Monday, May 11, 2015

A SEPARATION

Asia on Screen
2015 Film Festival
Cinema 4, Shang Cineplex


I still have qualms that Iran is part of Asia but that's just me. Geographically, it is part of what is known as the South Western Asia region. Yet, I am grateful it is because it gave me an opportunity to catch this suspenseful family drama from Iranian director Asghar Farhadi. 

As the title suggests, the film commences with the shot of a couple trying to convince a judge to grant them a divorce. The wife, Simin pleads for a dissolution of the marriage as their visa to Canada will expire in 40 days. But her husband, Nader refuses to leave behind his Alzheimer stricken father. The request is denied so Simin moves out to stay at her parents' house while their only daughter, Termeh decides to stay with her father. Trouble ensues when Razieh, the ultra religious caretaker that Nader hires to assist his sick father is accused of stealing money as well as abandoning the old man under her watch. 

Things pretty quickly unfold once this side plot is thrown into the already chaotic arrangement in the household. Accusations fly, lies abound and all of the characters' lives are in a turmoil. Shifting between scenes in a small court room where a judge is trying to determine the truth behind the accusations to scenes set in the abode of Nader and Termeh where the 'crime' happened. Simin also intervenes as she was the one who recommended the caretaker in the first place. 

Mostly dialogue driven (it was interesting to hear the Farsi language - it kind of has a melodious tone to it) and delivered by a believable ensemble cast. It can be daunting too as you try to wrap your head around the amount of accusations, lies and revelations that suddenly pop out. But the narrative is complex with layers upon layers of information that are 'released' appropriately. 

You feel like you are on a roller coaster ride from all the tumultuous problems that besets the hapless family. Just when you have settled down a bit, you are hit with a vague ending which will have you pondering on the infinite consequences of that ambiguous yet final decision. In short, it is a 'thinking' film and I don't mind it one single bit. It was riveting, to say the least.

"A Separation" is very well directed buoyed by good acting from the entire cast against a very engaging narrative. It shows us a glimpse into the everyday life of a middle class Iranian family dealing with the beyond normal pitfalls of life. Such as caring for an aged parent, raising a child in a repressive society, earning a decent living and trying to find good help. 

Highly recommended!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

VIVIR ES FACIL CON LOS OYOS CERRADOS
(LIVING IS EASY WITH EYES CLOSED)

Javier Camara, Natalia de Molina
Francesc Colomer


This delightful film was the official submission of Spain to the Best Foreign Language Film category for the 87th Academy Awards (2015). It is based on a true story set in 1966 about a Beatles obsessed English teacher named Antonio (Javier Camara) upon learning that John Lennon is in Almeria (Spain) to shoot a movie, decides to go on a road trip to meet his idol. 

En route, he picks up two people who are hitchhiking - Belen, a pregnant young woman escaping from a halfway home for unwed mothers and Juanjo, a teenager who runs away from home to avoid his authoritarian father who insists he get a haircut. The three strangers form a unlikely friendship as they embark on this journey of self discovery.

The main draw of the narrative is naturally Antonio, the English teacher who instructs his students by using lyrics of the Beatles' songs. He is insightful yet comical and quite an endearing character. Yet he is also hugely aware of the repressive political system ran at that time by the dictator Franco and does have very negative views about the Fascist regime.

The crux of the story unfolds once they reach the coastal town of Almeria where the set of Lennon's film is heavily guarded by local authorities. How Antonio handles the pitfalls that stand in his way to get to Lennon clearly forms the arc of this character. Naturally it wasn't going to be that easy, right? 

Javier Camara's brilliant performance is the heart and soul of this engaging tale. A main staple in several Spanish films, he is able yet again to transform himself into every role he incarnates, flawlessly. As Antonio, he strikes a sad, lonely figure who is fully aware of what he wants in life and won't let other people nor obstacles stand in his way. 

The gorgeous setting of the Spanish coastline as well as the simplicity of the town where strawberries grow in dusty fields provide excellent background to the feature that highlights a coming of age narrative as well as the plight of finding one's place in the world. The self discovery of staying true to yourself while the world evolves around its axis is the main thrust of this comical yet poignantly profound movie. 

Towards the satisfying ending, I like how they were able to incorporate into the story the birth of the song "Strawberry Fields Forever" which Lennon reportedly wrote in Almeria during the shooting of Richard Lester's How I Won The War. In case you were wondering where the title fits in. Well here is an excerpt from the song's lyrics:
Let me take you down
Cause I'm going to Strawberry Fields
Nothing is real
And nothing to get hung about
Strawberry Fields forever
Living is easy with eyes closed
Misunderstanding all you see
It's getting hard to be someone
But it all works out
It doesn't matter much to me
 

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