At the very recent Academy Awards, "A Separation" won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. The superb movie by writer-director Asghar Farhadi, one of Iran's most accomplished filmmakers, deserved the honor.
The film begins with an unhappy Iranian couple who are seated before a judge. They are looking at the camera, and it's clear that they are facing a weighty decision. Their marriage is in crisis. Their faces reflect the pressures they are feeling.
Simin (Leila Hatami) is the wife, and she wants a divorce because her husband, Nader (Peyman Moadi), won't accede to her desire to leave the country. She would like a better life for their young daughter.
His refusal to accept divorce is family-related. His father suffers from Alzheimer's, and his devotion to the elderly man is sincere and emotional.
The judge refuses to divide the family because he doesn't see any compelling reason for separating them.
It's here that this intense and always interesting movie becomes a work about how small issues can develop into very large and very serious problems. This tale of a failed marriage soon turns into a film about false accusations and the possibility of the complete and total destruction of two families in a dispute that not only involves the police, but also a teacher, another father whose anger may be a coverup for deeper psychological problems, and even more time in court.
Much of Farhadi's very strong screenplay relies on bitter half-truths being hurled among a group of people who find themselves enmeshed in a combative situation that builds and builds and builds.
Nader hires a deeply religious woman to care for his father in his wife's absence. The arrival of the caretaker sets in motion a rapidly escalating chain of events that arise from the simplest of touches. And we're only halfway through the movie.
We see the workings of Iran's neighborhood justice system as we have never seen it before. The hope is that arguments and incidents can be settled before a mediator.
"A Separation" is a fast-paced film. It moves swiftly from its telling opening scene to Simin's departure from the family's home in Tehran, to the surprising and almost shattering accusations of abuse that Nader must face.
Simin is so determined to change her life that she is willing to leave her daughter with her husband for a taste of freedom from the marriage that oppresses her.
The acting throughout is outstanding. The well-drawn characters are people who at times seem unable to communicate even the most basic of requests.
"A Separation" touches on religious issues and the role of women in Iran, but it also looks at the effect of restrictions on women. There is no overt condemnation and no moralizing. Director Farhadi has not made a film that preaches. Instead, he's crafted a riveting story told carefully and without unnecessary flourishes.
If, as a moviegoer, you are hesitant at first, believe me, Farhadi draws you in and keeps you interested. The beautifully acted film celebrates the universality of its theme and offers insights into a country about which many have preconceived ideas.
With its expert storytelling and ever-building tension, "A Separation" is a must-see.
"Project X" is the first feature film from Britain's Nima Nourizadeh, a music video director who has a very limited biography, but based on his college graduation date in London, he seems to be in his late 30s.
In "Project X," which is about three teenagers throwing a birthday party, Nourizadeh has a thing for young girls and young boys exposing themselves on camera. It should be enough to tell you the rating: It's "R for crude and sexual content throughout, nudity, drugs, drinking, pervasive language, reckless behavior and mayhem — all involving teens." But perhaps you need more information.
Three marginally popular friends, basic high school nerds, text and e-mail the party location in Pasadena, Calif., to some high school pals. By the end of the movie, 1,500 teens, aged 15 to 17, have shown up and have burned down the neighborhood. True.
The cheap-looking movie, which is executive produced by Silver Pictures (Joel Silver) and distributed by Warner Brothers, consists of what's called "found footage," which means that what you're watching is shaky, hand-held video from cellphones.
The vile, vulgar, sexist and homophobic screenplay by Matt Drake and Michael Bacall embarrasses their union, the Writer's Guild of America. The producer is Todd Phillips, who has a penchant for mistreatment of women and homophobia in his films.
Motion pictures about students who are out of control while at college or when their parents are out of town can be fun — for instance, "Animal House," "Risky Business." These films succeed because there are believable characters in them.
A problem with "Project X," in addition to the fact that untalented director Nourizadeh has a weird fetish for sexualized close-ups of youngsters, is that in the poorly edited picture's entire 88 minutes, there is not one character about whom the audience can care. In fact, among the three main leads, the fellow named Costa is the most annoying, most obnoxious movie character since Jar Jar Binks.
There are myriad low points throughout, but one that is particularly cruel is when a dwarf is put into the kitchen oven that is turned on. It's readily apparent just from watching the choppy nature of the movie that it was intended to be much longer. Adults are peripheral, but smart moviegoers will notice that scenes involving the cops and angry neighbors have been badly truncated.
As the relentlessly uninteresting film progresses to its obvious conclusion, it's clear that it has nowhere to go, and it becomes tiresome. "Project X" commits the worst sin a movie can commit. It's boring.
|Niagara Falls Reporter||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||March 6 2012|