Argentina (119 mi) 2012
Cannes 2012: Tim Roth – the Brit in the hot seat Demetrios Matheau at Cannes from The Arts Desk, May 18, 2012
Directed by Alejandro Fadel, it observes a group of teenage miscreants as they break out of a juvenile detention centre and escape into the surrounding wilderness. They seem to have a plan, to trek across the mountains to their ringleader’s godfather’s home, and sanctuary. But soon their various ill natures tear the group apart and it becomes a question of what will kill them first – nature, or each other.
There is barely any dialogue, while motivations and plot developments are often vague. Yet the images are sumptuous, and the brooding, malevolent tone absorbing. It would take a brave distributor to bring a film like this to Britain, but here’s hoping.
PEREIRA DECLARES (Sostiene Pereira) A- 94
aka: According to Pereira
This is another one of
those interconnecting stories of disconnected or lost souls whose lives
mysteriously intersect, almost like an act of fate, where an improbable impact
suddenly adds the missing ingredient in what are initially conceived as socially
challenged, over-analyzed characters.
Woody Allen may be the premiere director at superimposing his real life
nebbish personality into comedies of anxiety, where he often makes fun of his
various neuroses, as do many of his film characters, none better than Diane
Keaton and Mia Farrow. Swedish director
Karin Fahlén’s first feature film is a comedy where the common thread is
over-analysis, where characters spend way too much time thinking about
themselves, often with disastrous results.
While the Swedes have always had an unhealthy rivalry with neighboring
countries, especially the Danes, perhaps these characters have been overly
affected by Danish philosopher Søren Kierkagaard, as they all feel overwhelmed
by a deep case of existential despair. The
film originated from the 2007 collected short stories The Second Goal (Det andra målet) by writer/actor Jonas Karlsson, where a recurring theme is
isolated or lonely individuals, most of whom are trying to hide the fact that
they are alone. Adapted by the director,
she connects six of these characters together, creating a series of interwoven
stories that take place in and around
Much of this comedy
relies upon absurd humor, with dark underlying elements, where Stockholm is
often seen as a dark, foreboding place, often shot in overcast grays, though
overall a lighter tone prevails, making this ensemble comedy very audience
friendly. Perhaps the center of it all
is Johan (Martin Wallström), a delusional and manically obsessed would-be
writer trying to find his way out of his father’s footsteps, as his father was
a revered writer, but Johan tries to worm his way into the public’s eye through
nefarious means. His big theory relies
upon the removal of light, being plunged into darkness, thinking only then can
people really discover one another. Anna
(Julia Ragnarsson), Johan’s sister, is seen being indiscreetly thrown out of a
hotel by Thomas (Jonas Karlsson), an uptight, overly reserved guy who is more
of a bootlicker that lives to please his boss, Lena (Marie Richardson), the
Minister of Finance, usually eliminating problems through underhanded and
cruelly devised means. Meanwhile Douglas
(Filip Berg), is the stuttering trust fund child still living at home with his
sanity challenged parents, and secretly has a crush on Anna, who we discover is
the lesbian lover of
Overhearing one of her
coworkers talk about a gag they pulled years ago, Jessica points her finger to
a name at random in the phone book, and then mails that person an anonymous
letter, which turns out to be Thomas, who becomes rabidly obsessed with
receiving a letter from someone he doesn’t even know. Following her, literally stalking her,
cornering her at her apartment doorway, she refuses to acknowledge she sent the
letter, where briefly they are divided only by a pane of glass. Anna has been thrown out into the street and
is none too happy about it, but her pride coerces Lena to come clean about her
sexual preference with her husband, or she’ll tell him. Douglas, meanwhile, is his demented father’s
whipping boy, taking refuge with Anna, following her wherever she goes, as
neither one of them seems to have a friend in the entire world. Meanwhile, Johan is still on the loose, a
madman using a writer’s persona, who unravels feverishly with his eyes set on
Chicago International Film Festival closes first weekend with some ... Brandon Gaylor from The Examiner
Last night, Festival attendees went gaga for this ensemble
comedy. In structure, it resembles Garry Marshall's latest efforts
"Valentine's Day" and "New Year's Eve", following five
leads as their lives intersect in
As the daughter of two film professionals, Karin Fahlén literally grew up on various Swedish film sets of the 60’s. Now she’s directing her own first feature, Stockholm Stories, a romantic relationship drama which aims to highlight the unusual in everyday life.
Karin Fahlén arrives at the fashionable hotel in
Those characters include Jessica (Cecilia Frode), a single woman refused the right to adopt a child because of her lack of friends. Then there’s the reserved Thomas (Jonas Karlsson), who lives for his job in the civil service, and Johan (Martin Wallström), a man with manic tendencies and a peculiar theory of light and dark and how they govern the way we meet, our ability to slow down, to really see each other and to listen.
“In my view there’s been something wrong with Swedish storylines for a long time now. It might sound arrogant, but I can’t face seeing another policeman lying in a ditch. It’s easy to make people cry by running over a kitten on screen. But what’s really difficult is to create a drama from small, everyday things, from the reality that most of us live in. All the characters in my film are united in their feelings of inadequacy, a sort of existential loneliness that becomes more discernible in a city,” says Karin Fahlén.
A true veteran of Swedish film, Stockholm Stories is nonetheless her first feature. With both her
parents working behind the camera, she literally grew up on film sets. Her
mother worked with the likes of Olle Hellbom and Tage Danielsson, her father
with Ingmar Bergman, Bo Widerberg and Roy Andersson. In the 70’s she moved to
“When I was little I was a stunt girl on the popular children’s television series based on Astrid Lindgren’s Emilin Lönneberga. I could ride, but the boy who played the lead couldn’t, so I just pulled a cap over my head and jumped in the saddle. I also seem to remember rolling around in stinging nettles, that kind of thing,” Fahlén recalls. “The reason I went into make up work was that I felt at home in the dressing room. On film sets I was often in the way, but there I could play more freely. And I loved painting, so being able to paint on people suited me just fine.”
After a while she felt a growing desire to tell stories of her own. In 2001 she wrote and directed her first short film Brudlopp, and this whetted her appetite for more. She wrote screenplays, worked as a director’s assistant, made commercials and generally bided her time.
When She read the Jonas Karlsson collection of short stories The Second Goal (Det andra målet), in 2007, she realised that making a feature was her ultimate goal.
“I’ve worked in the film industry all my life. And I grew up in a generation where directors tended to be colourful, demonic men like Stanley Kubrick, Francis Ford Coppola and Ingmar Bergman. Directing seemed out of reach, as if directors had some special insights that the rest of us lack. But filmmakers born in the 70’s and 80’s don’t have the same sense of awe, and this lack of respect has produced some wonderful Swedish films like Play (2011), She Monkeys (Apflickorna, 2011) and Avalon (2011). The Bergman tradition is more like “who are you to talk?” Gradually I’ve come to realise that you don’t need demons to make a feature film, it’s not that mysterious. It’s more a question of the right balance, of preparation and intuition. And to be open to things as they unfold, to work together with others. No man is an island.”
While watching this exceptionally deft but highly
self-conscious comedy, I was reminded of Mike and Theo's
Canada (94 mi) 2011 ‘Scope Official site
This is the Canadian version of Laurent Cantet’s deeply insightful, Palme D’Or winning film THE CLASS (2008), as both feature uninhibited and thoroughly engaging performances by children, where these 11 and 12-year olds are likely in 6th grade, much younger than the more outspoken 13 and 14-year old Junior High School kids in Cantet’s film, which was also written and performed onscreen by the teacher who wrote about his own classroom experience, all featured in his more autobiographical and near documentary classroom study in France. Rather than a searingly realistic, highly provocative societal analysis of race and social class, this is a more poetically impressionistic yet completely unsentimentalized view of a troubled classroom in snowy Montreal, where at the outset one of the students finds their teacher hung themself in their classroom just before school begins. All of the other kids are quickly escorted back outside except one who is haunted by what she sees, where much of the drama of the film takes place between these two kids, Simon (Émilien Néron), who discovered the body, and Alice (Sophie Nélisse) who is traumatized, best of friends before the incident, but both barely speak to one another afterwards. While the school brings in a grief counselor, there are many more kids affected than can be remedied by the actions of a lone counselor, not to mention a classroom without a teacher. When Bachir Lazhar (Mohamad Fellag), an Algerian immigrant claiming to be a Canadian national with twenty years of teaching experience in Algeria, submits his resumé, suggesting his experience can help calm the storm, this feels pretty inviting to the desperately underequipped principal (Danielle Proulx) who is in the all hands on deck mode. While this fictional film was adapted by the director from Évelyne de la Chenelière’s play (who also plays Alice’s mother), the autobiographical element is Fellag, who fled Algeria after receiving death threats from his politically charged stage performances.
Monsieur Lazhar : The New Yorker David Denby
This quiet drama of exile and isolation is intelligent and sensitively made but becalmed, almost inert. Bachir Lazhar (the Algerian writer-actor Fellag) is a fiftyish refugee with a long, sad face, a dark goatee, and a sudden smile that gets overtaken by wintry drafts of melancholy. In Montreal, he talks his way into a job in a middle school and takes over the class of a beloved teacher, a depressed young woman who has recently hanged herself. He makes mistakes with his grief-stricken and bewildered kids—he’s not really a teacher—but he wins them over with his love of the French language, which is his true home. As the movie is conceived, Monsieur Lazhar is too mild to fight for himself or to share his sorrows with the women at the school who find him appealing. The writer-director, Philippe Falardeau, who adapted a play by Évelyne de la Chenelière, floods the school with light. Much of the movie is pleasing, but it never comes close to a simmer, much less to a boil. In French.
Monsieur Lazhar Cath Clarke from Time Out London
In the opening scene of this quietly devastating French-Canadian drama, an 11-year-old boy on milk-monitor duty peers through a classroom door and sees his teacher has hanged herself from a pipe. As he tears off blindly, we hear the clatter of his classmates piling into the building after lunch. Will the boy make it back in time with help? Or will they see what he’s seen? It’s tremendously gripping. Afterwards the kids seem okay, but like banged knees, the bruises take a while to show.
A week or so later, amid the fallout, Monsieur Lazhar (Mohamed Fellag) shows up at the stressed headteacher’s office and is appointed as the class’s substitute teacher. He’s Algerian and claims to have 20 years’ teaching experience. That’s not quite true: he was a civil servant in Algeria before fleeing persecution. None of which prevents Lazhar, a man of huge dignity and compassion, from being a fantastic teacher – after some teething problems. The kids call him a ‘dinosaur’ for making them take Balzac dictation. ‘Personal adjectives don’t exist any more,’ shrills one kid. But he understands more than anyone the trauma they’re going through.
‘Monsieur Lazhar’ was nominated for Best Foreign Film at this year’s Oscars, and Philippe Falardeau, who adapted the story from a one-man play, does a wonderful job with his child actors. The classroom scenes transported me right back to primary school, capturing perfectly the texture of school life: the intimacy of kids who have known each other practically all their lives.You could almost describe ‘Monsieur Lazhar’ as a morality tale, but it’s more thought-provoking than debate-provoking. Its strength is the realness of the emotions and authenticity of the detail, although there is a gentle insistence here that integration is a two-way street.
In the Montreal-set film Monsieur Lazhar, a young boy, Simon, trudges into his middle school ahead of other students and opens the door to his classroom. Inside, his teacher, Martine, is hanging from a pipe, dead by her own hand. He stares at her body for a moment and calls for help, but the sound of children racing up the stairs as the school doors open drowns him out. Simon manages to find an adult to waylay the other kids just in front of the classroom, but one girl, Alice, peeks in. The next week, after the fuss has died down and no permanent replacement for Martine has been found (no one wants the job), a man shows up in the principal’s office and talks his way in. He’s an Algerian immigrant named Bachir Lazhar.
This could be the setup for a social-realist Mary Poppins: Lazhar (Mohamed Fellag, going in the credits by just Fellag) has floated in out of nowhere to help the kids through. But it’s soon apparent that he has little idea how to do it. The curriculum confuses him. Administrators and parents reprimand him for getting too personal. The distance between him and his pupils is vast. Teachers are not allowed to touch their students—not to hit them, of course, but also not to pat them affectionately or shake hands or, God forbid, hug them. No one but Lazhar wants to talk about Martine. But Lazhar too is holding something back: the tragedy that impelled him to seek asylum in Canada. He doesn’t share.
Writer-director Philippe Falardeau keeps most of the turmoil under the surface, but what’s on top is tense, pregnant, and ineffably sad, with a noninvasive and beautiful score by the singer-songwriter Martin Léon. Ineffably sad—yet there’s almost no loitering. The film is crisp, evenly paced, its colors bright, as sharp as the winter cold. Lazhar has a job to do and not, perhaps, much time to do it. Unbeknownst to his employers, he’s facing deportation if he can’t prove that returning to Algeria would endanger his life.
Fellag is a magnetic Monsieur Lazhar: willfully self-contained, anger vanquished, channeling his emotions into his teaching, into finding an equilibrium in the classroom—which is an obstacle course. He insists on his students’ speaking only French because, it turns out, he knows almost no English. They don’t know his secrets; he doesn’t know theirs. Two remarkable young actors, Sophie Nélisse and Émilien Néron, play Alice and Simon. At first they’re drawn together, then repelled for reasons we don’t understand until later. Simon is quietly ravaged, eaten alive with guilt. Alice wants to talk.
Beneath it all is Lazhar’s difficult-to-articulate but fierce conviction that the world is full of anguish and senseless horror but the classroom is where that all goes away, where civilization rules and children feel safe—where you don’t, if you’ll pardon my French, let your own shit interfere with young lives. If that sounds naïve, in the context of the cruelly unsentimental Monsieur Lazhar, it is something to cling to, to fight for.
Monsieur Lazhar, reviewed. - Slate Magazine Dana Stevens
Monsieur Lazhar (Music Box Films), the French-Canadian film that was a nominee for this year’s foreign-language Oscar, belongs to an uncommon tradition of movies about students and teachers. It’s not an uplifting ode to the transformative power of pedagogy, in the mode of Stand and Deliver; rather, like 2008’s The Class, it’s a quiet, sometimes achingly painful meditation on both the possibilities and the limits of the teacher-student relationship. The title character, an Algerian immigrant who steps in to teach a class of Montreal sixth-graders after their teacher commits suicide, is no inspirational firebrand but a courtly, soft-spoken man who has trouble adjusting his traditional values to the needs and expectations of 21st-century kids. Bachir Lazhar (Mohamed Fellag, identified in the credits as simply Fellag) wants his students to transcribe from a Balzac novel, when Jack London is more their speed; when a student acts disrespectful, he casually cuffs him on the side of the head.
In short order, the school’s devoted but worn-down principal (Danielle Proulx) brings Bachir up to speed on the customs of 21st-century education: There will be no touching the children under any circumstances, not even to give an encouraging hug. And all mention of Martine, the dead teacher, must be avoided, except during periodic visits from the officiously soothing school psychologist.
Of course, the children’s grief and confusion can’t be managed as neatly as all that, and Bachir’s class remains haunted by the memory of Martine, who, in a chilling opening scene, is found hanging in the classroom one morning by an already-troubled boy named. Simon and another student, Alice, who also caught a glimpse of the body on that day, can’t stop bringing up Martine’s death in class. Alice’s oral presentation about school pride drifts into a lament for her beloved teacher, and Simon secretly carries a photo of Martine around with him. In the second half of the film, it’s revealed that Mr. Lazhar is mourning his own losses, in a less public but no less painful way.
Though its story may sound formulaic on paper, please take my word for it: Monsieur Lazhar, written and directed by Philippe Falardeau, is a sharply intelligent, deeply sad, and not remotely sappy film about both teaching and collective grief. Its surface may be still and quiet, with cool colors, wintry landscapes, and a delicate piano score, but the emotions beneath run tumultuous and deep. Fellag, an Algerian comedian and humor writer, anchors the film as the ineffable Bachir, a man who’s so private that even the third-act revelation of his back story doesn’t fully explain his motivations to us (nor would we want it to). The children who play Alice and Simon, Sophie Nélisse and Émilien Néron, are exceptional in their scenes with him, and even better when they’re alone together. With almost no words exchanged, we understand how these two are bound by the shared sight of their teacher’s suspended corpse that awful morning. Monsieur Lazhar—the character as well as the movie—offers no simple answers to the hard questions Martine’s death poses: Why did this beloved young teacher kill herself where she knew her students would find her? Will Simon and Alice be permanently traumatized by what they saw? What can their teacher, or anyone, do to help them move on?
Though it’s no Dead Poets Society by a long shot, Monsieur Lazhar does ultimately affirm, in its oblique, understated way, the sacredness of the teacher-student relationship. For an old-fashioned, at times rigid teacher like Bachir, the classroom is a place where order and formality must rule, not for their own sake but as a bulwark against the often incomprehensible chaos and violence of the world outside.
The Film Sufi MKP
Critics At Large: A Delicate Gem: Monsieur Lazhar Shlomo Schwartzberg
Monsieur Lazhar – Movie Review - Monsters and Critics Ron Wilkinson
Monsieur Lazhar - Page 1 - Movies - New York - Village Voice Michelle Orange
Monsieur Lazhar! Donna Shor from Hollywood On the Potomac
Sound On Sight Gregory Ashman
Coming Attractions Peter Hammond from Box Office Magazine
Monsieur Lazhar Movie Review | Shockya.com Brent Simon
Bonjour Tristesse (English) photos
Monsieur Lazhar – review Philip French from The Observer
Review: Monsieur Lazhar - Reviews - Boston Phoenix Gerald Peary
Worthy lesson in 'Lazhar' - BostonHerald.com James Verniere
Movie review: 'Monsieur Lazhar' Walter Addiego from The SF Chronicle
'Monsieur Lazhar': Trauma, tenderness in a Canadian school Michael Phillips from The Chicago Tribune
Monsieur Lazhar - Movies - The New York Times Stephen Holden
THE COLLECTOR (Komornik) B 84
A film that opens with the frenetic pace of MTV videos, with a jittery hand held camera following hilarious chase sequences of Lucek (Andrzej Chyra), the local repo man (debt collector) with the highest average for successful collections, a man with a nose for uncovering hidden assets, usually risking life and limb in the process, to the pumping sounds of loud rock music. Brazenly soulless, a cocky Mephistopheles wunderkind who takes great pleasure in the misfortunes of others, his arrogance and ruthless disregard for his victims are second to none, calling them morons and cretins, hated by all who know him, which only makes him relish his insidious nature all the more, smirking as he repeats his company mantra, “I’m only doing my job.” He’s the picture postcard for capitalist opportunist, yet you can’t argue with success in an otherwise economically depressed region.
At the peak of his success, as another guy’s sultry wife is voluntarily exposing her own assets, he has an epiphany of sorts, suddenly developing a soul when he realizes he just screwed an invalid kid by his first love out of one of the few pleasures she’ll ever have, and for what? One by one, he starts returning objects of his collection, like a small statue of the Virgin Mary, which he claims has instructed him to give everything back. When an elderly couple see him back at their home, they sneer insults and venom in his direction. Others follow suit and initiate bodily harm, smashing his car to bits, leaving him scorned and a bloody mess. It was starting to resemble a Polish parable on the PASSION OF THE CHRIST. When he started to return money to people who needed it, people threw it back in his face, but he retaliated, yelling back: “You can’t forbid me from doing good!”
The pace slows to a crawl as he becomes Christ-like and morally righteous, but there’s a beautiful scene of a local church funeral, where the orchestra, whose repossessed instruments have been returned, establish a tone of solemn devoutness. But he begins to believe that he and everyone around him have developed a foul odor from their inherent evil, and in a Macbethian image, no matter how hard he washes his hands, he can’t wipe away the stench. I heard the person sitting next to me utter to her friend, “He was a much more interesting bad guy than he is good.” And that comment pretty much explains it all. As a slick, zany bad guy, he’s in a class by himself, showing no remorse, sneering at the rest of the world while he has it all. But when he starts to question what he has in moral terms, he’s much less convincing.
This is a film that seems to have gone out of its way to hit all the touchstones of youth culture, a place where television, pop music, the Internet, drugs, race, and sex all come together in the teenage world, where hip-hop is the anthem that blares in the background while kids try to make their way through the minefield that is high school, complete with an entire set of distinctly black social obstacles placed in the way. While ostensibly a coming-of-age comedy, the film delves into a myriad of stigmas and stereotypes about blacks growing up in gang-infested neighborhoods, where the stomping grounds are a return to the mean streets of Inglewood, California made famous by John Singleton’s legendary BOYZ N THE HOOD (1991). But instead of accentuating the contemptuous distrust between the LA police department and the South Central LA neighborhoods, coming on the heels of the Rodney King Incident that took place in March 1991, RODNEY KING BEATING VIDEO Full length footage ... YouTube (8:08), this film seems to have evolved from the Shooting of Trayvon Martin in 2012, where the life of an unarmed 17-year old black teenager wearing a hoodie was unnecessarily wiped out in an instant, an all-too-familiar headline-grabbing story where guns in the hands of trigger-happy whites are the growing answer to racial fears. While LA has been nicknamed the gang capital of America, home to more than 1350 gangs and 120,000 gang members nearly a decade ago, Inglewood still has a huge gang problem, with close to 50 different gangs residing within the city, where this film seems motivated to change the stereotype by creating friendlier, less threatening characters. “Malcolm is a geek.” These are the first words we hear from the narrator (Forrest Whitaker, one of the film’s producers) about Malcolm (Shameik Moore), a high school senior looking surprisingly like he’s fresh off a 90’s black TV sitcom like In Living Color (1990 – 94), where he might have been one of Theo’s friends from The Cosby Show (1984 – 92), or a featured character in an early Spike Lee film. Despite growing up with a bus driving single mom (Kimberly Elise) in a low-income neighborhood known as “The Bottoms,” Malcolm, a straight A student with a love for 90’s hip-hop and “white shit,” namely getting good grades and going to college, hangs out with two other equally bright and geeky friends, Diggy (Kiersey Clemons), a likeable, light-skinned lesbian that dresses as a man, whose parents have tried unsuccessfully to “pray the gay away,” and Jib, Tony Revolori, the lobby boy in Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), a multiracial oddball who maintains a bit of his impish personality. Together they play in a garage band known as Awreoh (whose songs are actually Pharrell compositions), while cruising the neighborhoods of the streets of LA on their bikes, often extremely careful about what streets to enter and which ones to avoid, where the prevalence of guns can make these life altering decisions. On more than one occasion we see the results of random street violence, including an unfortunate burger joint customer that is killed while simply standing in line, literally seconds away from reaching a supposedly unattainable level on his Game Boy.
