Category Archives: Persian

A Separation-2011

A Separation-2011

Director Asghar Farhadi

Starring Leila Hatami, Peyman Moaadi

Scott’s Review #734

Reviewed March 21, 2018

Grade: A

A Separation is a 2011 Iranian film that was awarded the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award statuette, the first Iranian film to achieve the honor.

The film is a wonderfully complex family drama and weaves typical family issues (divorce and school issues) with more complicated and cultural leanings, and keeps going and going with story nuances.

A Separation is directed by the acclaimed Asghar Farhadi, who is also responsible for the brilliant screenplay- this is a top-notch film.

Presumably set in Tehran, or a more progressive (by Iranian standards) city in Iran, husband and wife Nader and Simin reside with their teenage daughter, Termeh, and Nader’s elderly father, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease.

Frustrated by her husband’s refusal to leave the country for a better life, Simin files for divorce, but her wish is rejected by male judges. When she leaves her family anyway, Nader is forced to hire a pregnant caregiver, Razieh, to tend to his ailing father.

After a controversial tragedy ensues, causing Razieh to suffer a miscarriage, the film shifts directions and adds an entirely new layer to the already fascinating story.

Farhadi is very keen on his delivery of a good story- he traditionally mixes themes of culture and social class in an interesting way as his future, 2017, work, The Salesman, would also do.

Thanks to Farhadi’s innovative storytelling, more notice is taken of Iran and Iranian culture, thereby humanizing its citizens more within the craft of film.

We see Iranian people just like ourselves and not the radical or dangerous individuals we are programmed to see.

With A Separation, there are no clear-cut protagonists or antagonists, and the viewer’s allegiances may shift throughout the run of the film.

Do we champion Simin for desiring a better life for herself and Termeh or scold her for refusing to live with her family? A progressive woman for sure, she is a layered character in her ambitions and her autonomy.

Nader is also a complex character- heroic for desiring the best of care for his father, but he is also fraught with danger and bad temperament, which is the main reason for the second half of the film, and leads to Razieh’s predicament.

Viewers will not be certain whether Nader is a good man or a villain, or perhaps a hybrid of the two. Subsequently, this is the meat of the entire story and makes for an enthralling experience in character development.

As if the brilliant screenplay was not enough to demand a good watch, the acting across the board is wonderful. A cast including seasoned Iranian actors, Leila Hatami and Peyman Moaadi as Simin and Nader, these are my favorites and are quite adept at carrying along with the nail-biting tension in masterful form.

Shades of Alfred Hitchcock are evident throughout the film as the tension unfolds to a crescendo and the action builds and builds and builds in layers upon layers of good stuff.

The quick editing and unique camera angles mirror some classic works of the famous director.

The success of A Separation is the film’s fast-paced, nicely edited construction, in a way that, at over two hours in length, the film speeds along rather quickly, and causes those who experience it to ponder, wonder, think, and ascertain.

Asghar Farhadi has quickly become a prominent director, met with obstacles from his native country, and yet surpassing these hurdles to construct a great film.

I look forward to many more of his works.

Oscar Nominations: 1 win-Best Original Screenplay, Best Foreign Language Film (won)

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: 1 win-Best International Film (won)

The Stoning of Soraya M.-2008

The Stoning of Soraya M.-2008

Director Cyrus Nowrasteh

Starring Shohreh Aghdashloo

Top 10 Disturbing Films #2

Scott’s Review #618

Reviewed February 18, 2017

Grade: A

The Stoning of Soraya M. (2008) is a brutal film and one of the most disturbing films that I have ever seen. I have viewed the film a total of two times and that is enough for me.

The terrifying aspect of the film is that the story is true and the events depicted not only have happened to the woman featured but happen to women day in and day out in certain cultures.

The film is a frightening reminder of the atrocities of human suffering.

The film is an American Persian language film made in 2008. Academy Award nominee, Shohreh Aghdashloo, stars as a woman living in a remote village in Iran- the time is 1986.

