Tag Archives: Iran

VIFF 2017 Review: Tehran Taboo

Tehran Taboo

Tehran Taboo is an animated look at the business of prostitution in modern-day Iran.

I started my trip to the Vancouver International Film Festival seeing an animated film called Tehran Taboo. This film is a very telling film in its subject matter and how it plays out in animation.

The story begins with Pari. She’s recently separated from her drug-addicted husband who’s now in prison. To get anywhere in Iran, including getting better things for her 5 year-old mute son Elias, she needs her husband’s signature on documents. She pleads to a judge with religious connections to no avail, but makes her an offer for her to be a ‘madam’ under his system. She refuses at first, but soon changes her mind. She is introduced to the prostitution business and is even given residency for her and her son.

Sara appears to have a happy marriage with her banker husband Mohsen, but it’s not. She finds the marriage discomforting especially since her in-laws are in the way. She finds a way into the system of prostitution. She even ‘works’ with Pari.

Babak is a traditional musician trying to make a name for himself. One night after a lousy show, he has sex with a woman she dances with. The next day, she comes to him saying she needs an operation in her vagina to make her appear like a virgin. She claims she’s getting married in five days. If her fiance finds out, he’ll have her killed. It’s up to Babak to get the money for the operation or find a serum. He even meets up with a hard man she claims to be her fiance.

All three situations criss-cross in the middle of Tehran. All three meet different endings. In the end, the truth about Sara is revealed to Mohsen. It’s right after she makes a phone call for a prostitution request to a man of high government ranking. The man then orders her number traced by the morality police. Sara eventually loses it all. Babak would also lose it all. Just as he is on the verge of coming across the money needed for the operations, he witnesses public hangings. That could be an omen of his own demise. We also learn that the woman was not to be married, but part of a prostitution business where virgins are paid higher money. Despite the difficulties, things work out for Pari. She’s able to make a good income and be able to send Elias to a good school.

This animated film– animated through rotoscope– is an impressive story about three situations all intersecting with the world of prostitution. They all face their own challenges as all have to deal with the laws in Iran: both law-based and religion-based. The influence of religion is seen throughout the film as there’s cases where the husband is required to authorize along with the wife, religious clerics hold high jobs, and the morality police all around ready to arrest even on public signs of affection. Even the fact that there’s such thing as a Morality Police gives an insight of what type of system Iran has been under since the Islamic Revolution of 1978.

Prostitution is very much a hush-hush business almost universally but you can bet it is especially secretive in Iran. We’re talking about a country where adultery is considered grounds for execution. However it’s seen by these three women as a chance to make a higher income. This is especially beneficial since the income for the average Iranian is very low. Pari has a chance to receive a better life for herself and her son thanks to her work, and the red tape of a judge involved. Sara sees prostitution as a chance to escape the strain of her marriage, especially with pushy in-laws. However this ring of prostitution is a detriment for Babak as he finds himself dealing in this business without him knowing. We learn that ‘fiance’ is actually part of the business too much too late for Babak.

This is a story that takes three situations in Tehran and often has them criss-crossing together through each of the characters. Even the protagonists in one of the sub-plots will find themselves involved in the other two plots too. The three stories intersect with both the photo studio where the photographer would take pictures of those involved and Elias the mute son who says nothing, but is a witness to all that goes on. The story plays itself out both as a story with a lot of intrigue and even some comedic moments, like when they have to deal with a gynecologist with poor personal hygiene or the photographer always changing backgrounds.

SPOILER WARNING: In the end, it’s Pari who’s the one that benefits most from this system of prostitution, if not the only one benefiting at all. Babak finds himself stuck in the middle of what would become what many believe to be his tragic fate in the end. Sara loses it all in the end, and it’s obvious her drug-induced jump at the end is a suicide. It’s evident she feels like she has nothing to live for. Pari, on the other hand, had the unfairness in her favor. She struggled with the unfairness of the Iranian legal system demanding her husband’s signature for many things; that’s the law in Iran. How could she when her ex-husband is in prison? But when the Iranian judge offered her an entry into the prostitution business, it opened doors for her and Elias. It even allowed her to achieve things without her husband’s signature. Despite the struggles, it appears Pari is the only one who won.