At least initially, the idea of presenting material in a new light feels intriguing, where the intelligence of the characters suggests a film at least attempting to cut through the stereotypes, where three definitions of the entitled word “Dope” are provided: an illegal drug, a stupid person, and something overly cool, each of which at some point or another becomes the focal point of the film. Perhaps most interesting is the notion of a black geek being into the same things white people are into, like good grades, anime comic books, being in a grunge band, skateboarding, riding bikes, and getting into college, where Malcolm has his sights set on Harvard, and has already written an essay proposal (A Research Thesis to Discover Ice Cube’s Good Day) that examines exactly what day Ice Cube was talking about in his gangsta rap classic Ice Cube - It Was A Good Day (Explicit) - YouTube (5:12), arguing “If Neil deGrasse Tyson was writing about Ice Cube, this is what it would look like.” His guidance counselor steers him away from that idea, suggesting he needs to distinguish himself from the rest by revealing personal details about his own life, much of which Malcolm feels is a tired, worn out cliché, another story about a poor black kid from a single-parent family in Inglewood. In the process of discovering himself, however, the film rather circuitously touches on what it means to be black, which has become something of a paradox in the era of Obama, Trayvon Martin, and the Ferguson police Shooting of Michael Brown, where Obama’s 2008 election was accompanied by a multi-ethnic surge of hope, a promise of a better tomorrow, ushering in a supposedly post-racial order, but has instead unleashed a continuing series of violent, racially-tinged incidents that once more remind us as a nation just how far we have yet to go. In the post 9/11 world, terrorism and Islamic extremists raise the public’s ire while twice as many deaths on U.S. soil have been attributed to white supremacists and right-wing, anti-government fanatics, creating large-scale public misconceptions of what “terrorism” looks like in the United States. Like derogatory racial epithets, the word “terrorist” has been spewed as a piece of propaganda meant to dehumanize dark-skinned Muslim people while the white killers among us are allowed complex psychological profiles. Much like that premature elation, this film promises more than it can deliver, where racial identity is so much more complicated than how it’s portrayed here, but the director appears to be drawing from the Trey Ellis 1989 essay The New Black Aesthetic, where “a black individual possesses the ability to thrive and successfully exist in a white society while simultaneously maintaining all facets of his or her complex cultural identity.” While that goal is evident at the outset, the film is eventually bogged down in familiar Hollywood cliché’s, resembling a black version of RISKY BUSINESS (1983). When Malcolm accidentally gets pulled into a serious discussion about 90’s hip-hop with a reputable drug dealer on the street, Dom (A$AP Rocky), what starts out as a humorous aside becomes an unexpected side trip into nostalgia, where hip-hop groups like Biggie, Public Enemy, Ice Cube, Tupac, and Dr. Dre are being named with the historical importance of former presidents, where these are the cultural icons of contemporary black history, yet these are also the same rap lyrics that started calling women bitches and ho’s while revitalizing the use of the N-word, becoming an expression of endearment among brothers, but a controversial word when used so conventionally in a breezy and nonchalant fashion. When Dom involves him in a message game with a sultry girl down the street, Nakia (Zoë Kravitz), inviting him to his birthday celebration, she quickly becomes the girl of his dreams, helping her get out of the party safely after a police raid with guns blazing. While indicating “Those other niggas” stepped right over her to get out of there, Malcolm replies, “Guess I’m not one of ‘those niggas.’”
Writer-director Rick Famuyiwa (“The Wood”) has crafted quite a conundrum in “Dope,” a shooting star of a film that comes dangerously close to succumbing its own scatterbrained screenplay. Is it a teen comedy? A drug movie? A sociopolitical think piece? It’s all of those things and none of them, never finding a reliable through line and both favorably and unfavorably evoking Spike Lee’s race relations classic “Do The Right Thing.”
But it’s got personality to spare, largely thanks to a killer performance from relative newcomer Shameik Moore.
Malcolm (Moore) is a brainy black teen and self-professed geek, living out the early 90s on the streets of Inglewood, California – in 2015. “Do The Right Thing” comparisons are not for nothing, as Malcolm gleefully carries the banner for early 90s pop culture with a hi-top fade and a healthy love for old-school hip-hop.
With his two best friends in tow – Diggy (Kiersey Clemons, Amazon’s “Transparent”) and Jib (Tony Revolori, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”) – Malcolm juggles the trio’s fledgling punk band with writing college applications. He wants to go to Harvard.
As clumsily and inconsistently told to us by an unseen narrator (Forest Whitaker), our lead is a young man out of place and time, too cool to be branded a loser but too weird to fit in.
When a small-time drug-dealer (played by rapper A$AP Rocky) invites Malcolm to a party, lives are changed in ways neither characters nor viewers could have seen coming. The film’s general unpredictability might have worked in its favor if its detours didn’t feel so arbitrary.
As Malcolm is unwittingly thrown into a world of drug dealing, the previously bouncy script turns leaden, with handfuls of uninteresting supporting characters and a token romantic subplot featuring Zoe Kravitz (“Divergent”) often killing its momentum.
The 103-minute “Dope” ends up playing like its own extended cut, crying out for some tightening up. Thankfully, Moore and his most reliable co-star – the pic’s soundtrack – are never less than captivating.
Apart from the bizarre use of a regrettable late 90s nu-metal track, the music is grand. From Naughty By Nature to Public Enemy to a few solid original tracks by Pharrell Williams, the soundtrack is the perfect accouterment to Famuyiwa’s often whipsmart dialogue about the history and current state of hip-hop.
If only the story were as succinct.
The film’s best scene – a veritable music video centered on Malcolm’s Harvard admissions essay – is vibrant and energetic and gets to the point that the rest of the movie seems to be skirting around. It’s the scene should end “Dope” on a dizzying high note, but it doesn’t. The film goes on for another 10 minutes, working against itself, as always.
Rick Famuyiwa's "Dope" opens by providing its titular
term with three distinct definitions - to paraphrase, the word can mean an
illegal drug, a stupid person, or an affirmation of something's greatness. For
the next one-hundred and ten minutes, the film works to illustrate all of those
features in some way or another through a lens that's unique, refreshing, and
respectful to its characters and their cultures.
Our main character is Malcolm (Shameik Moore), a black teenager carefully surviving in his crime/drug-ridden neighborhood of Inglewood, California, Despite being influenced by modern forces like the internet and Bitcoin, he loves nineties hip-hop and the culture of yesteryear, and so do his two closest friends, Jib ("The Grand Budapest Hotel"'s Tony Revolori) and Diggy (Kiersey Clemons), who play in his punk band. Malcolm is going for what seems to be the impossible, which is applying for Harvard and forging a successful career path post-high school. However, in the mix of taking his SAT and writing his college entrance essay, Malcolm gets caught up in the underworld of illegal drugs and crime in the most unconventional way possible. After being invited to a party thrown by a drug dealer (rapper A$AP Rocky), Malcolm works to craft a name for himself by getting invested in the online drug-drealing world, using the help of a local hacker and Bitcoin to create a huge influx of revenue for him and his friends.
Famuyiwa attempts to do the same thing to African-Americans that John Hughes did with the middle class high school population in the 1980's, which is cut through the stereotypes, the incredulous romances, and what adults perceive teenagers to be like to really get to the heart of them as people. People with choices and decisions to make that are often times as big or as impacting as the ones adults make. The difference is, however, adults come equipped with life experiences where teenagers generally come equipped with their own instincts and peer pressure in their decision-making.
"Dope" shows the constant struggles of being a moral teenager engulfed in a society driven by illegal behavior and surrounded by peers who are nudging you onto a more dangerous pathway than on which you'd like to travel. The fact that it pays homage to the music and the urban movies of the 1990's is interesting because "Dope" doesn't focus on an anti-hero in a gritty neighborhood, much like the films of that era did. Instead, adhering to the principles of Hughes, it turns to the geek and, in turn, humanizes and paints him as a character trying to find himself in the mix of all this madness.
Famuyiwa and cinematographer Rachel Morrison crossbreed the early 1990's hip-hop culture with the contemporary technology of the mid-2010's, causing a culture shock of epic proportions in "Dope"'s aesthetic variety. "Dope" has the cinematic look of acid-washed jeans, the feel of a sun-soaked day at the beach, and the smells of everything from acne cream, sunscreen, and marijuana ostensibly infused into every scene. It's the kind of aesthetic that's so detail-centric it almost channels the likes of Wes Anderson, minus the meticulous symmetry in every scene.
Shameik Moore must be given considerable praise for his role here, which can only be described as a breakout performance. His human characteristics, carefully painted by Famuyiwa, his conflicted personalities, and his subtle arrogance, all traits that, in the end, make him very likable, echo the sentiments of Cuba Gooding, Jr. in "Boyz 'N The Hood," another conflicted soul caught in between being moral in a morally bankrupt area or taking the easy way out. Alongside Revolori and Clemons, two supporting roles that, again, go far and beyond the call of supporting roles, Moore is a talented who you find yourself being unable to take your eyes off of throughout the entire film.
Above all the aesthetic and character charm, "Dope" is a surprisingly optimistic film. It doesn't get bogged down by environmental cynicism, even when Malcolm has to turn into the kind of people he never wanted to associate himself with. Famuyiwa takes a brave step in the opposite direction of his peers, capturing acts like drug-dealing and backhanded deals in a light that accentuates joy and positivity, but it's all this that make "Dope" an even more fascinating character study, coming of age story, and a subversive tale about life in an urban area.
How Dope Turns the Concept of the Black Geek on Its Head Aisha Harris from Slate
“Malcolm is a geek.”
That’s the first thing we hear from the narrator about Malcolm (Shameik Moore), the hero of Rick Famuyiwa’s Dope, the coming-of-age indie that premiered at Sundance this year and opens in theaters Friday. The line underscores a scene in which Malcolm eagerly explains the concept of bitcoin to his mom, but that’s just the tip of the nerdberg. He and his best friends Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) and Jib (Tony Revolori) are, in present day, obsessed with ’90s hip-hop music and styles (Malcolm wears his hair in a hi-top fade) and have their own band in which they sing about getting good grades. He has his sights set on Harvard, and his application essay sees him geeking out on pinning down the exact date of Ice Cube’s “good day.” We soon learn how much Malcolm and his friends stick out from their neighbors in the predominantly black and Latino Inglewood, California, in what’s known as “the Bottoms,” a notoriously bleak and violent neighborhood, and at their underfunded school. Thanks in part to his geekhood, Malcolm finds himself entangled in a drug deal between a local kingpin and a crooked business owner.
Ah, the black geek. (Or “nerd”—whichever you prefer.) Like pretty much any cultural mode associated with blackness, it’s complicated. In the 1980s, the black geek could fall under the broader umbrella of what Trey Ellis, in a celebrated 1989 essay, termed the “New Black Aesthetic,” or NBA for short—a demographic of young black intellectuals who walked the line between traditionally white and traditionally black worlds; wearing “little, round glasses, and short, neat dreads” while in bookstores, liking “both Jim and Toni Morrison.” The NBA as he described it was a “post-bourgeois movement; driven by a second-generation of middle class”—i.e., Spike Lee, the fictional Cosby family, Chuck D. (In this regard Malcolm doesn’t fit in, considering his geekhood flowers in a poor, dangerous neighborhood.) In more recent years the black geek has become a little bit cool, symbolized, intentionally or not, by the likes of Barack Obama, Donald Glover, and Issa Rae.
Glover, who openly celebrates his identity as a black nerd, has defined such an existence as being into “strange, specific stuff.” The term itself is a bit awkward, succumbing to the notion that geek- or nerdhood is, by default, representative of whiteness. This naturally lends itself to the notion that to be a black geek is to be into things that white people are into, which in turn unfurls an entirely loaded, incredibly tricky conversation about what it means to be black. At best that discussion yields the conclusion that black geeks of all types are a tangible, very invested demographic whose attention is worth courting and whose stories are worth telling. At worst the black geek gets identified as a modern-day “exceptional negro,” a smarter, more “unique” type, set apart from your average black stereotype who only listens to rap, thinks school is whack, and dreams of becoming (or marrying) a professional basketball player.
Through a genre-hopping premise (the film is John Hughes meets the Coen brothers meets Boyz N the Hood, with a dash of Porky’s thrown in), Dope dives headfirst into these complexities, and it certainly seems at first as though its attempts to define its protagonist will stick him in an old, familiar box. Straight out of the gate, the narrator—the voice is Forest Whitaker’s—breaks down what exactly makes the trio “black geeks,” complete with a visual checklist of unsurprising affinities that include skateboarding, manga, Glover, and TV on the Radio—plus engaging in typical “white people activities” like getting good grades and applying to college.
It’s not just our narrator who emphasizes Malcolm’s differences; Malcolm himself repeatedly positions himself against all of the other black people around him. After presenting his Ice Cube–themed college essay to his guidance counselor, he’s told that he needs to write something personal about himself, because his excellent GPA isn’t going to matter to admissions counselors who’ll only see his failing school system. Malcolm is resistant—he has no desire to write about being raised by a single mother, never having known his father, and living in the hood. “It’s cliché,” he protests. And following a party that gets broken up by gunfire, Nakia (Zoë Kravitz), the cool girl of his dreams, thanks him for helping her get out safely. “Those other niggas” were just running over her to get out of the way, she says, flirtatiously. That’s what makes him different, he tells her. “Guess I’m just used to hearing, ‘Niggas don’t listen to this,’ ‘Niggas don’t go to college unless they play ball,’ ” he adds sheepishly. “Guess I’m just not one of ‘those niggas.’ ”
To be clear, Malcolm doesn’t intend for such statements to sound off-putting. (It’s to the credit of the young actor who plays him, Moore, that the character always comes off as charming, even when Famuyiwa writes him as kind of a jerk.) But Malcolm does seem to have internalized the mythology that black geeks like him privilege education and advancement far more than nongeek blacks—a notion that has been proven to be grossly overemphasized. It’s a familiar trope that’s been played out in recent years especially, as the rise of the black nerd has come to dominate discussions about black culture in general. Sometimes it’s subtle: A Vulture piece from earlier this year explored the increasing number of black comedians who take a more “ruminative” and “oddball” approach to humor in contrast to the bawdy humor of Eddie Murphy and Def Comedy Jam. In it, comic Jermaine Fowler told reporter E. Alex Jung, “I was the black kid in school who’d skate and wrestle, who was really into outer space and botany and kung fu and hip-hop. I was into everything.” At other times it’s completely devoid of nuance, as with a 2012 CNN article that defined black nerdhood as “a way to describe African-American intellectuals in a time when it’s finally cool to be something other than an athlete or rapper.”
We’ve seen the trope in pop culture, of course. One of the most persistent and widespread purveyors of the “niggas don’t listen to this” mantra was The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. In that sitcom, the sweater-wearing, Tom Jones–loving Carlton Banks was repeatedly subjected to the blackness litmus test by Will Smith over the course of six seasons, starting with the very first episode:
Carlton: That’s a really neat tux, isn’t it, Will?
Will: Oh yes, it’s definitely the cat’s meow.
Carlton: Wait till we come downstairs in those tuxes. People may not think we’re twins, but I bet they’ll think we’re brothers.
Will: You know what? I don’t think you have to worry about anyone mistaking you for a brother.
Refreshingly, Dope doesn’t actually wind up promoting toxic ideas about a lack of diversity and nuance within black culture; ultimately the movie slyly undermines Malcolm’s internalized notions about blackness. We hear Malcolm’s ideas about what a special snowflake this black geek is, but we, the audience, never witness them in action. He and his friends are picked on by some particularly rough kids at school but only because Malcolm’s shoe size matches that of the ringleader bully, who tries to steal his Jordans. The school’s gruff security officer wishes him luck on his SATs. And charismatic drug dealer Dom (ASAP Rocky) takes a liking to Malcolm, using his inoffensive geek persona as an asset for his own personal gain on more than one occasion. (Dom, despite his hood persona, is also an intellectual of sorts himself, as we see in a conversation he has with a fellow dealer about the U.S.’s drone program.) In Dope, not only can’t the black nerd be pigeonholed—neither can his neighbors, no matter how gang-ridden and poverty-stricken the neighborhood may be.
This doesn’t mean that in the world of Dope, a character like Malcolm would never be accused of “acting white,” but it does mean that his perception of how people view him is vastly different from the reality. I can relate: I too was a black geek. (In many ways, I still am.) During the late ’90s and early ’00s, I was usually the only black kid (or one of very few) in my honors classes, and my “strange, specific stuff” included Turner Classic Movies and channeling my inner Weird Al by writing minimusicals with made-up lyrics to the tunes of popular Disney songs. I too fought hard to prove to people that I wasn’t like those other black kids. I was unique.
I eventually wised up and saw the harm in internalizing such ideals, and by the end of the film, Malcolm does too: In a powerful montage, he reads aloud his newly rewritten college essay, in which he presents the many facets of his life—getting straight As, playing in a band, encountering powerful drug pushers—as the work of two hypothetical students, one from the suburbs, one from the hood. “So why do I want to attend Harvard?” he writes at essay’s end. “If I was white, would you even have to ask me that question?”
It’s a bittersweet but ultimately empowering moment. On the one hand Malcolm knows that much of society may look at him and where he’s from and still make stereotypical assumptions no matter how successful he becomes. Yet the tone is far from defeatist; Malcolm ends the film a wiser, more confident young man than he was at the beginning, having proven to himself that he can play the many tricky, unfair aspects of life—namely, assumptions about race and class—to his advantage. It echoes the voices heard in Trey Ellis’ “New Black Aesthetic” essay, in which Ellis quotes the filmmaker Robert Townsend (Hollywood Shuffle): “I wasn’t listening when everybody told me about the obstacles.” Ellis adds, in a passage that feels very appropriate to this complex coming-of-age indie comedy: “So he took the dominant culture’s credit cards and clobbered it with a film.”
How Dope's Director Made a Teen Flick for the Internet Age Jordan Crucchiola from Wired, June 19, 2015
No Compromises - The New Yorker Hua Hsu from The New Yorker, March 31, 2015
Movie Review: Dope Is Actually Pretty Dope Danielle C. Belton from The Root, June 18, 2015
The New Black Aesthetic Trey Ellis, 1989
'Dope' Director Rick Famuyiwa Explains How Film Busts Stereotypes ... Jake Coyle interview from The Huffington Post, June 17, 2015
Rick Famuyiwa mixes it up with Dope: 'We knew if we were left alone… this could be something meaningful' Bob Thompson interview from The National Post, June 22, 2015
'Dope': A clever but convoluted teen comedy, reviews say Oliver Gettell from The LA Times
Manny Farber, though
still much-revered as a film critic, currently eschews film in favor of
painting. Farber began writing film reviews for The New Republic in 1942. He
continued his film career through the 1970s, writing most notably for
publications such as Film Comment. As his book "Negative Space"
(1970) reveals, his dense, surprising prose is extraordinarily rich in ideas;
he possesses a keen ability to articulate otherwise impressionistic
observations about film. His criticism clearly comes from the point of view of
an artist who respects filmmaking as a potential art, not as a commercial
product. The notoriously "cantankerous," "cranky," and
"curmudgeon-like" tone of his critic's voice seems to derive from his
personal frustration with the state of contemporary filmmaking. He often feels
that film is being abused or prevented from realizing its artistic
possibilities. Not surprisingly, by the 1970s his work as a painter began to
overshadow his writing; gradually, painting replaced film criticism altogether.
He currently paints and teaches art at the
Manny Farber was a friend of mine before we ever met. I recall exactly how I was introduced. I had read Pauline Kael's jeremiad on Andrew Sarris and the auteur theory, "Circles and Squares," in her first (and at the time, only) collection of film criticism, I Lost It at the Movies, or perhaps I had read it upon its initial appearance in Film Quarterly magazine in 1963. Whichever, it was an attack that aroused nothing so much as sympathy for its victim and curiosity to read for myself the essay that had incited it. I got hold of the pertinent issue of Film Culture, America's Independent Motion Picture Magazine, No. 27, Winter 1962/63, either directly from the magazine's offices or, more likely, from that lifeline to the outside movie world for a suburban Minneapolis high-schooler, the Larry Edmunds Bookshop in Hollywood. The lead article, "Notes on the Auteur Theory in 1962" by Andrew Sarris, told me what I had shelled out a dollar-fifty plus postage for, but it got completely upstaged by the article immediately following it, "White Elephant Art vs. Termite Art" by Manny Farber, a piece that left my head feeling like a punching bag after a Cassius Clay workout, and that seemed to embody to the nth degree the kind of art the author was touting: "A peculiar fact about termite-tapeworm-fungus-moss art is that it goes always forward eating its own boundaries, and, likely as not, leaves nothing in its path other than the signs of eager, industrious, unkempt activity."
One thing leads to another. Kael to Sarris to Farber. I may have recognized
the third name from a handful of references in the collection of James Agee's
criticism, Agee on Film. I may not. But here, clearly, was a new
acquaintance to cultivate. He would confide to me later that when the magazine
hit the stands he had an urge to go into hiding, and that Pauline Kael, who had
a piece on Shoot the Piano Player immediately following Farber's in the
magazine, tracked him down to tell him she could not make out what he was
talking about. Yet the terminology of his title has -- shall we say? -- gnawed,
burrowed, wormed its way into the critical vocabulary and has been much
appropriated and misappropriated by others. Only a couple of years ago when I
The next step would have been similar. (One thing leads to another.) I was
reading a book-length survey of the contemporary cinema called The
Contemporary Cinema -- this was one of the means whereby a
The next step is less distinct. How I learned that Farber at that time -- smack in the middle of the Sixties -- was writing a monthly column for Cavalier, a girlie magazine with Playboy-ish intellectual aspirations, I can't say. I confess I already knew the magazine, and had a copy of it from circa 1962, which I wish I still had today, with a peekaboo pictorial of Jane Fonda in it. In any event, it now became a monthly must, and luckily there was a newsagent at Seventh and Hennepin, bless him, who was willing to sell me unlawfully anything I had the coin to pay for. This period in Farber's criticism was, I see in retrospect, unsurpassed in freewheelingness and wordplayfulness, and my head got sharply turned. I had a new star to hitch my wagon to. His influence on my own scribblings, although unnamed, did not go unnoticed by my twelfth-grade English Composition teacher. It was not until after I had made his acquaintance in the flesh that I was compelled to find other writers to mimic. You can't very well look a man in the eye on a daily or weekly basis when you're stealing from him. Besides which, you may easily enough tap another's language, syntax, even to an extent taste and enthusiasms, but you cannot take over his vision. And no other film critic has been so deeply involved with literal, actual, active vision -- with looking, with watching, with seeing, experiencing, reacting. But again I get ahead of myself.