Interestingly, the film begins following the events that conclude the story and works in reverse. A reporter who has car trouble and is lost in the village is taken by the aunt of Soraya (Aghdashloo) who must tell the journalist the painful story of a tragedy that befell poor Soraya the day before.

Soraya was brutally stoned to death, and wrongfully accused of adultery, and the journalist wisely records the aunt’s tale with his tape recorder. The journalist must then escape the village alive for Soraya’s story to be told to the masses.

From this point, the film transfers to several days earlier.

Soraya’s abusive husband, Ali, wishes to divorce Soraya so that he can marry a fourteen-year-old girl from the village. When she refuses, Ali uses manipulation and blackmail to turn many in the village against Soraya, including her two teenage sons.

Ali convinces everyone that Soraya has been unfaithful to him with a widower whom Soraya innocently works for. Ali is then granted his divorce and Soraya is sentenced to be stoned, as an example, in front of the entire village.

The message is clear- women are not equal to men and are not permitted to do the things that men can.

Throughout the film, we get to know Soraya and she does have her loyal female friends and supporters. Aghdashloo portrays Soraya with gusto and bravery and the fact that we care for the character so much makes the inevitable stoning sequence heartbreaking and painful to watch.

When Soraya is chained to a short pole and buried up to her neck so that she cannot move, the scene of her victimization is almost unbearable to watch. Ali and her sons are the first to cast the stones that strike her square in the head.

Director, Nowrasteh provides the stoning sequence with a dull, muted sound so that we almost experience the thuds of the rocks from Soraya’s perspective, making the scene all the more chilling.

The scene also goes on for seemingly an eternity as it takes a long time for Soraya to succumb to her many wounds. Needless to say, she is a bloody mess and unrecognizable.

This scene is not for the squeamish.

How disheartening to know that experiences like Soraya’s still occurring to this day in Iran and many other countries and there is not much that is done to help.

The Stoning of Soraya M. is based on a 1990 book, Le Femme Lapidee, written by Freidoune Sahebjam, who appears in the film as a journalist. The book has been banned in Iran.

The Stoning of Soraya M. (2008) is one of the most disturbing films that I have ever seen and as much as the message is tragic and painful, I never want to see this film again.

The pain rings too real and the thought fills me with sadness.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night-2014

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night-2014

Director Ana Lily Amirpour

Starring Sheila Vand

Scott’s Review #271

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Reviewed August 24, 2015

Grade: A-

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is a highly creative, unique, independent horror film from 2014.

One of the many reasons I am a fan of independent cinema is to discover and promote little-seen gems.

The dialogue is in Persian and the cinematography is in black and white, which is unique in modern film. I notice similarities between this film and Let the Right One In, 2008, (both the English and the Swedish versions) in the frigid mood and love story enveloped within.

This film is the debut of director Ana Lily Amirpour and what a marvel she could become. Despite obvious influences by other directors, A Girl Walks Home At Night has a brilliant freshness and seems original and unpredictable.

The title accurately depicts the main story. A teenage girl (Sheila Vand) walks around the dark streets of a city aptly named Bad City in the Iranian underworld.

The film is shot in southern California and could double for Detroit.

The girl, who has no name, has strange encounters with a myriad of peculiar individuals, including what appears to be a transgender prostitute, a vicious drug dealer, a nice yet mysterious young man named Arash, Arash’s father, who is hooked on drugs, and a mysterious cat.

She then embarks on a tender flirtation with Arash.

The overall plot, which I found secondary to the look of the film, centers around The Girl’s encounters with these individuals and their encounters and relationships with each other.

The Girl is a lonely vampire and feels isolated from society, but it is unclear what she is looking for. She is both destructive and sweet depending on the circumstance.

She takes her aggression out on the bad.

The most striking and impressive aspect is its dark moody atmosphere. Brooding and cold-looking, the city reeks of death and loneliness. The Girl speaks very little so her expressions are what the viewer will notice.

