blunt in its presentation of themes and extremely predictable in its plotting, but Ali Nassirian's iconic performance as the titular character -- a villager in the big city for the first time who is duped by everybody from train station robbers to a dancer he falls in love with -- carries the film. Nassirian's background in performative arts and the theatricality of his work in this film becomes a tool with which Mr. Gullible's demeanour and dialect reach perfection. This is one of the most important (and formally impressive) entries in the regrettable Iranian sub-genre of films devoted to the misfortunes of villagers upon traveling to Tehran. 

Whiplash (Chazelle, 2014, B+/A-)
On second viewing, Chazelle's film remained an exquisitely directed, sharply edited and relentlessly entertaining piece of bravura filmmaking. Whatever the film "gets wrong" (read: whatever dramatic licenses it enjoys) about the history and spirit of jazz is of little importance to the specific story it is telling and the visually and sonically exciting way it tells it.

The Babadook (Kent, 2014, B+)
The increasingly rare horror films whose scares come from personal, primal, palpable human feelings. Without resorting to gore and with an almost childishly simplistic design for its monster, Kent's brilliant film feels at once simple and complex, and effectively entertaining.

The Boxtrolls (Stacchi/Annable, 2014, B)
Consistently entertaining despite a plot that feels neither fresh nor particularly inventive; and designed and decorated to complete, detailed perfection.

Red Carpet (Attaran, 2014, C+)
Attaran's comedy -- about a struggling Iranian actor who travels to Cannes to pitch his screenplay to Steven Spielberg while he's presiding over the festival's jury -- gets repetitive and allows the jokes to overstay their welcome, but those repeated jokes are still really funny.

Total: 10 Films

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