The eventual meeting would occur in the last half of my senior year at
I was fortunate in my timing. This was early 1970, when the injured Willis
Reed would hobble onto the basketball court at the start of Game Seven in the
NBA Finals, and Manny -- I was now on first-name terms -- was a red-blooded
American sports fan as happy to talk, in after-class adjournments to the coffee
shop, about the Knicks as about the new Hitchcock or new Bresson. Too, he was
preparing a show of his recent paintings in
A year later, after he had decamped to UCSD to start up a program of film
studies in the Visual Arts Department, he was back in
Manny's film classes -- I can speak first-hand of only three years of them, though they would continue for another thirteen until his retirement in 1987 to devote himself full-time to painting -- were the stuff of legend, and it seems feeble and formulaic to call him a brilliant, an illuminating, a stimulating, an inspiring teacher. It wasn't necessarily what he had to say (he was prone to shrug off his most searching analysis as "gobbledegook") so much as it was the whole way he went about things, famously showing films in pieces, switching back and forth from one film to another, ranging from Griffith to Godard, Bugs Bunny to Yasujiro Ozu, talking over them with or without sound, running them backwards through the projector, mixing in slides of paintings, sketching out compositions on the blackboard, the better to assist students in seeing what was in front of their faces, to wean them from Plot, Story, What Happens Next, and to disabuse them of the absurd notion that a film is all of a piece, all on a level, quantifiable, rankable, fileable. He could seldom be bothered with movie trivia, inside information, behind-the-scenes piffle, technical shoptalk, was often offhand about the basic facts of names and dates, was unconcerned with Classics, Masterpieces, Seminal Works, Historical Landmarks. It was always about looking and seeing.
He would endlessly preview the week's movies on the wall of his studio on campus or his rented house in Del Mar, lugging an anvil-weight 16mm projector to and fro, together with three or four valise-sized boxes of celluloid, and yet throughout these endless hours he felt no necessity to watch every reel of every movie. If you wanted simply to know How It Ends, he might not have the answer. One week he had previewed Kurosawa's wide-screen High and Low without benefit of an anamorphic lens, so that the image was squeezed like an accordion, and all of his prepared comments on narrow spaces and vertical lines, perfectly true to what he was seeing, had to be modified on the fly when the film was shown in class, stretched out horizontally with the proper lens. He was constitutionally unable to make things easy on himself. It never would have occurred to him to follow the conventional pattern (see Robert Osborne on TCM) of introductory remarks, uninterrupted movie from beginning to end, concluding remarks, and call it a day. It was unthinkable ever to repeat the same movie and the same lecture at a later date. People were forever taken aback to find out that something he had written fifteen or twenty years earlier no longer represented his views on the matter. Everything had to be re-examined afresh, looked at from a different angle, turned on its head. Nothing was nailed down, fixed, finalized. Like the metaphorical termite of that 1962 essay, he was always moving forward, less inclined in 1972 to talk about Preston Sturges or Val Lewton than about Werner Herzog or Rainer Werner Fassbinder. While he was very much the sort of teacher to attract followers, hungering for his wisdom and wit, thirsting for his approval, he was not the sort to have actual disciples. He had all the requisite charisma, just not the dogma. He was, succinctly put, too individual, too inimitable. No one could keep up with him.
My privileges have been many. I was privileged, right off the bat in
To pull back to the widest angle on the subject: Not everyone who goes into his chosen field gets to have as a teacher and a friend the figure who, in the fledgling's eyes, stands above all others in the field. The downside of that is the impossibility of measuring up and the difficulty, for different reasons than that cited earlier, of looking him in the eye on a daily or weekly basis, or, as time slips by, more like a yearly basis. Manny himself has always been kind, considerate, generous, and gentle, to go along with wry, droll, sardonic, contrary, combative, defensive, touchy, testy, cranky, cantankerous, difficult, dissatisfied, complicated, or whatever descriptive adjective anyone might have attached to him. He didn't need to scold me. For that, I needed only his example.
This is the season once again, coming around as seasons will, whether he
likes it or not, to pay homage to Manny Farber. A show of his latest paintings
and drawings is on exhibit through June 3 at the Quint Gallery in
Critical Condition - Film Comment Kent Jones, March/April 2014
Just about 10 years ago, Manny Farber and I were taking one last walk through a retrospective show of his paintings. He stopped to scrutinize a large board called Ingenious Zeus—vegetables, branches, and open art books splayed across a field of deep blue in an unsettled composition suggesting the eye of a hurricane. “I try to get myself out of it as much as possible so that the object takes on a kind of religious awe,” he remarked. I remember thinking that Farber could just as well have been thumbing through a collection of his writings, and reflecting on the force field that binds the work of art to the one driven to describe it. Or, as Andrew Sarris explained it, the one compelled to enter into its enchanted aura: “What it really is, is first you see something, and you like it, and then it’s a mystery, and you go into the mystery.” To strive for a strictly objective account, as André Bazin warned, is to turn down a blind alley: the artwork cordoned off from the probing sensual intelligence of its entranced audience is as uninteresting as an output of zeroes and ones. To pursue a purely impressionistic direction is to let the work slip away by other means: the reader is left with nothing but a blurred, smudged and roughly approximate copy, a Xerox of a tintype of an etching after a painting. Approaching the artwork with humility, as Farber and Sarris suggested (as opposed to arrogance or unctuous subservience), being precise about one’s place in relation to it (as opposed to drifting from rapt respondent to rival creator to impartial observer to public advocate, and then back again), and understanding oneself as a transmitter rather than a final arbiter or an entertainer, is to move toward fulfilling the task of criticism as defined by Bazin: “To prolong as much as possible in the intelligence and sensibility of those who read it the original shock of the work of art.” It seems to me that this is only possible if one preserves and builds upon the memory of the very first shock, recalled by Whitman: “There was a child went forth every day/And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became…”
Over the years, I’ve returned often to the writings of these critics, and Farber is the one who gives people the most trouble. In one sense, he is generally admired and acknowledged. Negative Space is canonical, there is now a Library of America collection of his film criticism, and he is constantly cited in essays and blogs, most recently in a new collection by James Naremore and a series of posts by David Bordwell. But many find Farber’s prose to be forbiddingly dense with bygone slang, lousy puns, layer upon layer of metaphor, and abrupt turns and reversals, and I think they’re even more put off by his reflexive contrarianism. Farber’s impulse is to reduce everyone to lifesize proportions with such casual deflations as “Ozu’s long career . . . never outgrows the Hal Roach idea of a movie image being naïve and making you feel good.” That the action of going against the grain is Farber’s roundabout path to coming ever closer to the film and illuminating all of its properties, intended and unintended, is lost on readers with a fixation on value judgments. Farber’s idiosyncratic prose is as spiritually and intellectually sound as Bazin’s, but when you skim his writing the flashes of impudence can be easily mistaken for flippancy. Thus the obit-ready Farber, the man who took down the “sacred cows” of cinema; and the single-minded responses to the LOA collection that boil down to half a tweet: “Why didn’t Manny have any love for Orson Welles?”
I think that Farber’s passionate involvement in the actual practice of criticism precluded any genuine investment in partisanship or polemics, and that’s doubly true of Bazin. Paradoxically, this means that the cinema’s two greatest critics are outliers in what we now call film culture, a by-product of the Politique des Auteurs, streamlined for American use into the Auteur Theory, and finally trodden down and flattened over the decades into plain old auteurism. Their names are constantly mentioned and their most famous pieces are frequently cited and invoked, but rarely in terms of their relevance to contemporary affairs, least of all the lucid objections they raised to the auteurist idea at its inception.
The point is not to claim that film criticism took a wrong turn in the Fifties and Sixties. The auteurist idea at its most basic (that movies are primarily the creation of one governing author behind the camera who thinks in images and sounds rather than words and sentences) is now the default setting in most considerations of moviemaking, and for that we should all be thankful. We’d be nowhere without auteurism, which boasts a proud history: the lovers of cinema didn’t just argue for its inclusion among the fine arts, but actually stood up, waved its flag, and proclaimed its glory without shame. In that sense, it stands as a truly remarkable occurrence in the history of art. The consciousness of cinema has indeed been raised on a general level, and people are now far less comfortable dismissing it than they once were. That may sound paltry to those of us who won’t rest until Douglas Sirk replaces Lincoln on the five-dollar bill, but in terms of art historical time it’s astonishing.
Bazin understood very clearly that the force of history had no time for subtleties or distinctions, that it was on the side of his young friends and protégés at Cahiers du cinéma, and that the politique held and defended “an essential critical truth that the cinema needs more than the other arts, precisely because an act of true artistic creation is more uncertain and vulnerable in the cinema than elsewhere.” In a sense, his objections were addressed to a future in which artistic creation would be just a little less vulnerable than it was in the mid-Fifties. I think that this has come to pass: it may now be more difficult to make artistic gestures on a grand scale in the cinema than it was even a decade ago, but the ones that are made are met with far less condescension or outright hostility than they once were, thanks in no small way to auteurism. But did Bazin imagine that the extremism of its originators, who were not practicing a critical method but making a collective affirmation, would become habitual? His tone was ineffably respectful, but his rhetoric was as sharp as tempered steel. “There can be no definitive criticism of genius or talent which does not first take into consideration the social determinism, the historical combination of circumstances, and the technical background which to a large extent determine it,” he reminded his readers and fellow critics. This was a prelude to a very simple question with an obvious answer. Did Hitchcock, Rossellini, and Nick Ray make their films with the freedom that Matisse and Singier enjoyed when they painted canvases? Of course not, because cinema was “both popular and industrial.” The question became even more complicated in regard to American cinema. Bazin posited an “American cinematic genius” that had shown “American society just as it wanted to see itself; but not at all passively, as a simple act of satisfaction and escape, but dynamically, i.e., by participating in the means at its disposal in the building of this society. What is so admirable in the American cinema is that it cannot help being spontaneous.” (Bazin’s brilliant formulation now has a poignant ring: America no longer seems interested in seeing itself dynamically, and our industrial cinema has become anything but spontaneous.)
It seems to me that these points are more or less irrefutable, and that far from bursting the balloon they suggest the possibility of an amended and potentially richer variation on auteurism. Why didn’t it happen? Such a possibility was without interest to the younger critics, already on their way to leaving criticism behind even as they were writing it, and criticism has remained equally irrelevant to their followers. “What is the point of saying that the meeting between Richard Burton and Ruth Roman while Curt Jurgens watches is edited with fantastic brio?” wrote Godard so memorably. “Maybe this was a scene during which we had closed our eyes. For Bitter Victory, like the sun, makes you close your eyes. Truth is blinding.” Godard’s exalted writings on the cinema, particularly his pieces on the films of Ray, The Wrong Man, and Man of the West, are among the real glories of film culture. But as a writer, Godard is uninterested in prolonging the shock of the work for the reader. He is consumed with proclaiming the passion that the film in question has ignited within him, and the possibilities of creating dialogue scenes of “fantastic brio” or dynamizing the screen with acid-green dresses and blue and pink carpets. For Godard, Truffaut, Rivette and, to a slightly lesser extent, Rohmer, criticism was a uniformly single-minded activity, and their rhetorical gestures were those of artists-in-waiting. Whenever I re-read Rivette’s famous condemnation of the camera movement in Kapo, for example, I do not have the impression of a carefully considered moral judgment but of a bold, slashing artistic gesture. Taken together, the white-hot writings of the Cahiers critics were not so much a peak in the history of criticism as a blazing, spontaneously generated collective artistic mission statement, as stirring as the Surrealist Manifesto or Whitman’s Democratic Vistas.
When Andrew Sarris Americanized the politique, he made a crucial adjustment by turning a declaration of artistic liberty into both a system of evaluation (the auteur “theory”) and a crusade to change the way that cinema was thought of and discussed. An auteur was no longer an artist who spoke “in the first person,” as Rivette put it, and who had actually crafted a formidable body of work, but any director who had produced evidence of authorship, i.e., an ability to think in visual terms. The transcendent moment, isolated from the surrounding movie, became proof of the power of the auteur: scenes, passages, grace notes, epiphanies, directorial “use” of this or that actor or actress were precisely where the evidence lay. Placing so much stress on the part at the expense of the whole enhanced the idea of the studio-contracted director secretly injecting contraband strains of “personality” into the scripts to which he was assigned; it also promoted an extremely romantic idea of the director as an on-the-spot inventor, taking whatever material was handed to him and transforming it into gold. The very idea of the “whole” itself became suspect, implying an adherence to forms that were associated with literature and theater.
Somewhere along the line, the polemical devices of Sarris’s The American Cinema were internalized as method. All demurrals were filed under “hostile” and dismissed. To take Bazin’s objections seriously would be to admit that Hitchcock and Rossellini and Ray operated under constraints and conditions unknown to Matisse and Singier, and thus admit defeat. To pay attention to Farber’s commonsensical observations that “any image . . . can be read for any type of decisive, encapsulating judgment,” that a single “scene, actor or technician” is likely to inject “a flash-bomb vitality” across the grain of the film at any given moment, that dissolving “the studio influence from any discussion of [Walsh’s] films leaves him a fantasy figure,” would be to break the spell and stop the flow of revelation. To sympathize with Farber’s mid-Sixties lament for the demise in prestige of “the 40s critic, who was a prospector always repanning and sifting for buried American truth and subconscious life,” would be to submit to the tyranny of the relevant. To acknowledge narrative structure, the particulars of screen acting, the off-hand peculiarities of the image, or any aspect of production with more than a passing glance would be a distraction and a violation of the essential truth of the auteur. To be an auteurist was not to practice a critical discipline, but to believe. For that reason, the effect of auteurism on film criticism has been odd in the extreme.
I recently took a fresh look at the aforementioned scene from Bitter Victory, prompted by a re-reading of Robin Wood’s contribution to a long-forgotten early Seventies anthology called Favorite Movies. Wood’s essay, “The Seaweed-Gatherer,” is one of the finest in the book, and his point of view is soundly and refreshingly anti-essentialist: “The valid question is not ‘Is this theatrical?’ but ‘Does it work?’ and a cogent answer would involve some analysis of the whole film, and the relationship within it of style and meaning.” Wood evokes six examples from different films by way of illustration, one of which is the scene in question. This short paragraph strikes me as an emblematic auteurist gesture. “Richard Burton and Ruth Roman, former lovers, meet unexpectedly after an interval of some years under the suspicious eyes of the man she has married (Curt Jurgens) . . . The intensity of the Ray—it must be among the most electrifying dialogue sequences ever filmed—arises partly from the cutting. The situation is quite commonplace, the dialogue is unremarkable, the actors scarcely my favorites; though they offer notable demonstrations of the general truth that Ray can get fine performances from the most unexpected people, the fascination of the sequence does not lie merely in the acting. Ray has conceived the whole scene in terms of exchanged or intercepted looks; the significance, instead of being extracted from the text, is conferred upon it by the way the characters look at each other. The cutting stresses (but not crudely) the significance of the glances, Ray using editing rather as a poet uses accent to obtain the most precise inflections.”
As Wood shifts from a wide panoramic view to a close-up, he also shifts, imperceptibly and maybe even unconsciously, from a truly magnificent holism to a peculiarly auteurist form of essentialism. He begins his summary of the Burton-Roman-Jurgens exchange by simplifying the situation and eliding a few key pieces of information. Before the scene takes place, we learn that Burton and Jurgens are British soldiers stationed in Tripoli during World War II; that Jurgens is an insecure, buttoned- down army lifer who has been informed by his superiors that he is being considered for a dangerous commando mission that will leave the next morning; that Burton is a brasher and more defiant figure who is also being considered; that Jurgens’ boyishly elated reaction to the news that his wife is coming for a visit indicates a certain imbalance in their relationship. An aura of fatalism linked to inadequacy and resentment has already been established, by visual, verbal, and behavioral means, as we go into the scene.
In contrast to the brisk exchanges in the C.O.’s office, the dialogue in the scene in question is less unremarkable than it is unpalatable, and the action is unclear—indeed, the preceding scenes do a more efficient job of setting up the drama of bravery and cowardice to come than this now-celebrated exchange. The ostensible goals of the scene are to establish Jurgens’s suspicion that there’s something between Roman and Burton, and Roman’s understanding that one and perhaps both men might be sent out on the suicide mission, and these aims might have been handily realized by sticking to Hitchcock’s principle of innocuous dialogue in dynamic counterpoint to the emotional energies and conflicts that actually drive a scene. According to Bernard Eisenschitz in his Ray biography, the making of Bitter Victory was pure chaos. And the scene as written feels like a collection of drafts, stray notes, and ideas mashed together on the morning of the shoot. The dialogue is gummed up with people speaking when they most likely wouldn’t, revealing what they would be likely to hide, and failing to notice what they would be unlikely to miss. There are odd discrepancies. Jurgens is surprised all over again that Burton is being considered for the mission, and he takes pride in introducing Roman to Burton even though it has already been established that the two men are not friendly. The conversation itself follows a meandering non-logic in which the war, people’s short memories, careless talk, love, and survival are spot-welded into a rickety edifice atop an uncertain foundation. It’s not that Ray hasn’t worked from the text, but that the text is so convoluted (compared to the crispness of relatively similar scenes in The Lusty Men) that it all but dissolves on contact, thus placing the hypnotic shuffling of faces (42 variations of three setups in two minutes) at the center of the viewer’s attention. As a presumed consequence of the lack of clarity in the text, Burton and Roman float ethereally through the scene, and their emotional states are very murky: it’s unclear who is having what effect on whom. Jurgens is the only one who evolves emotionally, from elation to bonhomie to quiet astonishment to alarm to hurt. There are indeed many glances but very few of them are intercepted, and those only by Jurgens. The scene now seems less electrifying than tamped down, unified by what Farber once identified as Ray’s “keynote strangeness”—in this case, a pervasive sense of characters moving like sleepwalkers through the action. The strangeness is only deepened by the depressing tone of the production itself: a somber black-and-white CinemaScope image (not so far from Man of a Thousand Faces or The Joker Is Wild) reminiscent of funeral parlors and hospital chapels; three actors with a mild case of CinemaScope mumps; Hollywood decorum in the absence of Hollywood; and a desultory Forties-style nightclub ambience drained of any vitality by a deadened room tone and looped dialogue.
One must grant that Wood’s essay was written in the pre-home-video era and that his examples were not meant to be comprehensive. Nonetheless, it offers, in crystalline form, a perfect embodiment of the auteurist approach: the assumption of a cinematic essence beneath an outer shell of mere appearances (such as dialogue, décor, acting, sound), and—a stickier point—the subtle transformation of the actual scene into an ideal one made in the state of artistic freedom enjoyed by Matisse and Singier. I don’t want to imply that the vast range of criticism written under the auteurist banner is as heavily singularized as this little paragraph—Joseph McBride, Bertrand Tavernier and Jean-Pierre Coursoudon, Raymond Durgnat, Geoffrey O’Brien, and Sarris himself (Sarris the epigrammatically inclined critic, as opposed to Sarris the polemical campaigner) each created flexible and fruitful variations. Rather, the two complementary actions embodied in Wood’s approach—discarding surface detail in order to look to the inner core, and restoring the film and/or the filmmaker to a state of phantom wholeness—have become habitual over the years, and resulted in a dramatic gulf between how, why, and for whom films are actually made, and the way they are commonly written about by critics. I don’t believe that the gulf between artistic practice and criticism is as wide in any other art form. If I’ve singled out Wood, it certainly isn’t in order to prove him wrong or deflate him: we have all operated according to this model, to varying degrees. Durgnat once wrote in these pages that Howard Hawks as envisioned by Wood was both “a magnificent humanist hypothesis without which film culture would be infinitely poorer” and a confabulation. The same might be said of auteurism itself, which throughout the decades has developed a troublingly persistent tic of ignoring vast swaths of the movie experience in order to fixate on a supposedly essential reality. Meanwhile, amid all the discovering, elevating, furious moralizing, ranking, categorizing, proclaiming, denouncing, diagnosing, and theorizing, the work of actual description has hardly even begun.
Farber's article Carbonated Dyspepsia in its entirety. Farber essay from Cold Bacon, 1968
available here Cinephiles, an archival document of Manny Farber’s writings compiled by Donald Phelps for his magazine For Now during the 1960’s
They Drive by Night: The Criticism of Manny Farber | Jonathan ... Jonathan Rosenbaum, June 24, 1993
A Painter, But Still a Critic David Edelstein from NY magazine, October 17, 1994
on Google Books Negative Space: Manny Farber on the Movies, by Manny Farber, (398 pages) 1998, viewable online
Reel crank Richard Flood from ArtForum, September 1998
The Qualities I Like - Rouge Adrian Martin at Rouge, August 2008, originally published from Framework, April 1999
Manny Farber at Quint Contemporary Art - Brief Article Leah Ollman from Art in America, October 1999
American Beauty [on Chris Petit's NEGATIVE SPACE] | Jonathan ... Jonathan Rosenbaum, May 12, 2000
notes on Negative Space Benjamin Halligan reviews Farber’s 1998 book Negative Space: Manny Farber on the Movies, from Senses of Cinema, January 2001
Painter of pictures: The Farber equation is never simple - Manny Farber Robert Polito in a panel discussion with Kent Jones, Greil Marcus, Jonathan Crary and Stephanie Zacharek, from ArtForum, April 2002, also seen here: On the same in Artforum.