This is the first feature-length animated film for Ali Soozandeh. Ali was born in Iran but would emigrate to Germany. It’s easy to see why the film’s countries of production are listed as Germany and Austria. There’s no way Iran would allow for a film like this to be released! The film which he directed and co-wrote with Grit Kienzlen is a very good story of intrigue and will raise a lot of eyebrows about what’s going on ‘underground’ in a country like Iran. All the actors did their parts very well, whether it be doing their voices or acting for their rotoscope images. I feel the rotoscope method of animation fits the film very well in terms of telling its story. Rotoscope also helped well with Waltz With Bashir a few years ago.

Tehran Taboo is an excellent animated film about the secrets of Iran few know about. The stories of those involved, and why they do it, are made very clear.

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DVD Review: The Salesman

Salesman

The Salesman is an Iranian film about a husband (Shahab Hosseini) going after the man who assaulted his wife (Taraneh Alidoosti)

The Salesman won the Academy award for Best Foreign Language Film. It is the second film by Asghar Farhadi to win the Oscar in that category. It was worth watching.

Emad is an acting instructor at a local school in Tehran. He and his wife Rana are also actors and are rehearsing the production of Death Of A Salesman where Emad plays Willy and Rana plays Linda. One day, their apartment is on the verge of collapsing. All the residents flee including Emad and Rana along with their son. Their fellow actor Babak, who plays Charley, finds a shelter for them in an apartment suite recently abandoned by a woman and still consisting of most of her belongings.

One night, Rana returns to her apartment alone and bathes. Emad returns to the apartment finding Rana absent and blood on the bathroom floor. He learns from neighbors that she is in the hospital after being badly assaulted. Neighbors also reveal that the former tenant of the apartment was a prostitute.

Rana recovers from her injuries and is able to come home, but is traumatized. Despite Emad changing the locks, she’s afraid to bathe fearing a repeat of what happened. She is afraid to go to the police, feeling they’ll question her about her own lifestyle. The frustration leads Rana to break down during rehearsal. When Emad finds the car keys of the culprit left behind in the apartment, he decides to take things into his own hands. He discovers they belong to a pickup truck parked outside. The culprit even left behind his cellphone and money. The stress of trying to locate the man who assaulted Rana adds up on Emad as he falls asleep during one of his film lectures He even blames Babak for what happens and calls him a ‘degenerate’ during rehearsal, despite it not being in the script.

Emad finally gets a lead from one of his students. He learns the truck belongs to a man names Majid who runs a business in downtown Tehran and shares the truck with his father-in-law. Emad learns that the older man is in fact the culprit. Emad calls the culprit to meet with him in the apartment. The man claims he didn’t assault her, but startled her instead. Emad doesn’t believe it. He locks the man in a room to get him to confess everything to Rana and his own family. As the family is just making their way to the apartment, the man appears to have a heart attack. Emad calls Rana in a panic but Rana warns him if he pursues revenge, she will leave him.

Just as the family arrives, Emad offers assistance to the older man. The man doesn’t want his family to know his sordid actions and Emad complies. The family is relieved to see the man and even thank Emad for saving his life. However Emad has one last thing to settle with the man in private. Emad gives the man his money and slaps him, which leads the man to collapse again and the family to fear for his life. The film ends leaving the viewer questioning and even assuming what happened.

This story has a lot of similar aspects with A Separation, Farhadi’s first Oscar-winning work from five years earlier. It presents a story in Tehran and features a male character resorting to his own means to get to the bottom of things. In both cases, it’s likely to sense Farhadi is making a statement about Iranian society. First we have a case where the husband takes the law into his own hands because the police may suspect something of the wife, whether it be done by Iranian law or the nature of the police. Secondly we have the ending climax where the man carries out his intentions and we don’t know what will happen next. Thirdly, we have a case where the protagonist tries to play either the judge, jury or executioner. Finally we have an ending that is ‘silent’ and leaves you wondering what happened and of the relationship of the couple. Those are usually the best endings where one would try to guess what happened or come to their own judgement.