Her eyes delve into her soul.

She is the most interesting of the characters, but the others, specifically Arash and the transgender prostitute have potential and we are curious to explore more about them.

Arash and his father have more depth than any of the supporting characters- Arash painfully lets his drug-riddled father stay with him and attempts to assist him with his issues.

One assumes that since the father’s wife (Arash’s mother) has died suddenly, he has taken a downward spiral, but this is only suggested to the audience.

We do know for sure where she is- in one scene we see the father angrily look at a photo of a middle-aged woman and is destroyed by her absence. He believes that the woman has taken on the body of the mysterious cat.

Arash caring for his father is a fascinating role reversal.

Wouldn’t we expect the young man to have a drug problem and the father the caregiver? This is interesting in itself.

The influences are plentiful, but most notable from a director standpoint is David Lynch. The black and white filming along with the viewer’s point of view in one scene involving a car driving down a dark highway resembles the Lynch film Lost Highway (1997).

The moody background music and the slow but methodical pacing give A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night a Lynch feel. One curious element is The Girl’s interest in 1980′ pop music- her bedroom wall riddled with Madonna and similar pop stars from the 1980’s posters.

The Girl even admits to listening to a sappy Lionel Richie tune.

It is unknown if it even could BE the 1980’s as time seems unimportant. The film strangely combines edgy, alternative filmmaking with commercial pop references.

I half expected The Girl to break into a rendition of “Pour Some Sugar On Me”.

My thought is that perhaps Amir intends to portray the Girl’s desire to fit into mainstream society knowing that a vampire never can. This theory is proven when The Girl is melancholy when Arash buys her a hamburger, knowing she cannot enjoy it as he does.

Creative, with a dreary atmosphere, and intelligently thought out, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (2014) is a strange, murky experience in film experimentation.

Amirpour is a fresh, new director worth watching for.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best First Feature, Best Cinematography

The Past-2013

The Past-2013

Director Asghar Farhadi

Starring Berenice Bejo, Tahar Rahim

Scott’s Review #171

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Reviewed September 16, 2014

Grade: B+

The Past (2013) is an international film directed by acclaimed Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, who directed the brilliant A Separation in 2012.

Despite being directed by an Iranian director, the film is written in French and set in France.

While not quite on the level of A Separation, The Past is still a good, layered, and quite compelling film, though admittedly slow-paced in spots, similar to real life.

The film centers on a couple, Marie and Ahmad, amid a divorce. Marie lives in France with her two daughters from a relationship before Ahmad so they have no children. He lives in Iran and comes to visit and finalize the divorce proceedings.

Further complicating the situation is that Marie is in a relationship with another man, Samir, who has a son with his current wife, who is a vegetable in a coma after a suicide attempt.

What were the events that led her to attempt suicide? Did someone reveal something of importance to her? If so, who?

Questions such as these compel viewers to invest in the characters.

The Past is an excellent family drama done right- there are no needless stereotypes and the children serve more of a purpose than being cute or attractive wallpaper like in many family dramas.

Each child involved- there are 3- has real feelings and realistically expresses themselves. All three principal adult characters are mature, complicated, and have depth. Nobody is the villain and the intent is not to make the audience root for one couple over the other- the film is more mysterious than that.

Rather, the audience spends the film trying to figure out secrets that the characters keep.

Is Marie ready to divorce Ahmad or does she still love him? Does Samir blame Marie for his wife’s condition? Why does the oldest daughter hate Samir so much?

These are questions that arise more and more as The Past unfolds.

Another interesting facet of the film is there are no red herrings introduced to manipulate the viewer. The film is simply a detailed, complex drama.

All three leads (Berenice Bejo, Tahar Rahim, and Ali Mosaffa) give wonderful performances, though I’m not sure why Bejo’s performance is considered the standout.

Upon completion and thought, I noticed many similarities to A Separation.

The Past (2013) is a good, solid, family drama, with rich writing and honest, compelling situations.