Doug Cummings Manny Farber from Film Journey, September 30, 2003
Synoptique Article - Silence is Golden : The Ferguson - Farber Affair Colin Burnett from Synoptique, April 26, 2004
GreenCine post from 2004. Manny Farber, David Hudson from GreenCine, July 1, 2004
Marjorie Baumgarten The Termite King, from The Austin Chronicle, July 2, 2004
eric gelber on manny farber at ps1 museum a piece on Farber’s painting (December 2004)
Manny Farber: About Face - artcritical artcritical Eric Gelber, December 1, 2004
Barbara Schock A Hard, Wonderful Look at the Movies in Manny Farber’s Film Class, from Filmmaker magazine, Summer 2005
How to Write About Film Clive James book review of Philip Lopate’s American Movie Critics: An Anthology From the Silents Until Now, from The New York Times, June 4, 2006
Great post by Jim Emerson at Scanners How Not to Write About Film, a response to Clive James NY Times book review of Philip Lopate’s American Movie Critics: An Anthology From the Silents Until Now, by Jim Emerson June 4, 2006
Girish Termite Art vs. White Elephant Art, from Girish, June 5, 2006
Evan Kindley Tribute to Farber in his review of Nicholas Ray’s THEY LIVE BY NIGHT from Not Coming to a Theatre Near You, August 17, 2008
They Drive by Night: The Criticism of Manny Farber Jonathan Rosenbaum, August 18, 2008, from a personal essay written in 1993, Placing Movies: The Practice of Film Criticism, with a follow up letter from Patricia Patterson to John Powers, August 28, 2008 here: Jonathan Rosenbaum
SF360: Manny Farber (1917-2008): "The Geography of Gesture" Robert Polito from SF360, August 18, 2008, reprinted from the 2003 SFIFF catalogue
GreenCine Daily David Hudson from GreenCine, August 18, 2008
Glenn Kenny The Greatest, by Glenn Kenny from Some Came Running, August 18, 2008
Phil Nugent Manny Farber 1917 – 2008, The Screengrab, August 18, 2009
Zach Campbell Elusive Lucidity, August 18, 2008
David Phelps quoted passages from Farber’s works, posted at Videoarcadia, August 18, 2008
Ken Tucker Remembering Manny Farber, from Entertainment Weekly, August 18, 2008
Stephen Whitty The End, from New Jersey Entertainment, August 18, 2008
James Wolcott Farewell to Manny Farber, from James Wolcott’s blog at Vanity Fair, August 2008
James Wolcott Farewell to Manny Farber II, from James Wolcott’s blog at Vanity Fair, August 2008
The New York Times obituary Manny Farber, Iconoclastic Film Critic and Artist, Dies at 91, by William Grimes from The New York Times, August 19, 2008, also seen here: Manny Farber, Iconoclastic Film Critic and Artist, Dies at 91. New York Times
Doug Cummings Negative Space (1999) from Film Journey, August 19, 2008
NEWCITYCHICAGO.COM: Street Smart Chicago Still at the Movies, a Death in the Family, Ray Pride from New City, August 19, 2008
Wesley Morris Manny Being Manny, from The Boston Globe Movie Nation blog, August 19, 2008
here Manny Farber 1917 – 2008, by Carrie Rickey (who studied with him) from The Philadelphia Inquirer, August 20, 2008
David Edelstein Reflections on Manny Farber, a Critic and an Artist, from The Projectionist, August 20, 2008
Max Goldberg Hard-Sell Film Criticism, August 20, 2008
girish: Manny Farber, In Memoriam August 25, 2008
David Thomson Manny Farber obituary from The Guardian, August 25, 2008
Michael Sragow Manny Farber, a prescient, pungent artist-critic, from The Baltimore Sun, August 25, 2008
Manny Farber: Termite of Genius Richard Corliss from Time magazine, August 26, 2008
Kent Jones and Robert Walsh Tributes to Manny Farber, compiled by Scott Foundas from The LA Weekly, August 27, 2008
Duncan Shepherd An End, from The San Diego Reader, August 27, 2008
Spencer Parsons Night, Termite, from The Austin Chronicle, August 29, 2008
Manny Farber: Revered critic who analysed films as 'moving collages ... Jonathan Romney from The Independent, September 24, 2008
A Conversation About Manny Farber with Kent Jones ... - Reverse Shot Eric Hynes interviews Kent Jones about Farber, December 17, 2008
Farber Figure David Fear from Time Out New York (2008)
"Remembering artist and teacher Manny Farber 1917–2008" Carrie Rickey, January 2009
The Farber Mystery Jonathan Rosenbaum from Moving Image Source, September 22, 2009
Farber on Film: Introduction, Part 1 (Other Roads, Other Tracks) - Mubi Robert Polito, November 16, 2009
Farber on Film: Introduction, Part 2 (Farber and Negative Space) - Mubi Robert Polito, November 16, 2009
Farber on Film: Introduction, Part 3 (Farber Before Negative ... - Mubi Robert Polito, November 18, 2009
Farber on Film: Introduction, Part 4 (After Negative Space) - Mubi Robert Polito, November 18, 2009
A dozen of Manny Farber's classic pieces from 1940s to 1960s Ehsan Khoshbakht from Notes on Cinematograph, June 22, 2010
Observations on film art : Manny Farber 1: Color commentary David Bordwell (click on open printable version), March 17, 2014
Saul Bellow, Film Critic - The New Yorker Richard Brody, May 11, 2015
10 Of The Greatest Film Critics Every Movie Buff Should Know « Taste ... Luis Acevedo from Taste of Cinema, July 15, 2015
Manny Farber and Patricia Patterson Interviewed by Richard Thompson, 1977 1977 interview, Screening the Past
Edward Crouse Negative Space Man, interview by Edward Crouse from Metro Active, October 11, 1999
Robert Walsh Concerning Manny Farber: An Interview with Robert Walsh, (who write the Preface to Farber’s book), by Noel King from Senses of Cinema, December 2001
Leah Ollman Farber on Farber, feature and Farber interview from Art in America, October 2004
Manny Farber: In memory | Interviews | Roger Ebert August 19, 2008
Manny Farber (1917-2008) A Conversation with Paul Schrader on Farber by David Schwartz from Moving Image Source, August 19, 2008
Kent Jones on Manny Farber (Eric Hynes, Reverse Shot) Pt I, from Reverse Shot, October 2008
Click here to read Part Two of Eric Hynes's interview with Kent Jones. Pt II, from Reverse Shot, October 2008
Robert Polito: The one-of-a-kind “film investigations” of Manny Farber ... Rich Kelley interview with Robert Polito, editor of the complete writings of Manny Farber, for Library of America, October 2009
Untitled: New Blue Paul Schrader short film on a Manny Farber painting from Schrader’s own collection
San Diego PBS segment Local Painter Manny Farber and Hugh Davies of Museum of Contemporary Art, on YouTube (25:46)
Asghar Farhadi is an Iranian filmmaker who graduated from the University of Tehran in 1998. After working in student plays, national radio, and television hits, his first feature film was 2003’s Dancing in the Dust. He went on to direct the award-winning films The Beautiful City in 2004 and Fireworks Wednesday in 2006, and won major international recognition with About Elly (2009), about a group of Iranians who take a trip to the Caspian Sea that turns tragic.
Farhadi said the concept of A Separation just came to him: “The idea for the film came to when I was sitting in the kitchen of my friend’s flat in Berlin nearly one year ago. I was here preparing another film, but I decided to do this one instead. I was smoking a cigarette in the kitchen, listening to some Iranian music and then I decided to make it. The film is influenced by my personal experiences and the situation in Iran and also some abstract pictures I had in my mind. It was like a puzzle. The story was in my mind for some time but when I decided to make it it happened quickly.”
Berliner Künstlerprogramm | Biography: Farhadi, Asghar Berlin Festival biography
Asghar Farhadi Mubi
• View topic - A Separation (Asghar Farhadi, 2011) Criterion forum, a film discussion group, December 7, 2011
Asghar Farhadi Interview with the director by Artifical Eye (2011)
The Financial Times [Nigel Andrews] Nigel Andrews interviews the director, June 24, 2011
Reluctantly, an Iranian director becomes a symbol - latimes.com Steven Zeitchik interviews the dirctor from The LA Times, October 3, 2011
Read our Q&A with writer-director Asghar Farhadi David Fear interview with the director from Time Out New York, December 19, 2011
ASGHAR FARHADI, “A SEPARATION” | The Filmmaker Magazine ... Damon Smith interview with the director, December 28, 2011
'A Separation' probes Iranians' conflicted love for their country, says director Roshanak Taghavi interview with the director from The Christian Science Monitor, January 20, 2012
DANCING IN THE DUST (Raghs dar ghobar)
Iran (95 mi) 2003
Two outcasts, a silent old man and a loudmouthed Azerbaijan youth, set out to catch poisonous snakes in the desert in this eye-catching first film by Asghar Farhadi. His theme, surprisingly, is love and the sacrifices it demands, beautifully illustrated in the story's final, satisfying twist. Mustering enough festival and critical support, pic could find favor with Western auds in search of exotica with a heart.
Though Nazar (Yousef Khodaparast) is madly in love with his young bride Reyhaneh (Baran Kosari), his family and friends make him divorce her when they hear rumors her mother is a prostitute. The boy, who's a little crazy, agrees to the divorce but becomes obsessed with paying the girl's marriage portion, which he can't afford. He earns barely a pittance in a strange pharmaceutical institute, where serums are made from the antibodies in horses injected with snake venom.
On the run from a creditor, he hides in a delivery van and finds himself transported to the middle of the desert. Ignoring his demands to be taken back to the city, the stony-faced old driver (Faramarz Gharibian) makes him sleep outside in the cold and wait the next day while he goes to hunt snakes. Nazar foolishly tries to hunt, too, hoping to make money for Reyhaneh, and gets bitten in the process. To save his life the snake hunter cuts off his wounded finger, keeping it in a jar so it can later be reattached. But Nazar, still reeling with love for his ex, has other ideas.
Dispensing with heavyhanded symbolism, Farhadi tells the tale engrossingly and with a lot of physicality through the two main actors. As the young swain, Khodaparast creates an original, often irritating character redeemed by his great love. Gharibian's haunted face needs no words to express his inner devastation, and in fact he barely speaks in the film.
The snakes are genuinely scary, almost as much as the protags' unpredictable emotions.
BEAUTIFUL CITY (Shah-re ziba)
Iran (101 mi) 2004
Basically a conventional story-driven drama, writer-director Asghar Farhadi's Beautiful City is a different kind of Iranian film—for New York audiences, at least. With best friend Akbar still in prison, facing the death penalty for killing his girlfriend at age 16, recently released Ala (Babak Ansari) recruits the condemned boy's sister (Taraneh Alidoosti, recently seen in I'm Taraneh, 15) to lobby the victim's father (Faramarz Gharibian) for clemency. At times resembling an Iranian Dead Man Walking, Beautiful City goes out of its way to give each character a fair shake—a few patriarchal rages notwithstanding, even the vengeful father is treated sympathetically. But the script, overly laden with red herrings, forces its characters into some improbable dilemmas—the bereaved father has to choose between paying the blood money required for the execution (Iranian law stipulates the value of a woman's life as half that of a man's) and getting an operation for his wife's adult daughter—and the ambiguous ending feels inconsistent with the too tidy setup. But as a director, Farhadi demonstrates a lighter touch—the paint peeling from the door frames tells us all we need to know about his characters' financial straits.
Nearly every film that comes to us from Iran seems to recognize its culture and people as living in a perpetual state of flux, an angle that seems unconsciously built into the DNA of these films. For Bahman Ghobadi, the relentlessness of life in Iran is a horrifying matter of fact—for others, like Mohsen Makhmalbaf and Abbas Kiarostami, it's sometimes an area of subversive critique. Persistence is everything in Asghar Farhadi's visually undistinguished but affecting Beautiful City, a simple film about the power of forgiveness. Neither unremitting nor detached, it represents something of an anomaly for the Iranian film we're typically used to seeing; its casual manner and openness may or may not win it many fans, but it's this very relaxed vision and delivery that works to legitimize it. The film opens in a juvenile detention facility where a young boy, Akbar (Hossein Farzi-Zadeh), awaits execution for murdering his girlfriend when he was 16. In the outside world, Ala (Babak Ansari), a petty thief let out of prison for good behavior, helps Akbar's sister, Firoozeh (Taraneh Alidoosti), to secure the clemency Akbar needs from the father of the girl he killed. Context is uprooted during the natural flow of conversation; information such as Akbar's former days as a prostitute and her ex-husband's drug use is treated with minimal hysteria; and insight into the punitive nature of the Islamic judicial system and how readily people hold the fates of others in their hands is effortlessly entwined with the storyline of Ala and Firoozeh's bourgeoning romance. Every decision in the film hinges on a form of sacrifice—a struggle to do what is right without necessarily compromising one's values. The film's hopefulness is matched only by its goodness, and its message is one we could all stand to learn.
Film-Forward.com Parisa Vaziri
An engrossing anomaly in Iranian cinema, the steady-paced Beautiful City is never confined to one subject. Although the film does not completely ignore the quintessential issue of life under an oppressive regime, it still manages to extract more universal meaning from the injustices of the law, questioning whether the root of these wrongs are really so simple or whether there is an underlying complexity and contradiction in even the most seemingly obvious of injustices – in this case, capital punishment.
Akbar has just turned 18. After having spent two years in a rehabilitation center for committing murder, he is now old enough for execution. His only hope for exoneration is to receive a pardon from the father of the deceased – an impossibly dogged man set on retaliation for his daughter’s death. But there’s a chance he’ll relent. According to Islamic law, the value of a woman’s death is half of that for a man. In other words, the father must pay more blood money in the difference between the worth of his daughter and her murderer, which he can’t afford.
An unlikely romantic relationship comes to fruit after Akbar’s former cellmate, A’la (the beguiling Babak Ansari), unites with Akbar’s sister to obtain the consent. As Firoozeh, Taraneh Alidoosti (from I Am Taraneh, 15) is remarkably convincing as the strong-minded but vulnerable older sister, who wears a wedding ring and works full-time to support her infant son.
Beautiful City thrives on the nuances that are the hallmark of Iranian cinema. But what distinguishes it from other Iranian tragedies is its refreshing comedic element, which comes through subtly and at just the right moments – for example, over a kebab dinner through which A’la and Firoozeh, developing an illicit romance, converse “through” Firoozeh’s toddler, flirting like adolescents.
Director Asghar Farhadi manages to cover the tragic material of his film quite concisely and unpredictably. His point becomes most clearly vocalized when A’la speaks to an elder about the justice or injustice of Akbar’s sentence. It becomes clear that neither is completely convinced about his opinion, because, perhaps, there is no right answer.
Thankfully, this is anything but a cloying message film. The characters, not the issues, are in the foreground. Among the most accessible of recent Iranian films, this dramatic labyrinth is as skillfully made, if not more so, than any of this year’s best foreign language film nominees.
FIREWORKS WEDNESDAY (Chaharshanbe-soori) B+ 91
The titular fireworks are literal – the story takes place as Iranians celebrate New Year by spring-cleaning and lighting firecrackers – and metaphorical : when Rouhi, a young bride-to-be working for a cleaning agency, turns up at the apartment of a couple about to go on holiday, she’s drawn into an explosive domestic conflict. What distinguishes the film is the way Farhadi keeps us guessing from as to what exactly is happening and why; repeatedly shifting our point of view, he forces us to question our assumptions about characters and their reliability. This compelling, corrosive account of male-female relationships in today’s Tehran is tempered by genuine compassion for the individuals concerned; wisely, Farhadi never serves judgement on them in their troubled pursuit of truth, love and happiness. Intelligent, illuminating and directed with unflashy expertise.
The world is a complicated place in Asghar Farhadi's sophisticated and arrestingly played Fireworks Wednesday (Chahar Shanbe Souri), which could justifiably be called the find of the festival (this Iranian entry won the Gold Hugo for Best Film). Its heroine, a naïve young freelance housemaid, is plagued with chador trouble: first the black robe tangles inside the wheel of her fiancé's motorbike, sending them both merrily tumbling to the pavement. Then, when she wants to try on her ultra-frilly wedding gown, she pulls the virginal-white dress over her midnight-black chador, but soon loses the garment in the tumult of a day's work at an apartment block. Though rock certain that "my fiancé is totally in love with me," she has to steer her way through a network of relationship meltdowns and salutary examples of marital deceptions and betrayals, as the vivid flowing action turns increasingly complex what with spying and eavesdropping throughout an epic argument between a harried husband and his paranoid spouse. The pungent dialogue also involves an understanding divorcée, a little boy with nightmares about hell, and assorted big-city neighbors and relatives. Set during the frenzied New Year holiday, all the marital fireworks fittingly take place to the constant crack and pop of gunfire and firecrackers and explosions and flames and sizzling sparklers.
One of the things I love about Iranian cinema is that it seems to inspire itself. Even a decade after the first Iranian "New Wave" films began appearing in the United States in 1997, Iranian filmmakers have refused to "go Western" and use Hollywood methods in their films. Rather, Iranian filmmakers have continued to work with the original ideas and methods that made their cinema exciting in the first place. Here's a film directed by a relative newcomer, Asghar Farhadi, that feels just as fresh as films by his predecessors, yet it also turns slightly inward, getting a little closer to the more turbulent human emotions, and it comes out the other side with a vivid, three-dimensional portrait of three characters over the course of one day.
Taraneh Alidoosti stars as Rouhi, a young woman on the verge of marriage with a man she truly loves. She takes a day job as a maid, working for a couple all the way across town. A window has been broken, and the husband Morteza (Hamid Farokhnezhad) and wife Mojdeh (Hedye Tehrani) prepare to go away for the New Year's holiday. Rouhi slowly realizes that Mojdeh suspects her husband of having an affair. Throughout the day, Rouhi goes from being dismissed to sitting in on the family's arguments. At one point, her employer sends her to a beauty parlor, where she hears more gossip. She does her best to help with a few well-placed white lies, but the film has a few more twists.
Director Asghar Farhadi takes his time, allowing information to creep in at its own pace rather than trying to force it all upon us in the first ten minutes. But the most vivid element is his well-rounded characters: men and women truly relating to one another in both positive and negative lights. (Previous Iranian films have tended to be more about poetic concepts than concrete characters.) He also uses veteran actors, rather the preferred method of using amateurs. Hedye Tehrani, with the longest list of credits, is particularly striking; she's quite beautiful and runs the gamut from angry to heartbroken. In one scene, she sinks to an ultimate low: she steals Rouhi's chador as a disguise to spy on her husband, but her husband sinks even lower by hitting her. Farhadi expertly uses the space of the apartment building, as well as the passing time of the long day. When it gets dark, the "Fireworks Wednesday" celebration begins (basically New Year's Eve), which verges on a violent outburst. Morteza drives Rouhi home through what looks like a battlefield of fires, explosions and unruly crowds. When Rouhi returns to her husband, her fresh, unalloyed love may have been tainted by a bit of reality, or it may be stronger than ever.
The Film Sufi MKP
Filmjourney Doug Cummings
Fireworks Wednesday Review. Movie Reviews - Film - Time Out ... Ben Kenigsberg from Time Out Chicago
ABOUT ELLY (Darbareye Elly) A- 94
Iran France (119 mi) 2009 About Elly Official Site
Asghar Farhadi is one of the few major Iranian directors that still makes films in Iran, a nation where literally dozens of filmmakers have been arrested and released under the Ahmadinejad regime, as Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof, along with filmmaker and actress Mahnaz Mohammadi, remain imprisoned for political differences, their passports revoked, banned from making future movies, while legendary Iranian New Wave directors Abbas Kiarostami and Mohsen Makhmalbaf work in exile. It’s a significant paradox that Farhadi has been free to serve on juries for major international film festivals, and even win major prizes himself, including his highly acclaimed A Separation (Jodaeiye Nader az Simin) (2011), which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film (also nominated for Best Original Screenplay), becoming the highest grossing Iranian film ever made (listed as #40 foreign language movie of all-time, Foreign Language Movies at the Box Office - Box Office Mojo) and the first Iranian to win an Academy Award in any competitive category, while his compatriots languish in prison. We are reminded that in September 2010 during the making of A Separation (Jodaeiye Nader az Simin), which due to past film successes was made without any governmental support, Farhadi was banned from making the film by the Iranian Ministry of Culture, as during earlier acceptance speeches at award ceremonies, he expressed support for Mohsen Makhmalbaf, an exiled Iranian filmmaker living at the time in Afghanistan, and imprisoned political filmmaker Jafar Panahi, both of whom are linked to the Iranian Green Movement that questioned the validity of the 2009 Iranian Presidential election, demanding the removal of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from office. The ban was lifted a month later after Farhadi apologized for his remarks and claimed to be inaccurately perceived. While certainly considered one of the most important directors of the 90’s, the Iranian government has long refused to permit the screening of any Kiarostami film for well over a decade, causing him to remark, “The government has decided not to show any of my films for the past 10 years... I think they don’t understand my films and so prevent them being shown just in case there is a message they don’t want to get out. They tend to support films that are stylistically very different from mine – melodramas” ("Abbas Kiarostami – Not A Martyr", Stuart Jeffries from The Guardian, April 26, 2005), which begs the question, why is Farhadi still visibly working in Iran while others have disappeared or been silenced? The Past (Le Passé) (2013) was even partially financed by Iran. Perhaps it’s a matter of economics, as his films continue to make money, seemingly at odds with arthouse filmmakers who have other priorities. That being said, ABOUT ELLY is only belatedly having an international release six years after it premiered to considerable acclaim at the Berlin Festival in 2009 where Farhadi won a Silver Bear for Best Director, winning dozens of other awards as well, but it was mysteriously shelved afterwards, as an earlier distributor that acquired the film apparently went out of business. It’s curious that this film’s public introduction comes “after” his two earlier films drew such heavy international praise, where one of them surprisingly became the most successful film in Iranian film history.
When seen in this context, how ironic that the film with the least amount of accompanying accolades is arguably this director’s best film. This may be the closest Farhadi has come to emulating Jafar Panahi, where Western elements creep into an Iranian film, whose CRIMSON GOLD (2003) mixes the stylization of Iranian social realism with a European art film, actually paying tribute to Fellini’s NIGHTS OF CABIRIA (1957). In similar fashion, ABOUT ELLY borrows liberally from Antonioni’s L’AVVENTURA (1960), a film where Italian neo-realism comes face to face with contemporary modern society, a brooding interior film that expresses extreme emotional alienation through slow pacing, narrative ambiguity, and extraordinary visual stylization. In each, a large degree of the film’s success can be attributed to the brilliance of the character development, where multiple figures literally come to life onscreen, becoming familiar to us all by the end of the picture. While Antonioni creates spaces between characters through silences or long wordless sequences, Farhadi takes a more collective approach, creating a group dynamic that is reflective of a casual self-interest mindset when one member of a group of friends goes mysteriously missing during a weekend trip to the Caspian Sea. Intent on examining the fractured and hypocritical culture of the middle-class, Farhadi conceals their underlying motives throughout most of the film before allowing them to erupt in emotional fireworks during an explosive finale. An essay-like comment on contemporary times, ABOUT ELLY also accentuates the extreme degree of alienation from rapidly changing cultural norms, exposing utter indifference to the social injustice of women, whose powerlessness leaves them even further isolated from the mainstream, their lives dominated and completely controlled by the arrogance and paternalistic whims of selfishly deluded men, revealing just how completely out of touch they are with their wives and female counterparts who are all but invisible to them. The stark divide is a breathtaking surprise, a social critique beautifully revealed through unraveling layers of seemingly innocuous conversations that become dramatically intensified, ultimately a distinctively evolving passion play that reaches heights of hysteria, dramatically expressed with a great deal of clarity, though this only becomes evident by the end. Farhadi’s true strength is his writing, and while there are nearly a dozen featured characters, the naturalism of their performances really serves the overall outcome. Much like a stage play, though expressed with utter simplicity, the speed and rhythm of the conversational interplay between characters must reflect the overall mood changes of a very complicated social dynamic, where it’s essential they be viewed as believable and authentic. The success of this film is that all the movable parts contribute to the whole, where what’s lurking under the surface, seemingly benign and of little consequence, has a powerful impact that in the end provides a stunning societal exposé.