This story is a cat-and-mouse story as Emad willfully takes the law into his own hands and plays vigilante in this situation. You wonder if it’s simply because he’s going along with his wife or because he too knows how one-sided the law is and how they would come down hard on women. As the viewer sees clue after clue, they start to get their own assumption. Once we know, it leads to the climactic ending. However this is a climactic ending that takes a long time to end. The drama in the climatic ending however justifies its lengthiness and even adds a second part to the ending. The final end scene where we only see what we saw and nothing is spoken between Emad and Rana as they’re getting their makeup applied also gets you questioning what happened. Even drawing your own conclusions. Those are usually the best endings where they get the viewer to create their own ending.

The unique thing about this story is how it’s mixed in with theatre. We see the story unfold right as the couple are both rehearsing and performing for Death Of A Salesman. The story in The Salesman does not come across like the story of Willy Loman. Emad is far from the pathetic character Willy Loman is known to be and Rana appears to be stronger-willed than Linda Loman. Yet somehow you sense a connection and try to think back if there is.

Asghar Farhadi does it again. He writes and directs an excellent story that has you following the story and guessing what happens in the end. He also succeeds in again making a statement about Iranian society through the story. This time, he adds the art of theatre intertwined with the story with excellent results. Shahab Hosseini does a very good job in his performance as Emad. He played the temperamental Hojjat in A Separation. Here he delivers a performance that both embodies the character of Emad and says more in Emad’s silence than in his dialogue. Taraneh Alidoosti also did a very good job in her role as Rana. She first comes across as someone hurt and troubled, but reveals at the end she possesses more inner strength than you think. Farid Sajadhosseini also did a very good job in playing the older man with secrets he wanted to hide.

The Salesman is another great film from Asghar Farhadi. It’s a story that says a lot in the drama it presents.

VIFF 2016 Review: Under The Shadow (زیر سایه‎‎)

under-the-shadow

Under The Shadow is a film of a woman and her daughter who should leave their war-threatened apartment in Tehran but can’t for some mysterious reason.

One of the objectives of the VIFF is to show films each year that take us to another dimension or the supernatural. That’s shown in their Altered States film category/ The first Altered States film I saw was Under The Shadow which showcases a supernatural occurrence during a moment in world history.

This takes place in Tehran during the later 1980’s during the Iran/Iraq war. The war has been going on since 1980 with lots of lives lost, everyone in Iran threatened, and no end in sight. Shideh, just recently expelled from her law school for participating in a protest, has returned to her apartment as a housewife. Only she learns her husband has been drafted in the War. She’s left to tend to her daughter Dorsa alone. Her workout tape to Jane Fonda– forbidden under her country’s religious law along with the VCR hidden in a locked box– becomes her one escape from the stresses in her life.

One night, an Iraqi missile hits the apartment but doesn’t explode. There’s only one fatality but he dies of a heart attack. Mysteriously Dorsa won’t stop crying for her doll until she has it despite the wreckage to the apartment building.

Shideh decides to stay with Dorsa despite other tenant leaving the building for a safer place to live one by one. Dorsa mentions of a mysterious man, or djinn, and that’s what keeps her there. It’s not easy for Shideh to deal with this as she’s constantly being left behind by the tenants, worrying about her husband constantly, looking after Dorsa all alone and dealing with authorities in a country under strict religious law. Things take a turn for the worse as this djinn causes things to move out of place. It even rips up her Jane Fonda tape.

Soon the last of the other tenants– the daughter of the man who died in the missile hit– leaves the apartment with Shideh and Dorsa on their own. Nevertheless Shideh is determined to face the djinn before she leaves and despite the threat of a collapsing roof. Shideh does have her moment to finally confront the djinn and deal with it.

There are a lot of stories about the supernatural in the past. The unique thing about this film is that it features a supernatural character traditional to Arabic literature: the Djinn. The djinn are common in ancient Arabic mythology and are even mentioned in the Qu’ran. The most common form of the djinn in entertainment is the ‘genie in a bottle’ or the ‘genie in a lamp’ that’s common in the most popular Arabic stories. Yes, the genie we all commonly know originates from the djinn myth. However the djinn goes beyond the genie most of us commonly know. The djinn can be either good, evil or neutrally benevolent possessing the same free will of humans. In fact the word djinn comes from the primary meaning ‘to hide.’ It’s the ‘shaytan djinn’ that are the most demonic.

