Monthly Archives: March 2011

Berlinale Day 5 – Tuesday


Right…where was I?

Jodaeiye Nader az Simin – Nader and Simin: A Separation (Iran)

This was the competition film that went on to win the coveted Golden Bear for best feature and, out of the 10 competition films I saw, it was certainly the best.

Simin has received a visa to leave the country (no country is specified, it’s just “the west”) and wants to take her husband and daughter so they can escape to start a better life.  Since they’re upper-class Iranians, it’s not explained what exactly they need to escape from, or what’s lacking.  Simin seems to just want more opportunities for her daughter.  Given strict censorship in Iran, I’m sure they said as much as they could about the situation.  Anyways, Nader refuses to leave his father, who is ailing from Alzheimer’s, behind.  The daughter sides with her father and does not want to leave.  So Simin is seeking out a divorce, which can only be granted if they both agree (exceptions for adultery, abuse, and so on are mentioned), which they don’t.  Simin moves out.  Nader hires a young woman to watch his father while he’s at work, though she has many complaints about the job.

She never tells him she’s pregnant, and keeps it a secret from most everyone.  After some misunderstandings, she is fired after being accused of theft.  Insulted, she refuses to leave.  Nader, annoyed, tries to move her from the doorway.  His push causes her to fall down the stairs and she miscarries.  Nader is charged with murder, the woman’s volatile husband harasses everyone, and motivations come into questions on all sides.

What starts off as a somewhat straightforward story quickly becomes something very riveting.  Stories change, motivations are questioned, and you’re not sure who to believe, trust, or sympathize with.  Religious issues, cultural issues, moral issues, all carefully discussed without openly being debated.

There was a time when any film coming out of Iran was flocked to.  There was a string of great Iranian films that deftly criticized the government without openly doing so.  Often, they involved stories about children (CHILDREN OF HEAVEN comes to mind).  Lately, probably due to increasing censorship, they haven’t been that good.  So people were eager to snap up something from Iran that actually said something again.

It’s a tough sell though, but an interesting story for almost any audience.

B+

The Future (USA, Germany)

I was so excited to hear that Miranda July’s sophomore film THE FUTURE would be playing the Berlinale.  If you haven’t seen her first film, ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW, you really should.  It’s a real treat.  Something truly special.  You’ll either love it or hate it.  And then you’ll also understand what ))<>(( means.

Sophie and Jason are a unique couple.  He works tech support from home and she teaches at a dance school for children.  Jobs which neither of them enjoy at all.  They rescue an injured feral cat and decide to adopt him once he’s healed.  They name him Paw-Paw.  And the film is narrated by the cat, who is confused and scared and hurt and full of love.  They have 30 days before they can pick him up, and they realize that once he’s in their lives they’ll have to act like adults.  He could live up to 5 years, and then they’ll be 40, which means they may as well be dead.  So they quit their jobs, decide to do whatever comes to them, and try to listen to the universe for guidance.

It goes from there as they each try different things, some for better and some for worse.

The narration from the cat could come off as cloying or cute, but the voice (both literal and figurative) is so touching and unique and heartbreaking that it frames the film in a really unique way.  It’s not nearly as quirky as her first film, but it’s still got enough of that feel to make it engrossing.  I really enjoyed it, even if it’s not as strong as her debut.  I look forward to watching it again.

B+

Jagadangchak: shidaejeongshin kwa hyeonshilchamyeo – Self Referential Traverse: Zeitgeist and Engagement (South Korea)

This was the only film that I could slot into my schedule, and I didn’t know anything about it.  But it’s Asian and has a crazy title, so I thought why not?

Since I’m not Korean, and I don’t have intimate knowledge of Korean politics and life, it was completely lost on me.  An art film and satire of something, it’s utterly unwatchable.  I really can’t describe it.

Being very tired, I gave myself permission to succumb to sleep.  So I did.  When I woke up, at the end, there was a penis on fire, stop-motion animated rats, and I’m not sure what else going on.  Terrible.

F

Red Dog (Australia)

Since the hifalutin and artsy competition films were so stifling I decided I wanted to see something shamelessly crowd pleasing.  Red Dog is a film about a lovable dog.  Sold.

It’s the “true” story about a dog who lived in a mining town in northwestern Australia in the 1970s.  He belonged to no one and everyone, brought everyone joy (as dogs do) and learned to hitchhike.  He attaches himself to a bus driver (played by Josh Lucas, what happened to him?) and lives a happy life.  John dies tragically in a car accident and Red spends years waiting and looking for his beloved human.

Listen, I can get on the edge of tears just looking at a happy dog.  This film was right up my alley.  Unfortunately, it tries far too hard to be uplifting and family-friendly and optimistic.  It’s overbearing.  The story already has those elements, the acting and direction just pushed it too far and the film became cloying and needy.

Still, it was a fun watch and a nice release.  It’ll most likely go straight to DVD in the US, but families will enjoy the hell out of it.

B


Submarine (UK)

Another film I was incredibly excited to see.  It got rave reviews at Sundance, and it’s directed by Richard Ayoade (Moss on the IT Crowd, who is hilarious).

Coming of age stories have been done to death.  They’ll always been around.  And they should.  But SUBMARINE is one of the best I have ever seen.  An absolutely sublime, hilarious, moving, unique, touching, disarming, and honest film.  Just brilliant all around.  Don’t miss it.

A