The film begins innocently enough, as a group of middle-class friends, old classmates from the university, set out for a relaxing weekend on the shores of the Caspian Sea, three married couples and their young children, including Sepideh, Golshifteh Farahani from My Sweet Pepper Land (2013), who organized the trip, who brings along Elly (Taraneh Alidoosti), her daughter’s kindergarten teacher, while also inviting a male friend Ahmad (Shahab Hosseini), who recently separated from his wife and is visiting from Germany. While the boisterous mood remains upbeat, with plenty of music and chatter, the overriding feeling is one of exuberance, expressing the joy of being young and happy, shot in a cinéma vérité style, where the audience is exposed to wave after wave of overlapping conversations. Not to be deterred, despite being full for the holidays, the group is offered a seaside villa with broken windows and no beds that hasn’t been fixed up yet, but the charm of the nearby sea is inviting. Playing charades, singing songs, or spontaneously breaking out into dance, it’s a celebratory atmosphere with plenty of food brought in for the occasion. While Elly is admittedly shy and reluctantly hesitant, there’s a bit of matchmaking going on behind the scenes, which is all in good fun, where they’re playfully introduced as young newlyweds to the rental owners to avoid any hint of scandal. Nonetheless, with things seemingly going well, Elly is admittedly uncomfortable and seeks to leave early, spoiling the fun for Sepideh who encourages her to stay. While the women are out buying food and the men are having a strenuous volleyball match on the beach, Elly is watching the kids, seen in a state of ecstasy while flying a kite, but then Sepideh’s daughter frantically cries out for help as one of the other children has gone out too far and is being carried out to sea, creating an panic-stricken moment of hysteria where all the adults run and jump into the water without a clue where he is. Fortunately, after a delirious search, the child is safely rescued, but then they notice Elly has disappeared, where no one knows what happened to her. Unsure whether she drowned or returned home on her own, suddenly the film takes on a more sinister mood, where they have to get their stories straight before calling the police, as they don’t wish to be implicated. Self-preservation overrides any sense of honor in the face of tragedy, as each begins looking out for themselves, pointing their fingers at others, trying any way they can to escape blame. It’s a sad and pathetic situation when they literally turn on one another, like sharks with blood in the water, with husbands blaming wives, claiming they should have been watching the kids, not some stranger whose last name they don’t even know, fearing how this might ruin their reputations and good social standing. A carefree vacation of best friends turns into a desperate moment of panic, fear, and outright suspicion. In no time it grows even more complicated, like a house of cards imploding on itself, where a protracted series of lies meant to spare someone emotional grief only escalates, reaching a level of emotional hysteria previously unseen in Iranian films. Relying heavily on suspense, Farhadi unspools this extraordinary drama in sophisticated fashion, first creating the unsettled, murky waters of suspicion and distrust, then critiquing the morality of patronizing, overzealous social conventions while also exploring the male/female dynamic in modern Iran. It’s a masterful effort that moves from the sunny comforts of Èric Rohmer territory to the dark psychological realms of Hitchcockian suspense.
Less heralded Filmart screenings were much more satisfying. The best, and my favorite film I’ve seen so far this year, was About Elly. It is directed by Asghar Fahradi, and it won the Silver Bear at Berlin. I can’t say much about it without giving a lot away; like many Iranian films, it relies heavily on suspense. That suspense is at once situational (what has happened to this character?) and psychological (what are characters withholding from each other?). Starting somewhat in the key of Eric Rohmer, it moves toward something more anguished, even a little sinister in a Patricia Highsmith vein.
Gripping as sheer storytelling, the plot smoothly raises some unusual moral questions. It touches on masculine honor, on the way a thoughtless laugh can wound someone’s feelings, on the extent to which we try to take charge of others’ fates. I can’t recall another film that so deeply examines the risks of telling lies to spare someone grief. But no more talk: The less you know in advance, the better. About Elly deserves worldwide distribution pronto.
Jigsaw Lounge : Cluj film-festival report Neil Young
The first 20 minutes or so of this film are pure heaven. Sheer delight in existence laps from the screen into the audience as a group of old friends from university and their young children take a weekend break in an old house by the sea. They have brought with them a new acquaintance, Elly. She's been invited along by the lively Sepideh, who wants to introduce her to Ahmad, their friend back visiting from Germany, newly divorced. They pull out all the stops to be nice to Elly and encourage the two to get together, but she is strangely reluctant.
Screaming out loud for fun in a road tunnel, flying a kite on the beach, and just the exhilaration of being fit and young and happy with one's life and one's friends – it's heady stuff and wonderfully shot in verité style. It feels like reality we are watching, while also looking like a perfectly choreographed dance. So when a disaster happens, things begin to unravel, and a secret about Elly known only to Sepideh begins to surface, it hits the audience that much harder.
The latter part of the film in which Elly's secret is gradually brought to the surface is maybe a little too long in development, as trust between friends is betrayed. Elly's secret was, in the end, not such a big thing (though clearly something more profound in Iranian culture than it would be in European). The trouble resulting from it is brought about only by misunderstandings and misjudgement, but this in a subtle way makes the tragedy – of Elly of the relationships – more pitiful.
Western media typically presents Iran in reductive images of fundamentalist Islam, arid deserts, and threatening militarism. ABOUT ELLY quickly dispels these notions. A group of middle-class friends decide to spend a weekend with their families at a dilapidated seaside villa, and we see that their lives are not much different from our own. When the kindergarten teacher who is also invited along disappears suddenly, the film transitions from drama to psychological mystery. ABOUT ELLY raises many interesting questions both moral and sociological. How far will a person go with lies in order to protect the honor of another? What obligations do both men and women have to one another when the unthinkable occurs? The ramifications to these questions are devastating and life changing in the film. The interpersonal relationships presented are paramount to the film's emotional appeal and narrative. As the relationships degrade and the web of lies grows, the house lends itself as an apt metaphor for the characters themselves—dirty, broken, and hollow. Farhadi's use of muted, earthen colors only furthers the importance of everyone's baser urges and reactions. His mise en scene showcases short focal lengths to portray a sense of dishonesty when a character is out of focus or a sense of claustrophobia when true intentions are revealed. Water plays an important role in this film as well: the ever-crashing waves on the shores contribute to the relentless, foreboding feeling of dread that is omnipresent. Combined with the innocence of the children present, the bleak duality of man is fully realized. Dishonesty's ominous shadow casts largely as ulterior motives are actualized. ABOUT ELLY is one of the crown jewels of contemporary Iranian cinema. Its messages resonate powerfully long after the end credits roll.
Happiness, in the first half hour of “About Elly,” is passed around like the flu. A bunch of college friends get together for a weekend away, most of them with spouses and small children. The friends are no longer young, yet their spirits seem buoyantly high, and the movie is keen to join in—glancing at face after face, and eavesdropping on the overlapping chat. Characters dance without warning, answer a question with a line of song, and play charades. They have to shift from one rental villa to another, but the move doesn’t faze them, even though the new place has broken windows and no beds. Besides, it’s right on the beach. You can hear the crash of the surf.
At what point we realize that disaster awaits, and that these contented lives, like all lives, can be caught in a riptide, is hard to specify. Suffice to say that something happens, and that husbands, wives, and old pals who felt inseparable descend into a roiling recrimination. It’s difficult and upsetting to behold, but we shouldn’t be surprised; the director is Asghar Farhadi, who mapped out the pangs of divorce in “A Separation” (2011). “About Elly” was made two years before that, but only now is it being released, and, perhaps because the action is confined to Farhadi’s native Iran, it’s a better movie than “The Past” (2013), which was set, more tentatively, in Paris. Here, by the treacherous sea, Farhadi is at home, and, as is his custom, it is women who emerge from the crowd of characters and come, heavy-laden, to the fore.
One of them is Elly (Taraneh Alidoosti), the only single woman in the group, described as “warm and calm.” She is also inscrutable, and, when she recedes from the action, whereabouts unknown, the mystery darkens. She was invited by Sepideh (Golshifteh Farahani), who, despite barely knowing her, was hoping to marry her off to one of the guys. As the plot proceeds, we get an unnerving sense that the whole film, whose early stages bore such a modern and liberated ease, is gradually re-rooting itself in old, tenacious beliefs—in a world where honor and shame run deeper than the mere matter of whether a person is alive or dead. “About Elly” both clutches us tight and shuts us out, adding wave upon wave of secrets and lies. Charades were just the beginning.
At the end of act one in Asghar Farhadi’s gripping “About Elly,” the title character disappears. Elly (Taraneh Alidousti), a young school teacher, has gone on a weekend vacation with a group of thirtysomething professional couples from Tehran. She’s supposed to be looking after three little kids who’re playing on a beach, and suddenly she’s not there. That this vanishing sets up a mystery that propels the rest of the film has led to understandable critical comparisons to Antonioni’s “L’Avventura.”
Yet the scene that immediately follows our last glimpse of Elly reminded me of quite a different movie: Spielberg’s “Jaws.” Most of the vacationing adults are playing volleyball behind the villa where they’re staying when two of the aforementioned kids appear from the beach and start screaming about the third. It takes the grownups several beats to catch on, but when they do, they rush around the house, realize that the third kid, a little boy, is nowhere to be seen, and frantically begin plunging into the Caspian Sea’s crashing waves.
I won’t reveal how the scene ends, just that I can’t help but think Spielberg would admire Farhadi’s electrifying direction of it. As the Iranian men dash into the ocean, and their alarmed wives emerge from the house, everything is in motion: the characters, the water, the camera. We seem to be looking in every direction at once, desperately: up and down the beach, back toward the villa, even under the sea as it pounds forward violently. Farhadi’s orchestration of all these elements is complex and viscerally kinetic; few viewers will experience it without holding their breath at some point.
So what do we make of an Iranian film whose conceptual parameters are broad enough to span “L’Avventura” and “Jaws”? Perhaps we should begin by venturing that Asghar Farhadi is a new and conspicuously audacious kind of Iranian auteur. When Iranian directors such as Abbas Kiarostami and Mohsen Makhmalbaf began catching the world’s eye in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, it was for films that had obvious parallels to Euro-style cinematic modernism. Even when newer directors including Jafar Panahi and Majid Majidi gave a more commercial spin to this basic model from the late 90s onward, their work still spoke the language of the international art film.
Farhadi’s “A Separation” (2011) took a different tack, becoming the most successful Iranian film in history, as well as the first to win the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, thanks in part to innovations on two fronts. First, Farhadi’s Iranian cinematic models were not any of the aforementioned filmmakers but two cinematic masters who are less well known outside Iran: Dariush Mehrjiu (“Leila”), whose films often deal with Iran’s middle and upper classes; and Bahram Beyzaie (“The Travelers”), whose creative roots are in theater (as are Farhadi’s). Second, Farhadi admitted American influences including the likes of Elia Kazan and films such as “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
“About Elly” represents all the tendencies of Farhadi’s mature style as brilliantly as “A Separation,” yet it is not a successor to the latter film. It was made just before it and won the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival in 2009, but, due to complicated rights issues, was not released in the U.S. until now. Its belated appearance should be welcomed by cinephiles, as it offers solid proof of this writer-director’s distinctive gifts.
One of those is a way of dramatic structuring that’s like peeling an onion: the first layers we see seem familiar and self-evident, but the more layers we reach, the more complex the whole becomes. Here, the starting point is what seems like an entirely happy and carefree outing where three couples – many of whom have been friends since law school – motor out to the Caspian Sea for a holiday weekend. One wife has invited along pretty Elly, her daughter’s elementary school teacher, in obvious hopes of matching her with the excursion’s other singleton: Ahmad, a handsome friend who’s just returned from Germany after getting divorced.
For Americans who’ve seen few Iranian films, or only ones centered on the poor or dispossessed, the characters here will be striking. With their BMWs, faded t-shirts and constant joking around, they’re like cosmopolitan urbanites anywhere. Sure, we’re reminded of their Iranian-ness in their particular styles of music and dance and in the fact that the women all wear head-scarves throughout (something required by law of Iranian films) but even they are casual and stylish.
As in “A Separation,” there’s evidence of tension between this class of privileged professionals and the strata of poorer, more pious Iranians beneath them, but this is more peripheral than in the later film: e.g., the Tehranis pretend Elly and Ahmad are newlyweds in order not to offend the religious sensibilities of the rural folks who rent them the villa.
From that little white lie to other similar ones and the uncovering of various personal agendas: the peeling away of the onion skins reveals a continuing succession of hidden realities, and the ones that come after Elly’s disappearance are darker and cut deeper than those early on. But when I read that a writer in Sight & Sound has said all this constitutes “a critique of the lies and evasions that permeate Iranian society,” I can practically hear the groans coming from Farhadi, who has said in interviews that he doesn’t want to be one of those filmmakers who is expected “to explain Iran to the West.”
The filmmaker has, instead, clearly indicated that his goals in “About Elly” are far less sociopolitical than cinematic, stating that, “[D]irectors can no longer be content with force-feeding [audiences] a set of preconceived ideas. Rather than asserting a world vision, a film must open a space in which the public can involve themselves in a personal reflection, and evolve from consumers to independent thinkers.”
“Opening spaces” is precisely what Farhadi’s films do, both literally and figuratively. Indeed, the various ways great Iranian directors articulate visual space comprise one of the most fascinating and significant dimensions of Iranian cinema, from the contemplative and symbolic uses in some films to the poetic and documentary-like in others.
Farhadi’s way with space is more dynamic and consciously multi-layered, as well as technically virtuosic, enough so to recall “Jaws” or indeed “A Streetcar Named Desire.” To anyone going to see “About Elly,” I would say this: Notice the early scene where the four couples and three kids arrive at the villa with the boy whose family is renting it to them. See the way ace cinematographer Hossein Jafarian’s gliding hand-held camera takes in the disheveled rooms, glimpses the seascape through the windows and doors, and sets up an enormously complex and involving set of relationships between the characters by continually reframing them.
There are some great little moments here. Two quick shots of the host boy, for instance: in one, he glances out the front door at two kids on the beach, prefiguring the lost-child scene described above; in another, he gives a brief caustic look in reaction to one Tehran man’s silly dance – a statement of class differences as eloquent as any dissertation.
Farhadi is a masterful director of actors, and here he gets a range of precise, vivid performances from a cast that also includes Golshifteh Farahani, Peyman Moadi (“A Seperation”), Mani Haghighi and Shahab Hosseini. It might be argued that Farhadi doesn’t have any grand message, or “world vision” as he puts it. But to me, his way of revivifying cinema, and connecting its spaces to those of human hearts and minds, is vision aplenty.
Sight & Sound [Philip Kemp] April 24, 2014
“About Elly”: A masterful thriller - Salon.com Andrew O’Hehir
With About Elly, an Iranian Master Crafts Humane Suspense ... Alan Scherstuhl from The Village Voice
[Review] About Elly - The Film Stage Will McCord
Day 1 - Fipresci Home Blame Game, by Marcos Kurtinaitis
About Elly (Darbareye Elly) | Review | Screen Lee Marshall
About Elly | Movie Trailer, News, Cast, Interviews | SBS Movies Craig Mathieson
Observations on film art : A masterpiece, and others not to be ... Kristin Thompson
Asghar Farhadi's “About Elly” – Movie Review Christopher Bourne from Meniscus magazine
What About Elly? | Iranian.com Msabaye
About Elly | White City Cinema Michael Glover Smith
About Elly – review | Film | The Guardian Peter Bradshaw
About Elly' | The Japan Times Online Kaori Shoji
A SEPARATION (Jodaeiye Nader az Simin) B+ 91
aka: Nader and Simin, A Separation
Iran (123 mi) 2011 Official site
My finding is that your problem is a small problem. —Judge (Mohammad Ebrahimian)
A thoughtful, slowly developing film that is largely sustained by scenes set in small, inhabited rooms where people actually talk to one another, where in this film what they choose to openly acknowledge makes all the difference in the world, as tiny omissions are the secret ingredient that add essential drama to this often subdued story. Not sure why all the unanimous praise for this film, as his earlier efforts are equally superb, but it’s a small, completely unpretentious film, largely one giant squabble that opens the film and continues unabated until the supposed justice is rendered in the lingering final shot, told in an extremely realistic style, mostly through piercingly honest, nonstop dialog written by the director, where there are few traces of stylistic flourish, simply an exposé of everyday life, easily comparable to KRAMER VS. KRAMER (1979), though without the histrionic element, as this doesn’t highlight post divorce aftereffects, it deals with all the pre-divorce ramifications. In fact, had people paid attention, as there are opportunities for reconciliation all throughout this story, the results would largely be different. What makes this film so essential is the degree to which choices matter, and not in larger-than-life, long drawn out fights to the finish which are obviously contentious, but in the kind of ordinary talk that takes place every day in people’s lives. In this film, it’s the small moments that matter. Never passing judgment, which is key, the director allows people and their various points of view to interact, where the accumulation of small details eventually escalates into something larger and potentially life threatening, where all reason seems to explode into thin air and self-preservation takes over. While there are small, honorable moments throughout, they are matched by equally despicable moments of lies and deceit where human behavior can become an endurance test for the last one standing. What’s especially unusual is the high quality of acting by all represented parties, where no one really plays the lead, as everyone becomes equally significant, also the relaxed and informal view of Iranian justice at work, as there are no lawyers used and each side is free to speak directly to the judge or one another, but will be removed by a guard if they threaten violence.
Opening in an unpretentious room where a judge calmly listens to an otherwise well-educated and loving mother and father offer their disagreements about their family’s future, where the wife Simin (Leila Hatami) wants to take their teenage daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi, yes, daughter of the director) out of the country in pursuit of a better life, while the husband Nader (Peyman Moadi, who wrote the screenplay to Saman Moghadam’s excellent 2006 film CAFÉ SETAREH), agrees to let her go, if she insists, but their daughter stays with him, as he must stay to look after his own father who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. Since there is no unanimity of decision, the judge orders them to go home and work it out between themselves. What’s clear from the outset is that is something neither one of them intends to do, as Simin anxiously packs while Nader tries to find a housekeeper to look after his father during the day while he’s at work, both avoiding one another while their daughter sits in the corner and trembles. Perhaps the initial sympathy lies with the husband, as he can’t simply abandon his father, and the daughter has chosen to live with him, so the mother is the odd one out when she leaves, though never ventures far and remains involved. The beleaguered Razieh (Sareh Bayat) is the housekeeper, obviously over-challenged on the first day, as she can’t keep up with full-time demands of an incapacitated elderly patient and look after her own small daughter at the same time, where she’s stymied by the idea of having to clean up after he soils himself, wondering if it’s a sin, a violation of Islamic law which forbids the touching of any man except your husband. Her harrowing experience is made all the more difficult due to her own pregnancy, where lifting this guy around all day is just not possible, agreeing to stay on for a few days until they can find somebody else.
After the initial introduction of the principal characters, the rest of the film is a continual shift of truth and perception, where events occur that require lawful intervention, where the courts attempt to determine the truth, but the testimony offered may not be the full truth, where there’s an interesting difference in class division pitting a modern, more affluent family against a more oppressed, fundamentally religious, and economically challenged family, where friendships may sway a neighbor’s or family member’s testimony, where the injured parties feel slighted and dismayed at some of the counter accusations, where both sides continually place blame on others, rarely taking responsibility themselves, where escalating charges may be brought and people imprisoned. In this nightmarish scenario of quickly shifting events, the audience’s sympathies are challenged due to each individual’s circumstances, where the idea of blood money is raised, an ancient idea of reaching an honorable accord between families through the payment of money, which supposedly wipes the slate clean, but individuals have reservations, often hiding something from loved ones. The court has interests in pursuing the truth, investigating and interrogating various parties, each family has their own needs and interests, and there’s a moral or spiritual truth that each individual must answer to. All of these interests collide in a stunning web of moral complexity where no one wants to admit they’re wrong, or see someone wrongfully charged, but people take desperate measures, where children are used as battering rams in the pursuit of justice, where all they want is for their parents to stay together, no matter the cost. It’s an intricate design how all these pieces of the puzzle, when moved in a different manner, will result in a differing outcome. But how can anyone predict the future or know what’s best? And even once justice is rendered, is this any kind of acceptable outcome? A microcosm of society at large, this flawed and deeply humane view of how people’s lives and interests intersect becomes a highly personalized view of the pursuit of justice.
Don’t have any grand thesis about this one, except to say that it’s an exquisitely acted, ambiguous, believable portrait of a society where everything — religion, tradition, justice, gender politics, medicine, absolutely everything — is royally and perhaps irreversibly fucked up. Which can get tiresome, but Farhadi doesn’t push the theme, instead letting it emerge from tremendous drama both macro (the story has a relentless logic that seems to close in from all sides; it reminded me somewhat of a more tragic version of Mamet’s The Winslow Boy) and micro (every scene has an intense, painful energy). I can’t really overpraise the acting; Shahab Hosseini (Farhadi’s About Elly, which I now urgently need to see), in particular, blows the roof off the place as an unemployed, profoundly demoralized husband who has nothing left to lose except his sense of honor and justice. What seems like should be a tough sit for over two hours instead jets by.
Sweeping this year's Berlin Film Festival awards for Best Film, Best Actor (the entire male cast) and Best Actress (the entire female cast), A Separation finally positions writer-director-editor Asghar Farhadi at the forefront of international cinema. This gripping and consummately acted drama follows a pending divorce that sets a well-off family against a poor one, with competing versions of truth and responsibility in modern society. Instead of ironing out any ambiguities, Farhadi keeps revealing further hidden ones, while finding ways to orchestrate routine problems so that they realistically tell us about ourselves, without undue dramatic exaggerations. As the audience is thrown from one ostensibly harmless evasion to another, matters build in wrackingly truthful encounters to unexpected court charges. One secret is that the characters are real individuals rather than a collection of assumptions, aided by the splendid performances, especially by first-time actor Peyman Moaadi as the decent family man and by the director's own daughter Sarina Farhadi. The ghost of Jean Renoir hovers over all five of Asghar Farhadi's films, with approval and understanding of the unvarnished truths of human behavior, all those moments when the inner soul can no longer be concealed. As in his previous films Fireworks Wednesday and About Elly, Farhadi excels at keeping multiple perspectives spinning in the air believably, right down to the exquisitely judged ending, while the inherent tension and live energy of the camera freed from its tripod imparts an exciting immediacy. Farhadi picked up the jury prize in Abu Dhabi, while also collecting Variety's award as the Middle East Filmmaker of the Year. Not bad for a production made for $300,000 and crammed into realistic small spaces where people actually live. But once the drama takes off, nothing else matters.
Mike D’Angelo, Pt. I seen here
[Overwhelming in part, I think, because there really is no cinematic equivalent of Ibsen and Chekhov and O'Neill, and yet Farhadi has somehow conjured up a film worthy of such lofty comparisons without betraying the medium in the slightest. Those expecting to see a searing drama about the travails of a married couple will be as stunned as I was when the titular separation (which occurs in scene one) sets off a chain of apparently trivial events that gradually accumulate power, significance and complexity until they encompass nearly every aspect of not just Iranian society specifically but -- hate to drag out this hackneyed phrase, but it can't be helped -- the human condition in general. Just listing those aspects would require more time and energy than I've got at present, so let me highlight the one that had me furtively weeping throughout: I know of no other film so insightful about the ways that parents unwittingly manipulate and even emotionally terrorize their kids, always with the best of intentions and no recognition of the possible consequences. (To say that the final scene wrecked me would be an understatement.) And the Berlin jury did right in bestowing both of their acting prizes on the entire ensemble, which is pitch-perfect down to the smallest roles -- crucial, since it's in the nature of Farhadi's moral reckoning that there's no such thing as a minor character. (Nonetheless, I'd single out the casually astonishing Peyman Moaadi as best in show.) Really, the only possible knock on A Separation I can even fathom is that it's unmistakably a writer's movie, relying on an understated, purely functional visual scheme -- clearly by design, as About Elly was considerably more striking in that regard. Why distract from the sublime?]