Here the djinn Shideh is dealing with is far from a genie that will grant you three wishes. It’s obvious that this djinn has something to do with Shideh’s personal issues. And she has a lot of them as seen in her life. Her education was cut short because she participated in something that’s a right in most other countries. Her husband has to fight in the war. She’s now on her own looking after her daughter. The only place she appears to find relief in is in her Jane Fonda workout tape which is banned by the government along with her VCR. However this is a djinn that goes beyond just appearing to Shideh. It also carries a sense that it’s present in Dorsa’s doll, too. It’s apparent Shideh has to deal with this djinn to the point she refuses to vacate the apartment with her daughter like all the others until she’s finished.

It’s interesting how this story intertwines with both the supernatural and both a moment in world history. You can notice how there are so many things mixed in with this story that tells of the times in Iran during the war. There’s the forbidden Jane Fonda tape, there’s Shideh punished for being in a demonstration, there’s the police threatening to arrest Shideh for not being in a hijab. You even hear it echoed by the police there: “This is not the same country. We now have our values back. We have men fighting for those values.” Sometimes you wonder if the times of Iran have a lot of influence in the djinn Shideh has to deal with. I often feel that’s what the filmmaker is trying to do here.

I will say one of the top things of the film is that it often succeeds at adding horror elements to the film. The djinn is a mysterious spirit but it does a good job at scaring Shideh in her dreams. It also does a good job in scaring the crowds. I know the film succeeded in scaring me a few times.

It may seem odd for the United Kingdom to submit a film in the Best Foreign Language Film category for this year’s Oscars but it can be done since Iranian-born director Babak Anvari lives in London. Anvari was actually born during the Iran/Iraq war so this is an incident in history that really touches upon him and has a lot to do with why he prefers to live in the UK. This is his first feature-length film and it’s an impressive work as it does a good job in capturing a moment in history and incorporating the supernatural into it. It was also successful in scaring me too at times. Narges Rashidi did a very good job of playing Shideh: a woman who’s both scared and angry. Rashidi herself was born in Iran and is familiar with the Iran/ Iraq war she had to endure with before escaping to Turkey. Young actress Avin Manshadi was also very good as Dorsa.

Under The Shadow is an intriguing story of a mysterious spirit that comes to a woman during wartime. It also makes for a fitting scary movie too.

World Cup 2014 Preview: Group F

Group F is one group that has one country almost guaranteed to come out on top. However the second team to move on could be any of the other three. I guess Group F is a ‘Group Of Death’ in that sense. Here’s my rundown of the Group F teams:

argentina-Argentina (7)- Argentina is another country at the World Cup with a legacy. This is their sixteenth World Cup. They’ve made it to the finals four times and won twice. Argentina has always been seen as a real threat in football these past few decades with a well-known aggressive play. They’ve been churning out great after great with Mario Kempes, Diego Maradona, Gabriel Batistuta, Carlos Teves and most recently Lionel Messi. However they do have their glitches. For starters, they have not made it past the quarterfinals since 1990. With Maradona coaching, it looked like 2010 would be the year they’d break their bad luck. They almost did as they were brilliant in group play and in their Round of 16 match against Mexico but were halted by Germany 4-0. Getting knocked out in the quarterfinals at the 2011 Copa America didn’t help either. However the team made considerable improvement with the addition of Alejandra Sabella as coach. Since then their only losses came to South American teams like Brazil, Venezuela and Uruguay, teams they would eventually beat in another recent game. On top of that, Argentina never lost to a European team under Sabella’s coaching. No doubt they have the talent to win. Many predict them to be finalists in Brazil at least. It’s just a matter of them delivering.