A Separation Mike D’Angelo, Pt. II
Previously addressed here, though I now repudiate my assessment of its visual scheme as "purely functional" -- Farhadi has an elegant, fluid sense of how to organize chaotic human behavior for maximum expressiveness, one that extends well beyond his rather obvious (but still effective) strategy of placing physical barriers (usually glass) between characters in nearly every shot. (I think it seemed less impressive to me than About Elly the first time simply because this one takes place in the city, mostly indoors; it's hard to beat the seaside for ready-made grandeur.) Second viewing turned it into a slow-motion disaster movie, as I was even more cruelly aware of various points at which the entire mess could have been happily or at least tentatively resolved, if only various people were capable of looking past the blinders of their wounded pride or crippling fear. "I find that your problem is a small one," rules the judge in the opening scene, unwittingly opening the floodgates for an escalating series of ostensibly larger problems to muddy and distract; only Termeh, the teenage daughter, seems capable of cutting through all the self-involved bullshit and seeing what's really at stake, though even she winds up compromised when forced to join the adult world prematurely. Simply one of the most heartbreaking movies I've ever seen.
In these days of machine-tooled movies with machine-tooled characters it can’t be stated often enough that, when it comes to matters of the heart, simplest is often best. It's a lesson Hollywood has lost, but it crops up occasionally in movies from abroad and never more triumphantly than in “A Separation.” I think this Iranian movie by the writer-director Asghar Farhadi is the best film of the year.
The storyline is a prime example of how an artist can widen a small-scale domestic situation into an entire microcosm of society. Simin (Leila Hatami) wants to leave her husband Nader (Peyman Maadi), a middle-class bank employee, because he won’t go along with her desire to emigrate in search of better opportunities for their 11-year-old daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi, the director’s daughter). Nader feels obligated to stay with his aged father (Ali-Asghar-Shahbazi), who lives with them and has dementia, but we sense that there is also more to it. Even though he is comparatively secular and bourgeois by Iranian standards, he still partakes of the prevailing patriarchy. Prideful, he wants to call the shots.
With Simin living with her mother while Termeh stays behind with Nader, he hires Razieh (Sareh Bayat), a devout, chador-clad Muslim woman with a 4-year-old daughter, to look after his father. Razieh has not dared tell her hothead, out-of-work husband Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini) about her job; she also has not told Nader – or did she? – that she is pregnant. When Nader and Razieh scuffle, she accuses him of causing her subsequent miscarriage. The lawsuit that ensues, in which Nader is charged with murder and both sides grow increasingly vehement, plays out as a tragedy in which religion and the class system is as much on trial as the protagonists.
Farhadi keeps the story open-ended, so that we, as much as the characters, are unclear about what actually happened. We don’t see the details of the scuffle, nor are we privy to everything that was said between Nader and Razieh. Farhadi isn’t playing games with us. He wants us to recognize that, in the end, no one in this story is culpable; everyone is caught up in a situation spun dangerously out of control.
Razieh is perhaps the movie’s most conflicted character. When she is asked to bathe the naked, soiled old man, she fears the religious consequences and calls an Islamic hotline to seek permission. Razieh is devout and yet she may not be telling the truth about her confrontation with Nader in her testimony before the magistrate. She also holds back from her husband, who is so incensed at Nader that he begins harassing both him and Termeh.
Scared and bewildered, the girl, with her watchful, wary eyes, is pulled into the escalating warfare. Her bewilderment is as much about her father as it is about his accusers. He attempts to use her to his advantage in his defense, and her equivocations lead to consequences that can have no easy resolution – because life is like that.
Farhadi has said in an interview in the Los Angeles Times: “I have watched the film together with many audiences in different parts of the world and there have been a few people who see it as having a political point of view, others who see it as having a moral perspective, others who see it with a social aim, others who see it as reflecting ordinary day-to-day life. It can be any of these things.”
Or, more to the point, all of these things. “A Separation” describes the totality of this society. This is a world in which inevitably, inextricably, the religious and the secular, the social and the political are all one.
The irony here is that Farhadi has made a supremely evenhanded movie in a country notorious for clamping down on its filmmakers. The film is even the official Iranian entry for the foreign film Oscar.
Perhaps the Iranian authorities are cynically offering up “A Separation” as a propagandistic example of how liberal-minded they can be. And perhaps Farhadi, with all his talk about how the film can mean whatever you want it to mean, is playing his own diversionary game.
In the end, it's the film alone that matters. “A Separation” is not the work of a constrained artist. It’s a great movie in which the full range of human interaction seems to play itself out before our eyes. Grade: A (Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material.)
A Separation can't be divorced from Iranian politics Masoud Golsorhki from The Guardian, July 5, 2011
It does art a disservice to say it must work as a metaphor. Yet much Iranian cinema functions as such, for it has had to negotiate with censorship throughout its existence and develop a rich culture that relies on symbolism. Saying one thing and meaning another is an old tradition in the Persian arts. So when the deservedly celebrated Iranian film A Separation is reviewed by predominently western critics, the symbolism at work in this drama will barely be glimpsed.
In Asghar Farhadi's film a middle-class family is being thrown into tumult. Nadar and Simin are evidently still in love, but they argue bitterly about the state of their country and are torn between their loyalty to their daughter, Termah, and Nadar's ageing father, who is suffering from Alzheimer's and must stay in Iran. Simin is prepared to divorce Nadar. Anything to get Termah away from her home country.
The personal has never been so politicised as in contemporary Iran. State interference in the daily lives of Iranians is noted and commented on by many artists, but Farhadi's commentary is particularly authentic and incisive. Simin and Nadar represent the maternal feeling of flight and the paternal need to stay and fight for the cause: the Yin and Yang of the movement for reform. It's the same dilemma that has besieged and disabled generations of Iranians since the constitutional revolution almost 100 years ago: stay and suffocate or leave and be irrelevant.
The couple are young, professional and ambitious. What measure of meritocracy remains in Iran's version of crony capitalism favours them. They have the sophistication and the hustle you need to survive the rigours of Iranian society today. And their fictional struggle echoes the political struggle that we see in Iran today. Nadar's demand that Termah stand up for herself when she is short-changed by a garage worker, echoes the Green movement's question after the disputed presidential election: "Where is my change (vote)?"
On the other side of the class divide are Razieh (a woman Nadar hires to help care for his father) and her husband. They are the Iranian "wretched of the Earth" – the bottom of the heap. They provided the targets for the Shah's army and the cannon fodder that put a halt to Saddam's invasion. It's them that support Khamenei, and they are part of the bloc who voted for Ahmadinejad. Their life choices are limited to say the least. Their opportunity for flight is nil. In their world, democracy is a suspect, unaffordable luxury item.
For them the investment in the revolution is an investment against the worst excesses of unbridled capitalism. This is the couple that "has little to lose and [is] therefore able to gamble all", as the husband cries out in one scene. They are the couple whose agency for change is and will always be the critical weight in Iranian politics, whether in the ballot box or in the fight on the streets.
In the real world the Green movement is stalling because it brought too many from Farhadi's couple A and not enough from couple B on to its side. Not simply because there are way more Bs than As, but because couple A have stuff to fall back on (potential for emigration, material wealth to cash in moment of crisis) and couple B have only faith and an apparently endless ability for suffering.
Khamenei and Ahmadinejad both overestimate the reliability of this power base. This couple and this class are also capable of unravelling under pressure. The husband's propensity for violence is self-defeating. The religious devotion of the wife is a knife that will cut both ways. Each couple is made of two tendencies within each archetype and political tendency: fight or flee and religious devotion v class antagonism. But in the end fruits of ill-gotten gain are inedible for the devout.
The milestone around everyone's neck is Iran. That beloved country ennobled and imprisoned by history, exactly like Nadar's suffering father. The state power, represented by the judicial examiner who oversees Nadar and Simin's divorce case, presides over an opera of lies. He's unconcerned about the truth of the matter, but is hypersensitive when his credentials are called into question. The state apparatus is the fig leaf of efficiency, rationality and even, modernity in a system that is an ideological construct of the most absurd kind.
Farhadi is a great world film-maker and a giant of Iranian cinema. The age of esoteric films like those of Abbas Kiarostami and Mohsen Makhmalbaf (whose beautiful, enigmatic films win festival prizes abroad but remain unwatched at home) is ending. The time of dialectic Iranian cinema is beginning. Farhadi talks to arthouse critics abroad and large audiences at home. This work's role in contributing to the wider public dialogue that is determining the future of Iran should not be underestimated.
Senses of Cinema [Joseph Burke] December 19, 2011
Cinema | 'A Separation': At Sea in the City of Ten Million Tears ... Dan Geist from PBS, October 5, 2011
Critics At Large: A Separation: Marriage and Divorce – Iranian Style Shlomo Schwartzberg from Critics at Large
Filmcritic.com Chris Barsanti
How an Iranian film unites us all John Anderson from CNN, February 20, 2012
David Edelstein on 'A Separation' -- New York Magazine Movie ... David Edelstein
A Separation: When Worlds, and Actors, Collide Bilge Ebiri from They Live By Night
Separation, A - Reelviews Movie Reviews James Berardinelli
NYFF 2011: A Separation Mark Asch from The L magazine
Technorati.com [Cirina Catania] reporting from The Berlin Festival
Paste Magazine :: Feature :: World Cinema: Iran :: A Rich Tim Porter from Paste magazine, October 1, 2004
Asghar Farhadi Interview with the director by Artifical Eye (2011)
The Financial Times [Nigel Andrews] Nigel Andrews interviews the director, June 24, 2011
Reluctantly, an Iranian director becomes a symbol - latimes.com Steven Zeitchik interviews the dirctor from The LA Times, October 3, 2011
Read our Q&A with writer-director Asghar Farhadi David Fear interview with the director from Time Out New York, December 19, 2011
ASGHAR FARHADI, “A SEPARATION” | The Filmmaker Magazine ... Damon Smith interview with the director, December 28, 2011
'A Separation' probes Iranians' conflicted love for their country, says director Roshanak Taghavi interview with the director from The Christian Science Monitor, January 20, 2012
Iranian drama wins top prize at Berlin film festival Ben Child from The Guardian, February 21, 2011
The Guardian [Peter Bradshaw] June 30, 2011
A Separation – review Jason Solomons from The Observer, July 2, 2011
Islam, family overlap in 'Separation' - BostonHerald.com James Verniere
Review: A Separation - Reviews - Boston Phoenix Peter Keough
Iran's political struggle hits the box office - The Washington Post Thomas Erdbrink, The Washington Post, June 24, 2011
'A Separation' review: Till tragedy us do part Amy Biancolli from The SF Chronicle
Iran's 'A Separation' bringing people together - Los Angeles Times Mark Olsen, December 11, 2011
France Italy (113 mi) 2013
One thing for sure is
the eye popping beauty of Bérénice Bejo as Marie, a
fiercely independent woman who runs circles around everyone else in the film
with her intelligence, quick temper, and fiery personality, all traits that are
nearly non-existent in Iranian films, where combative women may behave that way
around children or other women, but remain firmly under the patriarchal boot of
male oppression. But this is
As the title indicates,
the past has a way of wreaking havoc on the present if you’re not careful, and
this film is literally a spiritual barrage of haunting moments from the past
that have a way of continually altering the landscape, where one never arrives
at the desired future, as they’re too busy putting out the fires still burning
from the past. Ahmad
(Ali Mosaffa) is returning to France after a four-year absence living in Iran, where
the reasons are not entirely clear at first, but Marie (Bejo) wants to finalize
a divorce as she’s living with another man, Samir (Tahar Rahim), who runs a dry
cleaning business. Marie has two
children, a self-absorbed teenager Lucie (Pauline Burlet) and young Léa (Jeanne
Jestin), while Samir has a brooding young son Fouad (Elyes Aguis) who is about
Léa’s age, offering her a playmate.
Rather than stay at a hotel, Ahmad arrives in the thick of an unraveling
domestic drama where Lucie’s overt hostility towards Samir means she’s refusing
to speak to her mother for choosing him, claiming she can’t live under the same
roof, as the father figures in her life have never been very reliable. And while Marie is dead set on marrying
Samir, convinced that he is finally the right guy in her life, she invites
Ahmad directly into this continuing family melodrama, suddenly finding himself
trapped in a whirlwind of conflict and regret, where in fairness all he can do
is show sympathy to all sides. While
Marie is continually flustered by the daily upheaval of relentless struggle,
where she is associated with problems of her own making, Ahmad is seen as the
noble peacemaker, even though he has abandoned his family, which set the stage
for exactly what’s happening, as there are repercussions. Nonetheless, as staged by Farhadi, Ahmad
never loses his temper, is always seen as evenhanded, where he plays a
soft-spoken man of wisdom offering his insight, as if he’s the long lost man of
reason. Like the struggles with Iranian
paternalism, the tables are turned against Marie even in
Unlike Arbor in Clio Barnard’s The Selfish Giant (2013), the violently hyperactive child from a dysfunctional family that can’t communicate with anyone in authority, trusting no one, where Barnard builds a realist structure around his inability to communicate, Farhadi’s disobedient children throwing temper tantrums open up instantly to the calm and measured approach from Ahmad, where they’re perfectly able to articulate the nature of their problems and concerns, so long as someone is willing to listen to them, and so long as that someone is Ahmad and not Marie. Don’t you think there’d be some build up of resentment and mistrust after their father has abandoned them for four years, yet here in Farhadi’s world they continually answer honestly and openly, showing no difficulty whatsoever with his long absence. If only divorce and parenting were that easy. But here Farhadi gives Ahmad a free and open road, as he’s free to leave at any time, no questions asked, where he’s the noble hero, while Marie is forced to stew in her own misery and endure all the insults and obstacles that Farhadi places in her way, as he’s the writer of the story. This feels blatantly unfair and slanted throughout, as Ahmad is extend
ed the benefit of sympathy, while Marie’s turbulence is having the world turn against her, in ways she could never anticipate, yet this is the world she initially chose with her own free will as the one she was convinced would make her happiest. She’s the one that has to face the cluster bombs of resentment and she’s the one without even a hint of help or support, as she’s forced to fight all her own battles alone. While it has the feeling of theatrical authenticity, filled with struggling characters that face moments of intense reality, Farhadi really stacks the deck against Marie and pulls the strings on this one. It’s a stinging rebuke of social realism, creating something of a downbeat world where all around her everything is sinking into an empty moral crevasse, where her world is perhaps best expressed by the horrified stares of trembling children peeking around the corners as the adults they feel safest with angrily self destruct before their eyes, bringing with them the uncontrollable, heavy-laden trauma of the past.
For those who found Asghar Farhadi’s last film, A Separation, more of a screenwriter’s movie than a director’s movie, his new one, the Paris-set, French-language The Past, may well prove to be even more frustrating in that regard. In A Separation, there was that one cutaway from a grandfather crossing a busy street to an unrelated event that some found indicative of an overly schematic quality to Farhadi’s writing, with that glaring elision paying off in a big twist late in the film. If anything, The Past is even more predicated on deliberate omissions and payoffs, giving off a feeling of an overt tidiness of construction battling with its sense of realism.
And yet, for the most part, I’m inclined to give Farhadi more of a pass than I might be with other filmmakers of this sort, mostly because of the unsentimental yet soulful humanist vision his films express, one that, more often than not, transcends such relatively technical matters. “The terrible thing is, everybody has their reasons,” Jean Renoir famously uttered in his 1939 classic The Rules of the Game, and aside from its excellence as a piece of storytelling, the brilliance of A Separation lay in Farhadi’s sympathetically clear portrayal of the various characters’ motives, offering all sides and thus making the human drama that much more compelling and, in the end, heartbreaking.
Those virtues are very much in abundance in The Past, which functions as a kind of spiritual sequel to A Separation in its clear-eyed depiction of the fallout of a divorce in all its agonizing emotional complexities, in this case manifesting themselves in the form of inward and outward resentments; shifting loyalties; and buried secrets, both literal and psychological, that are dragged, kicking and screaming, out into the open. All of these are the elements of a classic domestic melodrama, and essentially that is what The Past is. Thanks to Farhadi’s sensitive attention to character nuances, however—helped in no small measure by the intensely committed performances from its cast—the film, more often than not, transcends its soapy trappings and becomes terrifically involving, at times even devastating.
Which is why the overtly schematic moments that don’t entirely come off in The Past stick out like sore thumbs; its last 20 minutes, especially, with the sudden reemergence of a seemingly minor character and her own skeletons, seem more contrived than anything in A Separation. Farhadi’s thematic reach may exceed his grasp this time around, but once again he finds a beautifully inconclusive note on which to end his film. These characters may not be able to completely forget their pasts, but what make us more human than the memories we hold onto, however painful?
As was the case with his Oscar-winning
domestic drama, A Separation, Asghar Farhadi's The Past
preoccupies itself with divorce and familial discord, unfolding as an astutely
realized dialogue piece with the revelation of secrets and subsequent moral
ambiguity making a minor mystery out of it all. The setting has changed —
Farhadi has thrust an Iranian protagonist into a French landscape — but the
traditionalist social critique has not, reiterating the director's auteur
trajectory of reactionary thinking as a political and artistic message.
This time, the story starts with Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) returning to France after several years, having abandoned wife Marie (Bérénice Bejo) and her two daughters, Léa (Jeanne Jestin) and Lucie (Pauline Burlet), for the familiarity of the Iranian social climate. Farhadi, setting up his template of exploring reactions before providing their reasons, doesn't reveal his purpose or their relationship for some time, gradually letting it slip that Marie is desperate for a divorce now that she has Samir (Tahar Rahim), a married man whose wife is in a coma, in her life.
Why his wife is in a coma and why Marie is so eager for a divorce are left on the periphery initially, just as Lucie's overt hostility and the irreverent aggression of Samir's son, Fouad (Elyes Aguis), remain a mystery, propelling the human drama while hinting at the promise of something bigger from the titular past looming beneath the surface.
In this capacity, The Past doesn't disappoint, having an endless series of revelations that ultimately lead to bigger questions and additional digging. Our entry point comes from the perspective of Ahmad — the outsider — as he tries to fit together the many pieces keeping this fragmented, makeshift family at odds.
At first, this structure has some appeal, being formulaic in its cyclic nature, but rewarding the audience with added tidbits of information every time a squabble is resolved by the divulgence of a secret. However, seeing as the film runs for over two hours and, like A Separation, has little action or music to break up the endless talking, the repetition becomes tedious, taking itself far too seriously to have the intended effect.
Essentially, as the many pieces start to fit together and the relationship foundations between Marie and Samir are discussed openly, everything starts to feel very much like the sort of melodrama Almodovar is known for, only without the sense of humour or flashy aesthetic appeal. Played straight, the intensity of the acting is clear, as are the political implications — Farhadi firmly believes that people should remain married, even if it makes them and everyone around them miserable — but there's a void where integrity should be.
The story, while not ludicrous unto itself, unfolds as such, milking emotional reactions from the perpetually crying and screaming cast without any breaks for levity. That everyone would conveniently spill their guts about their guilt and inner moral conflicts so specifically, sharing a bit of information and then waiting for a blow out before revealing another perspective changing point, isn't likely. Since Farhadi plays it all so straight, not allowing the sense of reality to shift enough for the audience to suspend belief or indulge in the versatility of the medium, it eventually becomes ludicrous and frustrating.
Still, as an intricately designed tale that allows its characters to reveal motivations through emotional range and reaction, The Past is exceptional, observing the details — what people wear, how they stand and what they're allergic to — with a keen, consistent eye. In particular, the handling of child actors in relation to their damaged, emotionally unavailable parental figures has an eerie realness that's particularly evident during scenes bordering on abuse.
In trying to depart from the subtlety of A Separation, making a slightly more sensationalized and universal story, Farhadi has sacrificed his strengths, sticking with the style he knows despite diving into a genre that requires more flexibility with the concept of reality versus storytelling.
While flawed, The Past is an interesting and occasionally compelling misstep that foreshadows greater things to come from a very talented, albeit terrifyingly solipsistic filmmaker.
Film Comment [Emma Myers] November/December 2013
Like his previous film, A Separation, Asghar Farhadi’s The Past begins with a deceptively straightforward divorce. Returning to Paris from Tehran to legally terminate his marriage after a four-year absence, Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) learns that his wife, Marie (Bérénice Bejo), has been living with another man, Samir (Tahar Rahim). Papers may be signed with minimal fuss but the past cannot be so easily buried, and once again the Iranian director creates an opportunity to showcase his striking ability to use multiple perspectives to tell an infinitely complex story.
Making little use of the suburban Parisian backdrop, Farhadi opts instead for a chamber drama that is as tightly packed as Marie’s rickety old house. In addition to two children from a previous relationship—petite Léa (Jeanne Jestin) and teenage Lucie (Pauline Burlet)—Samir’s young son Fouad (Elyes Aguis) also lives there, reluctantly. For better and worse, the presence of the even-tempered Ahmad sets the already precarious household off balance as he simultaneously mediates and instigates familial problems large and small.
Despite the obvious conflict of interest, Ahmad is able to assuage the furrow-browed Fouad when he throws his violent tantrums and to coax information from an increasingly moody Lucie. Vehemently disapproving of her mother’s latest relationship, Lucie explains that Samir’s wife is in a coma due to an attempted suicide—a suicide she believes to have been catalyzed by her mother’s affair with Samir. But as far as Marie is concerned, this tragic turn of events was merely the grim culmination of the woman’s long battle with depression, and she can furnish a witness to prove it: the illegal immigrant (Sabrina Ouazani), whom Samir employs at his dry cleaning business.
Much like A Separation, the story spirals, whodunit style, around the blame of the suicide—and around and around—propelled forward and nudged backward as details of past events are revealed and contradicted. As each character attempts to offload their sense of guilt onto someone else, Farhadi further elucidates the elusive nature of truth itself. Forcing his characters into moral gray zones, the director weakens the notion of objectivity, allowing the viewer’s allegiances to shift freely among the household’s denizens—even if as individuals, none of them is particularly sympathetic.
Dispensing with A Separation’s primarily handheld aesthetic, The Past demonstrates a thoroughgoing commitment to stillness. While its visual style mirrors the characters’ sometimes frustrating inability to move forward, the careful framing of bodies and faces—whether crammed into doorways or dim hallways—emphasizes private moments of interiority and noncommunication.