Bosnia-Bosnia-Hercegovina (25)- It’s very common for an athlete or a sports team to lift the spirits of a troubled nation. Bosnia-Hercegovina is a nation still recovering from its brutal civil war from 1992 to 1995. However at last year’s World Cup qualifying, Bosnia’s team gave the people something to cheer about. Also people on the streets could talk about something other than the war. The team was brilliant in qualifying play winning eight games, drawing one and losing one. They scored 30 goals and only conceded six. You can credit this to the guidance of coach Safet Susic and the play of Manchester City’s Edin Dzeko.  They were impressive in World Cup qualifying play and they’ve had varied results in friendly play with wins against Mexico and the Ivory Coast but 2-0 losses to Egypt and Argentina. The World Cup is a chance for Bosnia to grow as a team. They’re the only team in Brazil competing in their first World Cup. They pretty much have nothing to lose and everything else to gain.

Iran-Iran (37)- Iran comes to their fourth World Cup here in Brazil hoping for a breakthrough. They’ve won the Asian Cup three times from 1968 to 1976 but have never been able to advance past the Group Stage at the World Cup in their three previous appearances: 1978, 1998 and 2006.  The current team is coached by Carlos Queiroz who managed Portugal at the 2010 World Cup. Top player is Charlton Athletics forward Reza ‘Gucci’ Ghoochannejhad who did most of the scoring in World Cup qualifying. They have been able to show their prowess well by beating South Korea, who is traditionally Asia’s strongest team, twice. Most of their friendly play has been so-so as they’ve drawn three of their four matches, only losing to Guinea 2-1. 2014 looks like a great chance for Iran to have the World Cup breakthrough they’ve been waiting for.

Nigeria-Nigeria (44)- Nigeria had its best days in the 1990’s when it made it to the Round of 16 in two World Cups. They come to their fifth World Cup hoping to reclaim their greatness despite not having a lot expected upon them. They are the reigning African Cup of Nations holders from 2013. The team is led by Stephen Keshi who was part of Nigeria’s first ever World Cup team back in 1994. The team’s players come from a mix of players from European leagues and Nigeria’s national league. Some of their star players like John Obi Mikel, Victor Moses and Efe Ambrose play for the top teams like Chelsea and Celtic. Nigeria has performed well in friendly play, losing only to Mali and Ghana in penalty kicks. They’ve also has scoreless draws against Mexico and Greece and 2-2 draws against Scotland and Italy. 2014 could be a comeback for Nigeria.

Now my prediction for the two advancers: they only way I cannot see Argentina from being #1 in this group or failing to advance is if they’re too overconfident, but I highly doubt it. Second advancer will be Iran, though Bosnia-Hercegovina can have a case of beginner’s luck if they play as brilliant in Brazil as they did in qualifying.

STADIUM SPOTLIGHTSalvador

-SALVADOR : Arena Fonte Nova

Year Opened: 2013

World Cup Capacity: 48,747

World Cup Groups Hosting: B, E, F, H

Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16 (H1 vs. G2) & a quarterfinal

Salvador was one of those cities that needed a new stadium. However its top reason wasn’t because of the luxury of hosting a World Cup but of a tragic disaster instead. The older Estadio Fonte Nova, built in 1951 and home to football club EC Bahia, was starting to show its wear. Then on November 25, 2007, a section of the stadium’s highest terrace collapsed during a game celebration. Seven people were killed and forty others were injured. The governor of Bahia was fast to act as the next day he closed the stadium and the day after ordered that the stadium be demolished and a new one be created. The stadium seats were all demolished with only the field being kept. A group of architects from Brunswick, Germany who helped redesign Hanover’s old stadium in time for the 2006 World Cup were put in charge of the redesign of the Fonte Nova including turning it from a stadium into an arena with a lightweight roof.

The new stadium was opened in April 2013 and even hosted some games of the Confederations Cup. In the months leading up to the World Cup, the stadium has had problems such as blind spots for some spectators as well as some puddles and excessive dust. In addition, the lightweight rood proved to be too lightweight as a section collapsed May 27, 2013 because of heavy rain. No one was injured. The organizers said they were aware of the problems. Whatever the situation, they had a whole year to get it right in time for the World Cup. The World Cup scene and the months thereafter will determine its effectiveness and functionality.