Despite a number of melodramatic ingredients—comas, hidden pregnancies, torrential downpours, and secret missives, among others—the film remains subtly understated, thanks in large part to the impeccable cast. Shaking off the plucky flapper she played in The Artist, Bejo is particularly impressive as the hot-tempered Marie and is well paired here with the soft-spoken Mosaffa, who exudes a paternal calm. Rahim, as always, brings a quiet but subtly dangerous power to the screen as Samir, while Burlet demonstrates maturity beyond her young years as the emotionally fraught Lucie.
Though The Past may lack its predecessor’s gripping sense of urgency (the 130-minute running time does not go unnoticed), it is precisely its circuitous structure that imbues the film with a sense of unadorned reality. Never leaning on flashbacks or expository dialogue, Farhadi doesn’t pit the past against the present so much as he presents the two as inextricably—and rather bleakly—linked. If the past can only become clear in the present, what hope does that leave for the future?
Tough acts to follow: The Past and Stranger by the Lake - BFI Geoff Andrew at Cannes from Sight and Sound, May 18, 2013
The Past / The Dissolve Scott Tobias
The Past from Iran’s Asghar Farhadi: Something of a disappointment David Walsh from The World Socialist Web Site
Eric Kohn at Cannes from indieWIRE
Indiewire [Kevin Jugernauth] The Playlist
First look: An Iranian director takes on Western morality Andrew O’Hehir at Cannes from Salon, May 18, 2013
The Past Lee Marshall at Cannes from Screendaily
The Past | Film Review | Spectrum Culture Jesse Cataldo
Movie Review - 'The Past' - From An Oscar Winner, A ... - NPR Bob Mondello from NPR
The Past (Blu-ray) : DVD Talk Review of the Blu-ray Justin Remer
Cannes 2013, Day Two: Iranian director Asghar Farhadi chases A Separation with another stunning drama Mike D’Angelo from The Onion A.V. Club
Fabien Lemercier at Cannes from Cineuropa
Richard Corliss at Cannes from Time magazine
Jordan Hoffman at Cannes from Film.com
Film-Forward.com [Kent Turner] Cannes winners
The Atlantic [Jon Frosch] 10 films from Cannes 2013
Owen Gleiberman at Cannes from Entertainment Weekly
Justin Chang at Cannes from Variety
Nick Vivarelli from Variety
The Past Dave Calhoun at Cannes from Time Out London
Cannes 2013: The Past – review | Film | guardian.co.uk Peter Bradshaw at Cannes from The Guardian, May 17, 2013, also seen here: The Guardian [Peter Bradshaw]
Robbie Collin at Cannes from The Telegraph
The Past Movie Review & Film Summary (2013) | Roger Ebert Godfrey Cheshire
Only Connect: Cannes Report, May 17 | Cannes | Roger Ebert Barbara Scharres at Cannes from The Ebert Blog
'The Past,' With Bérénice Bejo, Directed by Asghar Farhadi ... Manohla Dargis from The New York Times
THE SALESMAN (Forushande) C+ 78
Iran France (125) 2016 Official site [UK]
I don’t say he’s a great man. Willy Loman never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper. He’s not the finest character that ever lived. But he’s a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He’s not to be allowed to fall into his grave like an old dog. Attention, attention must be finally paid to such a person.
—Linda Loman from Death of a Salesman, by Arthur Miller, 1949
The failed American Dream — Iranian style, with writer/director Farhadi appropriating the Arthur Miller play Death of a Salesman into Iranian society, becoming a chronicle of the Iranian middle class, with negligible results. While there are those that continually overpraise Farhadi’s expertise at either writing, directing, or both, but don’t expect that here, as this is easily the least interesting and most blatantly obvious of his films, where the mere act of combining American and Iranian cultural attributes into a single work seems to win him plenty of acclaim, given kudos for trying, but films are not peace negotiations to be viewed at the United Nations, they are instead expressions of the human soul, where this effort is lackluster and often infuriating, reminiscent of Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve’s failed attempt to make a Hollywood film in Prisoners (2013), as both descend into a dark place of male dominance and overreaction. Winner of two awards at Cannes, the Best Screenplay for Farhadi and Best Actor prize for Shahab Hosseini, the film continues his legacy for making socially relevant films, FIREWORKS WEDNESDAY (2006), A Separation (Jodaeiye Nader az Simin) (2011), The Past (Le Passé) 2013), and 2015 Top Ten List #10 About Elly (Darbareye Elly), a film that was actually completed in 2009 but not released until six years later, all made within a context of other Iranian directors facing police arrest, the likes of which include Jafar Panahi, who remains under a 6-year house arrest, as well as a 20-year ban on making or directing any movies, writing screenplays, giving any form of interview with Iranian or foreign media, as well as leaving the country except for Hajj holy pilgrimages to Mecca, Mohammad Rasoulof, currently out on bail awaiting a one-year sentence, Mohsen Makhmalbaf and recently deceased Abbas Kiarostami on self-imposed exiles from Iran due to the repressive nature of the government, while artist-activist Atena Farghadani was sentenced to a 12-year prison sentence for posting a cartoon on her Facebook page, with legislators depicted with animal heads, in protest of legislation to restrict birth-control and make divorce more difficult in her country, and the nation’s most renowned artist, sculptor Parviz Tanavoli, had his passport revoked recently the day before he was scheduled to speak to a British Museum — all of which suggests Farhadi walks a fine line.
While many felt The Past (Le Passé) was a misstep, or among his weakest efforts, yet that is a film challenged by the brilliance of Bérénice Bejo, who is arguably his most fiercely independent character in any of his films, exhibiting a combative nature that is nearly non-existent in Iranian films, as they remain firmly under the patriarchal boot of male oppression. Unfortunately, Farhadi writes a one-sided, male-friendly script that undermines her character throughout, limiting the options available to her. To a large extent, that same problem reoccurs here in another male-dominated film featuring more submissive female characters. This is beginning to be a glaring omission in Farhadi’s works, where there is little evidence to suggest this is even a concern to him. By appropriating a Pulitzer Prize-winning American play that is considered a milestone in American theater, largely due to the profound depths of the tragedy, Farhadi is suggesting a failed patriarchal system is a common attribute of both American and Iranian societies, yet our histories and the way each nation treats women today is substantially different, as the 1949 play was written to represent a postwar society that was coming to terms with the promise of new ideals, where financial success was viewed as the measure of a successful life, at the expense of all other interests, like love, family, knowledge, community, and personal fulfillment, something many overlooked in the 1950’s, which was considered an era of prosperity in America, yet not necessarily one of happiness, as evidenced by Richard Yates’ excruciatingly personal 1961 novel Revolutionary Road (made into a 2008 film by Sam Mendes) depicting a shattered portrait of the idealized 50’s male-centric marriage, one that disintegrated into marital dysfunction as it denied aspirations for women. The 60’s ushered in new hopes and dreams, such as equal opportunities for women, calls for an end to racial discrimination, poverty, and the war in Vietnam, while advocating greater social justice in an attempt to create a more equal society. All this is part of the legacy of the play, as it represents a last gasp of the American Dream that continually needs to be resuscitated and fought for with each successive generation. The central question to be asked is whether Farhadi is the man to carry this humanist torch in Iran, which is an Islamic society, or other places around the world under their reach. The sad truth happens to be no, at least so far, based on the evidence provided, as the women in Farhadi’s films continue to be portrayed as if we’re still living in the 1950’s.
Like Roman Polanski’s most recent film Venus in Fur (La Vénus à la fourrure) (2013), this one also begins and ends on an empty stage, coming to life with a theatrical performance of Miller’s play, quickly blending real life into the lives of the fictional characters seen onstage, a device that frames the story, where we enter the stormy marriage of the two leads in the play, Willy Loman and his wife Linda, played by Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana, Taraneh Alidoosti, who played Elly in 2015 Top Ten List #10 About Elly (Darbareye Elly). Opening in a state of flux, with dizzying handheld camera shots, we are introduced to the couple as people in their building are being warned the building is about to fall, where all residents must immediately evacuate, as it is believed to be an earthquake, though the damage is actually caused by a building construction bulldozer that is destabilizing the foundation. Nonetheless, it sets an ominous tone that the comfort of one’s home may be disrupted at any time by external events. Emad is a high school literature teacher who promises to bring his class to a performance of the play, which they’ve never heard of, but we see the cast and crew rehearse in the evenings, where already government censors are demanding cuts in the play. When one of the cast members discovers the lead couple are homeless and in need of an apartment, Babak (Babak Karimi) offers them an empty apartment in a building he owns in Tehran, allowing them to move in immediately. Strangely, the previous tenant has left behind personal belongings in a locked room, which initially irritates Rana, as they need the space, while Emad takes a calmer approach, allowing events to naturally unfold. A catastrophic event triggers the story, as Rana opens the door from the buzz of an intercom, believing it is her husband, while returning to the bathroom to shower, but is instead viciously attacked, happening entirely offscreen, where we see traces of bloody footprints, shattered glass in the bathroom, while Rana has been taken to the hospital, apparently helped by neighbors. The details of this event remain obscure, as Rana is herself confused by what happened and doesn’t want to talk about it, obviously emotionally shattered and traumatized by the experience, where she’s afraid to use the shower or be left alone in the building. Emad, on the other hand, is more outraged by his own increasing suspicions, not to mention the dishonor and family embarrassment, where he’s more concerned about exacting revenge than the fragile state of his wife, who attempts to return to the stage, but freezes in a scene where the character of Willy Loman is particularly brutal to her, one of the more affecting scenes in the film.
Strangely, Rana disappears from view, much as she did in 2015 Top Ten List #10 About Elly (Darbareye Elly), as she is removed from the cast, unfortunately spending most of her time all alone, where Emad seems to lose patience with having to deal with her continual fears and anxieties, perhaps viewing her as “damaged goods.” The entire thrust of the film shifts into Emad’s shadowy state of mind, as we observe the unraveling of a man, far from the sympathetic, fairly level-headed guy seen in the beginning, as he ventures into vigilante territory, losing sight of his own teachings and beliefs, where he drifts into a darkened interior state. Becoming obsessed with following clues of her attacker, never reporting any of this to the authorities, as Rana doesn’t wish to relive this experience over and over again, Emad goes on a personal one-man crusade, as he scours the neighborhoods in search of the culprit, knowing little about their personal identity, but they did leave traces behind. Mirroring this is an event that takes place in his classroom, where he falls asleep while screening a movie about a man who strangely turns into a cow, Dariush Mehrjui’s THE COW (1969), arguably the first film of the Iranian New Wave, where his students show no interest whatsoever in the film, but are fascinated by their sleeping teacher, taking pictures on their smartphones in a festive party atmosphere. When he awakes, somewhat embarrassed and humiliated, he angrily attempts to shift the blame to one of the students, appropriating his phone, inspecting the contents, offering a stern moral rebuke about his behavior that needs to be shared with his father, only to learn his father died years earlier. This wild goose chase of an impromptu classroom investigation turns disastrous, showing a mean streak in Emad, one who has lost faith in his own principles and is instead crudely striking out blindly at others in the dark. In much the same manner, he tracks down the home invader, becoming obsessed with exacting justice, even as his wife objects, claiming this is more than she can handle, as she no longer recognizes her husband anymore. While previous works also felt implausible and overly contrived, but unlike others, this film lacks an emotional connection to the blind irrationality of the husband, who goes off the deep end in his intent to punish the perpetrator. It’s a sad exhibition of an overdetermined finale, where Emad himself grows more morally repugnant, forgetting his connection to his wife, or anyone else, where his own personal humiliation is the key to revenge, as the man who caused it must suffer even more, driving the point into the ground, becoming a mad dog, where he literally becomes the “damaged goods.” While the final events are disturbing, they are all too predictable, like a robot on auto pilot, exerting no reflection, where the sins of the self-righteous allow their own pride to blind them to the consequences. Unlike Willy Loman, who made a living genuinely convincing people to buy things they didn’t really need, Emad assumes the role of a salesman, but by the end has nothing left to sell.
Film Comment: Jonathan Rosenbaum August 22, 2016
And Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman adeptly showcases his commercial skill in extracting moral nuances from his carefully calibrated storytelling, once again privileging a woman’s viewpoint without ever quite sharing it or exploring it.
Cinema Scope: Mark Peranson June 27, 2016
But the world didn’t end, as at least Dolan didn’t win. Debatably, Juste la fin du monde was actually the jury’s third favourite, as for some reason they opted to give two prizes to The Salesman, for Best Actor (should have stopped right there) and Screenplay—because of course nothing says Best Screenplay like a typically overwritten, dramatically implausible, and often infuriating Asghar Farhadi film.
Cinema Scope: Richard Porton September 02, 2016
“Attention must be paid”—the most famous line from Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman might well sum up the narrative trajectory of Asghar Farhadi’s latest. The protagonists of The Salesman are both performers in an amateur production of Miller’s play that functions as a de facto framing story, and the late American playwright’s liberal humanism meshes well with Farhadi’s agenda. Both Farhadi and Miller are fond of schematic narratives and cannily deployed didacticism; the strengths and weaknesses of this sort of social realism are crucial to assessing the muddled aesthetic achievement of a film that doesn’t replicate the impact of A Separation (2011), the director’s finest achievement, but avoids the embarrassing histrionics of his previous (and weakest) film, The Past (2013).
A masterful chronicle of the Iranian middle class, The Salesman depicts a crisis in the stormy marriage of Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti). After quickly escaping a collapsing building that is an omen of more turbulence to come, the misleadingly serene couple move into a new apartment that serves as the focal point for one of Farhadi’s trademark marital squabbles. When a mysterious intruder assaults Emad’s wife, this seemingly mild-mannered schoolteacher becomes something of a vigilante. As he finally confronts his wife’s attacker, his sadistic streak comes to the fore. It soon becomes clear that Emad, who is as contemptuous towards his victimized wife as he is towards her victimizer, is suffering from a bad case of male hubris. Even though this realization is driven home rather ploddingly, the expert performances of the two leads make the film worth seeing.
CIFF Review: Asghar Farhadi's 'The Salesman' – Vague Visages Michael Snydel
Iranian master Asghar Farhadi’s latest film, The Salesman, begins with the closest thing to an action set piece in the director’s entire filmography. Opening in a rumbling apartment, Emad (Shabab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) scramble to pick up anything they can carry before leaving their home. Giant cracks are appearing in the walls, and it seems like they’re in the middle of national disaster. The camera frantically follows as other tenants are rushing out of their own homes, and Emad is called by a neighbor to help her young son, who’s still groggy in bed. As it turns out, the problem is far more organic — a bulldozer in the adjacent lot has damaged the integrity of the building — but the stage has been set for a Farhadi film that’s more rooted in the physical than the metaphysical.
Akin to much of the director’s work ranging from Fireworks Wednesday to A Separation, The Salesman falls into Farhadi’s concerns of the overlap between the personal and political and the private and intimate. His past films have shown how a single choice could precede a narrative of misconceptions, but while The Salesman is again built on a foundational misunderstanding, its plot machinations are determined by explicit action at every turn. At their most fluid, the narratives of past Farhadi films move like a series of falling dominoes, but The Salesman feels notable in that it’s motivated by direct actions — decisions that are both righteous and self-centered.
After abandoning their home at the beginning of the film, Emad and Rana begin looking for a new place to live, but they have no luck until a mutual friend, Babak (Babak Karimi), tells them that his renter was evicted, and that they are welcome to move in until they find a more permanent place. It’s not an ideal situation. Nearly all of the rooms of the house still have leftover belongings from the previous renter, including a child’s room, which is eerily filled with discarded toys. But Emad and Rana need somewhere to live. By day, Emad is teaching, and at night, Emad and Rana are both starring in a rendition of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman.”
All of this is just set-up for the main ethical inquiry of The Salesman. The nature of the event is best left vague as it’s deeply wrapped up in Iranian cultural mores, wounded interpersonal relationships and twists of fate, but it’s enough to say that it involves Rana being traumatized while Emad is out. But unlike most Farhadi films, the subsequent narrative is less about sussing out the effects of that event on their relationship than specifically how Emad reacts to the crime and attempts to compensate for his failure to be there.
That’s not to say there aren’t immediate repercussions as well as Rana grows more anxious with each passing day. She doesn’t get enough time on screen, but Alidoosti’s performance is painfully believable in her subtle mounting fear towards her own apartment and the realization of her own fragility. A scene where she refuses to use the bathroom (where the event happened) feels deeply moving exactly because it doesn’t require a theatrical monologue about her grief.
There’s an unspoken tension as well between the film’s intention and its form here as well. Farhadi’s films have sometimes been tricky for me as a Western viewer, as it’s difficult to know what’s considered conventional social perception and what’s considered political commentary. But there’s an uneasiness in The Salesman being about the dangers of co-opting someone’s emotional distress while also placing its central perspective with Emad. That may in fact be the purpose, but there’s still a question about whether Rana’s perspective should be more prominent in the film, even as Emad’s perspective involves far more incident.
Instead, Rana’s rehabilitation period is kept to a short part of the running time while the camera focuses on Emad as he plays detective, and follows the clues around the event like a phone that was left in the apartment and a mysterious truck that’s parked nearby. For a long time, these scenes are just extensions of Farhadi’s patent skills of observation, but they’re worth discussing for their different visual language.
There’s still a uniform rigor to Farhadi and cinematographer Hossein Jafarian’s (About Elly, Fireworks Wednesday) compositions, but there’s also a more unsettled movement to the angles and shot choices. It never reaches the point of handheld camera work, but there’s a number of scenes where the camera moves in streaks, foreshadowing the thriller leanings of the last act. And when Farhadi folds together the internal narrative of the film and the on-stage conflict of Death of A Salesman, there’s a dreaminess and acknowledgement of artificiality that feels distinctly more visually playful.
This all adds up to a film that’s inordinately crowded for a director who prefers streamlined narratives — and that’s not even decoding any of the larger views of purity or patriarchal responsibility that come into play. But while the film suffers from its attempt to manage so many elements, it also feels profoundly different than the rest of the director’s work in the ways it feels so active rather than emergent. Similarly, the aspect of the play brings a different feel to the film.
Sometimes it’s as obvious as Emad and Rana playing out their domestic distress too realistically on stage. But by the end, the play and context of the film intertwine completely to show that even closure is something that’s always in our control.
Iran: A Private Agony Christopher de Bellaigue from The New York Review of Books, January 25, 2017
Little White Lies: David Jenkins May 22, 2016
Filmmaker: Vadim Rizov September 07, 2016
Cannes 2016: 'The Salesman' + 'Elle' | PopMatters Elena Razlagova
Revenge and Shame Dustin Chang from Floating World
Previewing the 52nd Chicago International Film Festival – Week One Daniel Nava from Chicago Cinema Circuit
The Salesman (2016) MIFF Movie Review: Farhadi, You've Done It ... Chloe Sesta Jacobs from Grafitti Without Punctuation
TIFF 2016: The Salesman Review | Dork Shelf Michael McNeely
The Village Voice: Bilge Ebiri May 23, 2016
The A.V. Club: Mike D'Angelo Cannes predictions, May 21, 2016
Observations on Film Art: Kristin Thompson October 15, 2016
Daily | Cannes 2016 | Asghar Farhadi's THE SALESMAN | Keyframe ... David Hudson from Fandor
Interview: Asghar Farhadi on His New Film, The Salesman Dustin Chang interview from Floating World, January 25, 2017
Cannes 2016: The Salesman, film review – Compelling reflections on ... David Sexton from The London Evening Standard
Asghar Farhadi's new film goes deep into shame and vengeance in Iran Los Angeles Times
Review: In 'The Salesman,' Scenes From a Marriage in Tehran A.O. Scott from The New York Times
THE SMELL OF CAMPHOR, THE SCENT OF JASMINE (Booye kafoor, atre yas) A 95
SMELL OF CAMPHOR, FRAGRANCE OF JASMINE Steve Erickson from Chronicle of a Passion
The Farrelly brothers put a more sentimental spin on their trademark gross-out/arrested adolescent schtick, wresting the issue of fatness from the feminists and kicking it into the comedy arena with mixed results. The film is not as funny as their best, but fascinates in the discomforting way it foregrounds the brothers' normally buried, facile moral dialectic. Black brings a bravely unattractive self-satisfaction to the leading character, Hal, an uncool, semi-orphaned jerk, unaware of how his relationships with women have been distorted by the shocking deathbed testament of his clergyman father. Disappointing his equally sad sidekick Mauricio (Alexander), a sexual perfectionist, he is converted into the very paradigm of PC following an encounter with a TV guru (Robbins) who hypnotises him. Now seeing people only for their 'inner beauty', he falls for incredulous 300lb millionaire's daughter Rosemary - Paltrow alternately svelte (and breast-enhanced) and wading around in a body suit. Most of the gags cater magnificently to the lowest common denominator - the Farrellys impress with their sheer audacity, if nothing else. Few mainstream film-makers scratch so violently at the scabs on the modern psyche. The optimism they display in poking fun at the hypocrisy of modern social behaviour is both moving and funny.
The only misstep in the Farrelly Brothers'
carefully calculated Shallow Hal is that it naively explains its titular
chauvinist's superficiality as product of saucy father love—a young Hal watches
Dad croak but not before the dirty Reverend advises the portly tyke to never
settle for routine putang. With his abrasive bud Mauricio (Jason Alexander) in
tow, an older Hal (Jack Black) does the Roxbury shtick at the local nightclub.
For trolls, their standards are entirely too high, which makes the Farrelly
Brothers' experiment all the more palpable. Self-help guru Tony Robbins
hypnotizes Hal into seeing women for their inner beauty; the end result isn't
so much a blind taste test for the male pig than it is a subversive jab at the
fragile male ego.
Hal's view of women makes a 180-pound turn. He falls in love with Rosemary (Gwyneth Paltrow), an overweight humanitarian that splits her time between a hospital's pediatric unit and a local Peace Corps outpost. The Farrellys cleverly position the pair's courting ritual as an awkward game between a sweetening lothario and a seemingly anorexic beauty. Hal sees rail-thin, everyone else sees behemoth—chairs and benches hysterically crumble beneath Rosemary's weight yet Hal is none the wiser. The Farrellys fascinatingly complicate Hal's vision by situating Rosemary as the daughter of his company's owner. Mauricio thinks he's crazy and everyone else thinks he's an opportunistic creep trying to worm his way up the corporate ladder.
More so than There's Something About Mary, Shallow Hal is incredibly sweet and humbled by an overwhelming sadness. While everyone's "you're being shallow" jargon may be simpleminded to a fault, the Farrellys transcend their "equal-opportunity offenders" status by bravely indicting unusual suspects as instigators of female shame. More important than Rosemary's low self-esteem is her father's notion that she is incapable of being loved. As a result, family unwittingly perpetuates the rituals of self-doubt usually blamed on shows like Baywatch and rags like Cosmo. The Farrellys tackle issues of female beauty with incredible humanity without ever being ham-fisted.