Not only will the stadium be home for FC Bahia but the surrounding area includes a panoramic restaurant, museum of football, car parks, shops, hotels and a concert hall.

And there you go. Another group and another stadium reviewed. Two more groups and three more stadiums to focus on.

Movie Review: Argo

“So you want to come to Hollywood, act like a big shot without actually doing anything? You’ll fit right in.”

Argo is a story about an important moment in American History: The Iran Hostage Crisis. This focuses on the part that would be known as The Canadian Caper. What we get is more than just a reenactment of history.

The film starts in November of 1979. Iran has gone through its Islamic Revolution. The Shah had been dethroned. Ayatollah Khomeini was the figure of a revolution of Islam in the country and the people wanted justice. They wanted the Shah tried and hanged and were outraged he was housed in the United States, which was already denounced by Khomeini as ‘The Great Satan’. On November 4th, Iranians stormed the American embassy, captured at least 50 Americans and held them hostage. Some managed to escape and six were given refuge in the Canadian embassy under Ken Taylor.

More than ten weeks would pass and the Americans held hostage were still held captive facing an unknown fate with a kangaroo court of Iranian students. Those six in the Canadian embassy were still being sheltered with a future just as uncertain. Now it was a matter of finding them ways of getting them all out safe and sound. Some Americans thought military intervention and even a war was the thing to do but it would cause more bloodshed to the American and even could lead to the embassy being bombed. This was an embarrassment weighing heavily on the entire United States at the time. President Jimmy Carter made it clear he will not back down to terrorist demands. That left the CIA to decide what actions to pursue especially as time was running out and the fates of all were uncertain.

Enter CIA Tony Mendez. He hears about the six from people at the CIA table trying to devise rescue plans for the six. None come up as good ideas. It’s when he’s talking to his son from his failing marriage that his son’s talk of science fiction entertainment sparks an idea about a fake film production as the rescue mission. First: find the right Hollywood people for the idea. He finds it in makeup artist John Chambers and film producer Lester Siegel. Second: find the right movie title and subject line. Siegel finds it in a rejected script titled Argo. Third: give all those in refuge Canadian identities and a trial run through the local bazaar. Tony himself poses as the director. Fourth: know the ins and outs of how to make it out of Iran. One thing we’re reminded is there are guards at the airport who could arrest any American or even a citizen with an American name in their documents for possible connection to the Shah. It all sounds good but it’s not going to be easy. CIA may feel this mission is not as important as the main issues to deal with. Cooperation from the Canadian government would have to occur. President Carter giving the okay on the Swissair plane tickets to get them out would have to happen. The Hollywood people would have to be there whenever a guard questions Kevin, Tony’s guise. And this all has to be done before the Iranian people find out the secret of the hidden Americans and they eventually will. Will this mission succeed? History has already told us so. Nevertheless it’s all how it plays out in the film.

The best quality of the movie is not just its redirectioning of the events of the time but capturing the pressure of the moment. I was a child when the hostage crisis occurred and I knew that the six would all make it out alive. I knew the Shah would eventually be moved to Egypt where he’d spend his last months. I knew that all the other American hostages would be freed almost a full year after the six escaped. Nevertheless watching the movie made me forget all the facts I knew and made me wonder what will happen next? Will they succeed in their mission? Will something go wrong? It captures the sense of everything that was happening at the moment. It also captures the reasons why such an operation was necessary instead of an act of war. It captured the reasons why a war would only escalate the situation. This was not a simple political situation. This was a moment in history almost reminiscent to the French Revolution of 1789 where it was a revolution of the people consisting of a kangaroo court of trial, verdict and sentencing of even death. Anything more than the Canadian Caper would be disastrous and bloody. Anything less would be disastrous and humiliating.

Meanwhile it’s not just about a rescue mission. It’s also about people and what they mean to others. There’s Tony, a CIA agent who has the responsibility of these Americans in their hand. He’s also a father who values his time with his son even though it’s not often. There are the hostages who are fearing for their lives and nervous if this mission will fail. Especially the Lijeks, a married couple. There are all those involved in the mission–Tony, the six Americans, the film producers and the CIA–that feel the weight of this mission and know it’s can’t fail. Not with the eyes and hopes of all the USA watching. This was as much a human story as it was a thriller.

Often when a piece of history is reenacted on the big screen, it’s often a question if this moment is relevant today. I feel it is. Khomeini may have died in 1989 but anti-American sentiment is still present in many of the predominantly Muslim countries. The Iranian people have calmed down a lot since the Islamic Revolution of the late 70’s and have become somewhat more American-friendly, if imperfect. Nevertheless Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the current President of Iran, is a man who idolizes Khomeini and his beliefs. We should keep in mind Ahmadinejad was 22 when the shah was overthrown and the Islamic Revolution began. Ahmadinejad has spoken narcissistically and even eccentrically about the ‘end of the American empire’ and has spoken openly about his nuclear ambitions. Most Iranians do not accept Ahmadinejad’s views but they’re either too afraid to speak or they’ve been punished criminally. This comes at a tense time as the US is trying to improve relations with the Muslim world. So I can see what happened in Argo quite possible to happen again now.

Ben Affleck did an excellent job in directing the movie. He took a smart script from Chris Terrio and directed an excellent movie out of it that was as much thought provoking as it was thrilling. He did a very good job of acting too. I liked how right during the very first scene I saw Ben play a role instead of coming across in typical Ben Affleck style. Mind you Ben was not the complete standout. Alan Arkin gave a great turn as Lester Siegel that stole the show many times. John Goodman was also a show stealer as John Chambers. Victor Garber also held his own as Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor.The script from Chris Terrio was also smart, funny at times, touching and thrilling. It also did a very good job of capturing the chaos of the times from the riots in the town to people being hanged from cranes. The inclusion of news footage added to the drama both before and after. Even hearing Jimmy carter speak during the credits added to the story and its significance in history. Other standout efforts are Rodrigo Prieto in cinematography and Alexandre Desplat in film scoring.

Argo is a movie about a piece of history that we often forget but is very relevant towards the poitical situation in the world now. Seeing it played out on screen does more than just retell history.

Movie Review: A Separation

A Separation is an Iranian film with a lot of huge buzz. It won the Golden Bear Award at the Berlin Film Festival. It won the Rogers People’s Choice Award at the Vancouver Film Festival. It has already won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film. For this year’s Oscars, it was not only nominated in that category but Best Original Screenplay as well.

The film begins with Nader and Simin: a couple married for 14 years with an 11 year-old daughter filing for divorce. Simin wasn’t to pursue her career goals in another country and take her daughter with her. Nader wants to stay as he has a father with Alzheimer’s to deal with. The judge first rejects the grounds.

In the meantime, Simin moves in with her father and recommends Nader to employ Razieh; a young, pregnant and deeply religious woman from a poor area to look after his father. Nader can’t handle the father on his own as he has a buy job at a bank and he has to look after Termeh, his daughter. Meanwhile Razieh’s hot-tempered husband Houjat is unemployed for months and owes creditors a huge amount. Nader even has the opportunity to hire Houjat at the bank but is jailed the next day for what he owes. During the time nursing, Razieh learns that looking after Nader’s father is a big challenge, both physically and religiously. She can only do so much because of her pregnancy. She also has to consult a Muslim cleric if it’s a sin to do certain duties like change the father’s soiled pants.

One day Razieh finds the father out on the streets. She has to cross a dangerous intersection to get him back. We only see her take the father back. The next day, Nader returns home to find his father lying on the opposite side of the bed with his arm tied to the bed post. He’s alive but Nader is furious. He’s even angrier to learn that there’s missing money and accuses Razieh of stealing. He fires her despite her please. She comes back to plead again but Nader pushes her out of the door. We later hear some loud thumping outside and Razieh walking away.

The next day, Simin learns that Razieh is in the hospital. She and Nader go there to find out she suffered a miscarriage. A court is assigned to decide if Nader knew of her pregnancy and caused the miscarriage. If convicted, he could face from one to three years in prison. Accusations fly. Nader accuses Razieh of neglecting his father. Houjat is angry and threatens Nader and his family. We learn that Houjat is deeply depressed, self-destructive and on antidepressants. Razieh left the house that day because she had to see a doctor. This leaves Nader to think Houjat is abusive and may be the one to cause the miscarriage.

Termeh lies to protect Nader and Simin tries to arrange for a financial deal between the couple. Nader refutes because he feels it will be like admitting guilt. Nader later tells Termeh personally that he did in fact know of Razieh pregnancy. Razieh later reveals she was hit by a car the day before she was fired, questioning what really caused the miscarriage. Finally everyone meets at the home of Razieh and Houjat including the creditors. Nader is willing to make the cheque out to Houjat on one condition, that she swears by the Koran that his actions that day were the cause of the miscarriage. Razieh can’t do it because she believes it’s a sin and that causes Houjat to break down physically and emotionally.

The film’s last scene takes place in the courtroom as Nader and Simin’s separation is to be finalized. Termeh is given the option to decide which parent to live with. She says she made up her mind but wants her parents outside. The film ends with Nader and Simin waiting outside while families are shown out in the halls waiting.

I don’t have first-hand knowledge of the marriage situation in Iran but I believe that this film is trying to make a statement about the modern day difficulties of marriage and divorce in Iran. Divorce has been a common theme in a lot of films like Kramer vs. Kramer but it’s over here where we see an angle on divorce in Iran. We see one couple separating while another couple staying together but struggling with their issues. There’s a lot of things causing friction in both couples. One has a career pursuit in another country, another has a sick father to look after. One has to work as a nurse. Another has been unemployed for months. You see the friction happening throughout the movie. It starts with the scene of Nader and Simin in court getting the divorce started and it ends as the divorce is finalized. That ending scene with the credits rolling as Nader and Simin wait for their daughter’s decision while other families are out in the halls waiting and we could even hear shouts of another couple in court is probably a statement about the modern difficulties of marriage in Iran. Mind you it’s not completely about law and divorce. There are other examples where the law provides difficulties and not strictly in the area of divorce, like providing bail upon guilt to prove innocence and avoid a lengthy prison term. Even the scenes where Houjat has creditors to deal with paints a picture.

Another key element in the movie is the use of the Koran. As most of you know, I ran is a country with a strong Muslim ethic that’s even included in its own constitution. The Koran plays a huge role in the everyday lives of people in Iran. The influence of the Koran is very present in the movie. We see how the maid couldn’t clean the soiled clothes of the father because it was against her religion. We hear mention of the Koran and God in court. We see that Termeh has to attend and all-girls school. We see how Nader uses the Koran to get the whole truth out about the miscarriage. One thing we don’t see is the Koran solving the marriages. We see the couples either continue to be split apart or going through heavier friction.

Without a doubt, the standout qualities of the film were the direction and writing of Asghar Farhadi. He did an excellent job of creating a good story out of a hot topic. The acting of Peyman Maadi and Leila Hatami was excellent too. Very genuine without any showiness. Excellent supporting performances played by Sareh Beyat and Shahab Hosseini who played the other couple in the middle. There was also excellent acting from Sarina Farhadi, Asghar’s daughter, who played Termeh, the daughter caught in the middle. The use of no score until the very end worked as a benefit for the movie because it allowed the audience feel the intensity of the story.

A Separation shows how far Iranian cinema has come. Iran’s first breakthrough came back in 1998 when Children Of Heaven was a modest hit. It was Iran’s first nomination in the Best Foreign Language Film category and established director Majid Majidi as a top international director. Now A Separation is a huge favorite to win the Best Foreign Language Film category and Asghar Farhadi is the new name in Iranian cinema. It’s also surprising to see such subject matter portrayed in Iranian cinema. You think with Iran having law and order in such a strict fashion according to Muslim law, this film would’ve been banned or censored by the Ahmadinejad government. I’m not too familiar with free speech laws in Iran but I’m sure there’s a lot of censorship.

If you see A Separation, you can easily see why it’s a huge favorite to win the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. It has a excellently-written, excellently-acted story of a hot topic in its own country. Very deserving of the win indeed.