The film's smooth comic pacing is complimented by Russell Carpenter's spare cinematography, which evokes silent film idiom. The grotesque female grins and cackles are as funny as the jokes that speak for themselves (Hal is wowed by Tony Robbins' size 17 shoes). Most interesting, though, is how the Farrelly Brothers cunningly challenge the spectator's gaze just as Hal's view-askew is nixed by the busybody Mauricio. Hal's hypo-induced vision is cautiously revealed as an all-encompassing one. The film, in effect, becomes as suspenseful as it is deftly funny—indeed, Shallow merits multiple viewings in order to tease out its sweet ambiguities. If characters in prior Farrelly films were grotesque for grotesque's sake, Shallow Hal's oddballs are odd with due cause. As oblivious participants in the Farrelly Brothers' straight-faced beauty game, Hal and the spectator discover that nothing can ever be taken at face value.
Senses of Cinema (Meghan Sutherland) review September 2004
The Boston Phoenix review Jeffrey Gantz
Oh brother! Those goofy Farrelly boys have made a comedy about conjoined twins. Joined at the hip, Walt (Kinnear) and Bob (Damon) are cooks at Quickee Burger in Martha's Vineyard - but Walt, a local am-dram star, has a yen to try his luck in Hollywood. Shy, nervous Bob reluctantly agrees to come along for the ride. In such films as There's Something About Mary and Shallow Hal the Farrellys have boldly plumbed taboos (bodily fluids, IQ scores, lard) to sometimes liberating comic effect, but underneath the gross-out gags you'll always find a heart of purest mush. Lately, that heart's been getting out of hand. This film may be the upbeat, humanist conjoined-twin movie we've all been waiting for, but it could sure use more laughs. To be fair, the film has its moments, but these remain isolated, any comic momentum immediately squandered by the Farrellys' standard cackhanded direction, their politically corrected designs on our sympathy, and by a script pulling in at least two directions at once. Kudos to Cher, totally convincing as a shameless egomaniac going by the name of 'Cher'. It's also moderately amusing (if utterly irrelevant) to see Meryl Streep whooping it up in a climactic musical production of Bonnie and Clyde.
Bobby and Peter Farrelly's latest is a
parable about conjoined twins, and though it lacks the laugh-a-minute comic
mastery of their magnificent Kingpin or Shallow Hal's cutting insights
about body image, Stuck On You is still a big-hearted charmer. They're
joined at the hip and they share a liver, but they've led a relatively normal
life nonetheless in Martha's Vineyards. But brother Walt (Greg Kinnear) aspires
for stardom in
24fps | Archive Gabe Klinger from 24fps, Winter 2004
Stuck On You Henry Sheenan
Stuck On You (the Farrelly Brothers, 2003) Eric Henderson from When Canses Were Classeled
It doesn't take long for major events to make it to the big screen; you know, wars, assassinations, the Red Sox actually winning! I'm not a big Sox fan, but as Mets fan I have a certain affinity with the loonies from shamrock city, as they at least know enough to despise the Yankees! I liked the Pedro/Manny Sox of '03, and I usually pick 'em in the AL East, but you can't really be a fan of more than one team if you're doing it right. But I digress. The film works in precious little baseball, early, but does establish its credentials by touching the obvious bases. Then it goes all baseball, all the while fairly successfully floating a kind of sappy romance between a happy and helpful (I believe that this is supposed to make him lovable, too) schoolteacher and a budding corporate exec. Fairytale? Well, at least don't say "who cares?" if you're gonna watch it because then there wouldn't be much point. The baseball/romance counterpoint is the key and heart of thing. If you don't like baseball, or hate the Sox, there's not much point. If sappy romances just aren't it for you…I think all Sox fans must enjoy such things, but others who don't should stay away. It's all a cute thing, as much in the concept as in the execution. Drew Barrymore is good but has certainly done better, and Jimmy Fallon is never quite enough for me to hope she gets stuck with him much. I guess his character has room to grow. I mean, yeah, the other guys in her life would obviously be worse, but such are not the elements of true love make. It's all very amiable though, nothing to rave about for or against. Not like Soxmania.
The punning title may try to disguise it, but this is actually the American version of Nick Hornby’s ‘Fever Pitch’, with the football-mad central character now a devotee of the Boston Red Sox baseball team. They had to wait 86 years for their 2004 World Series victory, which would surely make even Arsenal fans wince. Charged with transferring Hornby’s deft North London specifics to New England, A-list Hollywood screenwriting team Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel (‘Splash’, ‘City Slickers’) have kept Sox maniac Jimmy Fallon as a high-school teacher, but changed his love interest to Drew Barrymore’s high-powered, workaholic business exec, who meets him during the team’s winter downtime, thinks he’s adorable, and is thus unprepared to be displaced in his affections by his summer season ticket for Fenway Park. While the original explored the notion of sporting obsession as a refuge from life (for good and ill), here it’s as much a plot point as a passion, since his ‘n’ hers opposing values are played largely for conventional romantic comedy. It’s slickly done, pleasantly watchable, but despite Barrymore’s ever-charming earnestness, not quite a home run. Although there’s a characteristic note of class tension, and we get to see the funny side of food poisoning and concussion, the Farrellys seem on their best behaviour, as if slightly hamstrung by the challenge of working in the classic Hollywood mould. Then again, perhaps they really needed John Cusack, since ‘Saturday Night Live’ alumnus Fallon is far too lightweight a lead; moderately amusing as a man-child fan-boy dressed from the Red Sox gift-shop, but an unpersuasive potential partner for go-getting Drew.
The more elegant Bobby and Peter
Farrelly's films have become, the less money they've managed to rake in at the
box office. That's probably because the Farrellys are growing up faster than
the audiences that tended to their first few features. "From the directors
of There's Something About Mary" simply doesn't promise the same
thing anymore: Audiences know this (see Stuck on You's poor box office
performance for proof), and so does Fox, which is why the Farrelly name is so
hard to find on advertisements for Fever Pitch. The studio is
undoubtedly trying to protect its bottom line, but we should be thankful that
the brothers are still being allowed to make films at all. Based on Nick
Hornby's autobiographical book of the same name, Fever Pitch is somewhat
mundane, at least by the Farrellys' typically high-concept (and high-strung)
standards, but that's not to say the material is innocuous. The film doesn't
actualize some cartoon world or scenario but a real one with real people with
real problems—that everyone talks and cracks jokes just like you and me is not
just the icing on the cake but part of the film's contemporary mantra. Fever
Pitch tells the story of a
The Onion A.V. Club review Scott Tobias
DVD Times Daniel Stephens
The Boston Phoenix review Peter Keough
USA (90 mi) 2013 Official site co-directors: Elizabeth Banks, Steven Brill, Steve Carr, Rusty Cundieff, James Duffy, Griffin Dunne, Patrik Forsberg, James Gunn, Bob Odenkirk, Brett Ratner, Jonathan van Tullekin
America has always had
a love affair with stupid comedy, from an assortment of cartoons to The Three
Stooges or Laurel & Hardy, slapstick and physical comedy that emerged out
of turn of the century burlesque and vaudeville comedy acts, to the hapless
shtick of the elaborately choreographed Jerry Lewis movies of the 50’s and 60’s,
the star-studded vehicle of IT’S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD (1963) where audiences
could watch celebrities behave like idiots, to the more fast-paced, visual and
sight gag oriented satirical comedy of AIRPLANE! (1980), to the moronic buddy
movie of DUMB AND DUMBER (1994) written and directed by the Farrelly brothers,
who have never been afraid to use toilet humor.
The Farrelly brothers have their hand all over this project, which began
a decade and a half ago with their producer Charlie Wessler, who came up with the
idea of several short films using three pairs of directors, South Park’s Trey Parker and Matt Stone,
Airplane’s David and Jerry Zucker,
and Peter and Bob Farrelly. The studios,
however, wouldn’t back the idea of R-rated movies targeted to teenagers, where
Wessler pitched his idea to various studios, but no one understood what he was
trying to do until four years ago when Peter Farrelly and producer John Penotti
took their idea, along with the script for about 60 short skits to Relativity
Films, which gave them the green light.
Certainly one of the most amazing feats of the film is collecting so
many big name actors, from Kate Winslet and Hugh Jackman to Halle Berry, Chloë
Grace Moretz, Gerard Butler, Greg Kinnear, Johnny Knoxville, Seann William
Scott, Liev Schreiber, Uma Thurman, Elizabeth Banks, Kristen Bell, Anna Farris,
Chris Pratt, Richard Gere, Terrence Howard, Justin Long, Dennis Quaid, Common,
Jason Sudeikis, Kieran Culkin, Emma Stone, Kate Bosworth, Josh Duhamel, and
Naomi Watts. This year’s Academy Award
host Seth MacFarlane plays a small part, while both Jackman and
So working for scale,
actors mostly donated their time for this film, knowing only their own scenes,
not any of the other scaled down 16 vignettes that comprise the film. In order to accommodate all the actors, some
of whom were having second thoughts, like the South Park team, Colin Farrell, and George Clooney, who reportedly
told them to “Fuck Off,” 'Movie
43': Peter Farrelly on His All-Star Cast, and Why Clooney Told Them to 'F**k
Off', shooting took place only when actors were available, waiting an
entire year for Richard Gere, offering the convenience of moving the entire
production team closer to the actor, so the filming of the whole movie took
several years. While this film has
tanked at the box office in only the first week, receiving some of the worst
reviews of the year, where Richard Roeper in The Chicago Sun-Times wrote There's
awful and THEN there's 'Movie 43', while Peter Howell from The Toronto Star is calling it Movie
43 review: The worst film ever gets zero stars. David Edelstein from New York magazine asks, “Was someone holding Kate Winslet's
children hostage?” Edelstein
on Movie 43: Were These Actors Blackmailed to Appear in This Raunchy Fiasco?,
while finally Peter Farrelly took to Twitter to defend his gross-out comedy
dubbed the ‘Citizen Kane of awful’ Movie
43 director tells press to 'lighten up' after his film is savaged ...,
suggesting “To the critics: Movie 43
is not the end of the world. It’s just a $6-million movie where we tried to do
something different. Now back off,” adding: “To the critics: You always
Most of the rest are uneven
and hit or miss, with some stronger than others, but many of these ideas are
*out there,* pushing the boundaries of bad taste to the point of being
off-the-charts unacceptable. Certainly
there is foul humor, profane language, and there is crude violence, but there
are also some excellent special effects, especially with
Blu-ray.com [Brian Orndorf] (excerpt)
I have no idea what the title “Movie 43” means, but I do know what the picture is about. A series of sketches and commercials barely tied together with a flimsy wraparound story, the collection is intended to show off the zanier side of normally sedate talent, pushing Oscar-winners and more dramatically inclined thespians into taboo-smashing blasts of comedy, also making room for a few actors specifically known for their crudeness a chance to join the party. Stacked high with famous faces while the material is primarily bottom-of-the-barrel muck unfit for feature-length investigation, “Movie 43” looks to enchant with a proud parade of shock value, asking ticket buyers to delight in ugliness in the name of good fun. If this is “Movie 43,” I’d hate to see the previous 42 attempts at pronounced stupidity the production didn’t want to release.
Movie 43 | Movie review - Film - Time Out Chicago Ben Kenigsberg
Neither the Kentucky-fried turkey its unceremonious release suggests nor the kind of daring film maudit that seems destined to be reassessed decades hence, Movie 43 is mostly just a whiff. Fourteen absurdly star-studded sketches are all too over- or underplayed to get the laughs they need. Cameos routinely substitute for gags; only the self-satisfaction is a constant. The movie sets the bar low with its framing story, in which a crazy man (Dennis Quaid) delivers his movie pitch to a feckless studio operative (Greg Kinnear). Most of the subsequent segments consist of scenes from his opus, although—with episodes jammed together as awkwardly as shattered Russian dolls—conceptual coherence is not Movie 43’s strongest suit. Ditto quality: For every chapter that elicits a smile (playing a man with scrotum hanging from his neck, Hugh Jackman garners far more sympathy than he does as Jean Valjean), there’s another that’s only theoretically funny (the Brett Ratner–directed bit in which Johnny Knoxville and Seann William Scott taunt Gerard Butler’s kidnapped leprechaun).
The actors are mostly troupers: Liev Schreiber and Naomi Watts seem to enjoy playing the world’s worst homeschooling parents, whose curriculum for their son includes incestuous makeouts. Anna Faris gamely insists that boyfriend Chris Pratt take the next step in their relationship—into coprophila. But the film throws cold water on its proceedings, with sketches that go on too long (“Superhero Speed Dating,” with Jason Sudeikis as a bro-ish Batman taunting Justin Long’s timid Robin) or that wimp out by moralizing (as when Chloë Grace Moretz has a menstrual accident in a house full of dudes). The main instance of inspired outrageousness, in one of the vignettes helmed by producer Peter Farrelly, comes near the end, as Halle Berry’s blind-date round of truth-or-dare with Stephen Merchant escalates into a nasty competition. The results might not please Buñuel, but they add up to one of the few installments worthy of the designation movie.
"Movie 43" Even Less Inspired Than Its Name
Cancel next year’s Razzies. The race is over. Just three weeks into 2013, “Movie 43” already has a vice-like death grip on any and all “worst of” lists or awards for this calendar year, let alone the decade. Much of its high profile cast is justifiably embarrassed by the project, as few have acknowledged the film in the press. And while that silence (and the January release date) speaks volumes, silence isn’t enough. I suspect we’ll eventually hear mea culpas from the likes of Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet, Richard Gere, Greg Kinnear, and others – the project, a loose assemblage of short films, was filmed haphazardly over the course of four years – but each apology will be far too late. If you’re going to go out of your way to be this offensive, you better damn well be funny. “Movie 43” almost never is, and at times it displays an almost alarming level of contempt for its audience. If there’s any justice in this world, some of its participants will lose work over their contributions here.
It’s impossible to write about “Movie 43” as a singular entity, so please allow me to break the film down, short by short, so you can skip the 90% of the film that’s entirely unredeemable. “The Pitch” loosely ties each short film together. Dennis Quaid plays a failed screenwriter pitching a bizarre, nonsensical film to a studio exec, Greg Kinnear, eventually forcing him, at gunpoint, to listen to the remainder of his proposal. It’s such an apt metaphor for the picture itself that I have to believe it was an unknowing one. As we weave in and out of different scenes, rapper Common and Seth McFarlane make humorless cameos as Quaid’s character is pushed to his breaking point.
The first of these scenes, “The Catch,” features Kate Winslet on a first date with Hugh Jackman, the latter playing a dreamy magazine cover model who’s fawned over by everyone but his date. You see, he removes his scarf and it’s revealed that – wait for it – he has testicles growing out of his neck. That’s the joke. For ten painful minutes. Of course, it’s taken to gross extremes – Jackman is a sloppy eater, har har – but the most offensive part about the sequence is that it’s been done at least twice before, both in “Men In Black II” and “South Park.”
“Homeschooled,” starring real-life couple Live Schreiber and Naomi Watts, is the funniest portion of the film. They play parents who are homeschooling their teenage son, but instead of sheltering him, they long to give him “the full high school experience.” Of course, this means they bully, humiliate, and abuse him, and their cruel hazing is amusing until it’s taken way too far. Still, this bit could have been a modest viral hit, and compared to the rest of “Movie 43,” it’s an absolute gem.
“The Proposition,” starring Anna Faris and Chris Pratt, is one overlong, patience-testing excrement joke. Don’t worry, there are plenty of burrito and laxative references! “Veronica,” with Kieran Culkin and Emma Stone, makes no impact at all. The two spend their five minutes of screen time sharing bizarre sexual secrets over the loudspeaker of a grocery store. “iBabe” stars Richard Gere as an executive who doesn’t understand why his company’s mp3 player – shaped like a lifesize naked woman – is crippling young men with its poor fan placement. Insert facepalm here. “Super Hero Speed Dating” features Justin Long, Jason Sudeikis, Kristen Bell, Uma Thurman and others in a “Saturday Night Live” reject sketch about superheroes – or weirdos in low-rent Halloween costumes – saying idiotic things to each other while, you guessed it, speed dating. It’s dead on arrival.
The picture’s most inspired bit, “Machine Kids,” is a faux-PSA about how we should be nicer to printers and vending machines and other frustrating contraptions because there are child laborers living inside them. Wait a few months and catch it in all its peculiar glory on YouTube. “Middleschool Date,” helmed by Elizabeth Banks, is an insipid, laugh-free short about how guys don’t know what to do when girls get their periods. “Happy Birthday,” directed by the critically-adored Brett Ratner and featuring Johnny Knoxville and Seann William Scott in a “Dukes Of Hazzard” reunion – no, we haven’t hit bottom yet – features Gerard Butler as a Leprechaun who confronts the duo over God knows what. Eventually, after multiple Lucky Charms jokes, Knoxville shoots the Leprechauns dead and we move on to the next short.
“Truth Or Dare,” starring Halle Berry and Stephen Merchant, is almost palatable. As two blind-daters, they get themselves into a game of truth or dare that escalates to absurd levels. It’s over-the-top, but it feels like a scene out of a much better film. Terrence Howard leads “Victory’s Glory,” a short about a 60s-era basketball team that doesn’t grasp their coach’s pre-game motivational speech – “They’re white. You’re black!” Rinse and repeat for ten minutes. The final short, written and directed by James Gunn, stars Josh Duhamel, Elizabeth Banks, and an animated cat. Duhamel’s character has a decidedly intimate relationship with his aggressively perverted pet cat, much to the chagrin of Banks. It’s gross and violent and patently unfunny, and it’s unfathomable to me that Marvel has given Gunn the reigns to one of their franchises, “Guardians Of The Galaxy.” His pre-“Movie 43” resume wasn’t particularly deserving of the job, but this short film is absolutely wince-inducing.
The Farrelly Brothers, who oversaw the entire project, will come out of “Movie 43” relatively unscathed. They’ve developed plenty of goodwill through “Dumb And Dumber” and “There’s Something About Mary.” This won’t end their careers. But for some of the cast and crew with more unsteady roles in Hollywood? This is the kind of project that won’t soon be erased from memory. It’s so strikingly, soul-crushingly awful that it could cost Hugh Jackman as Oscar (we’ve seen it happen to Eddie Murphy with “Norbit”) and gifted actors like Winslet and Gere might not be allowed near anything remotely comedic ever again. I want to be embarrassed for everyone involved in this one, but it’s so aggressively dreadful that no one deserves a pass. If there’s one silver lining here? Maybe, just maybe, this will put Brett Ratner out of work for good.
'Movie 43': Peter Farrelly on His All-Star Cast, and Why Clooney Told Them to 'F**k Off' Aly Semigran from Hollywood.com, January 25, 2013
Academy Award winner Kate Winslet. Academy Award winner
Halle Berry. Academy Award
nominee Hugh Jackman. Academy Award
nominee Greg Kinnear. Academy
Award nominee Naomi Watts.
Academy Award host Seth MacFarlane.
Definitely Nowhere Near The Academy Awards Johnny Knoxville and Snooki.
All together on the big screen, at long last. Well, kind of.
The only thing more baffling than trying to make sense of what exactly Movie 43 is about (we'll get to that), is figuring out how in the hell they assembled half of Hollywood to be in a no-holds-barred raunch fest that was made for just around $6 million. Peter Farrelly (the other half of the Farrelly brothers behind comedy classics such as Kingpin, There's Something About Mary, and their masterpiece Dumb and Dumber, as well as its in-the-works sequel) is a producer and one of the dozen directors to contribute to the comedy, which opens in theaters today. Farrelly a simple explanation for all of this: fellow producer Charles Wessler, who has worked with the Brothers Farrelly on all their films.
"It's the brainchild of Charlie Wessler. He'd been talking about this for years, basically what he wanted to do was a Kentucky Fried Movie thing," Farrelly says. After receiving hundreds of submissions and scripts, Wessler settled on roughly forty and then set his sights on some of the biggest names in the business to star.
As Farrelly put it, "The world doesn't know Charlie Wessler, but Charlie Wessler knows everybody. He was a P.A. on Star Wars, he was the assistant to the director on Empire of the Sun. He's done a million things. So he would call actors like Richard Gere and say, 'Hey Richard, you wanna do this short film?' We have no money. You're working for one day for scale, but there's gonna be a lot of laughs."
If that didn't sell the sizzle enough to the all-star cast (which also includes the likes of hot commodities Emma Stone, Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, and Jason Sudeikis, to name just a few), the various directors whole filmed segments of Movie 43 over the span of two years (with different writers and crews, as well), catering to when and where the actors could film. Production even waited a full year for Gere, whose conflicts kept him unavailable for this extended period of time.
While it seemed like a pretty convenient deal for the busy stars participating, there was one A-lister who wasn't swayed by the lure of working on the mysterious Movie 43. "[George] Clooney told us to f**k off," Farrelly admits.
As such, everyone but Clooney (and Colin Farrell, and South Park's Matt Stone and Trey Parker, who each reportedly dropped out of the project along the way) was on board. So what exactly did the stars who stayed put get themselves in to?
Movie 43, a series of short films connected by a wrap-around featuring "Dennis Quaid as a down-and-out producer" pitching crazy ideas, is a very different breed of the big ensemble movie. "My fear with that is people will think it's like a Valentine's Day-type movie," Farrelly says.
Anything but. Movie 43 features a series of gross-out jaw-dropper shorts, including the Farrelly-directed sequence about a woman on a blind date (Winslet) whose suitor (Jackman, pictured above) has it all: good looks, charm, money, and…a pair of testicles that hang from his chin that no one else but her seems to notice. While Farrelly doesn't expect the Oscar-nominated Les Mis star to be out stumping for Movie 43 ("You're not gonna see him at our premiere, he's got things to do"), he and Winslet were all-in for their shoot.
"Hugh and Kate were just sensational because it's such a ballsy little piece." (Get it?!) "They embraced it so much and they were so committed and so into it. There was no hesitation. In fact, it was the other way. Both of them were going off the page doing insane things. They got into the swing of it," Farrelly says of his time with the stars, calling the shoot "two hilariously fun days."
Even with A-listers going, ahem, balls-out, this is a moviegoing generation living in the age of Funny or Die. Nowadays, celebrities taking part in outrageous, image-shattering shorts is not only the norm, but free of charge. "Funny or Die is sensational, I wish I'd started it," Farrelly says, "but they do have restrictions to what you can say and do. We wanted to do something that you can't do on Funny or Die. We wanted to push it past the Funny or Die ceiling."
Farrelly, along with the various directors and producers, also realized that coming up with a Kentucky Fried Movie (which came out in 1977) or Groove Tube (from 1974, which Farrelly cites as another influence as an ensemble sketch comedy movie) for a new era provided another challenge with today's breed of moviegoers. "Things have changed since Kentucky Fried Movie in that attention spans have shortened. You can't just have one short after another. Because then you just have people looking at their watches, like 'All right, I don't know if I want to start another short,'" he says.
Alongside Wessler, fellow producer John Pennotti, and Relativity, Farrelly and co. narrowed down which of the shorts would make it into Movie 43. "There were a couple that didn't make the final cut, we knew that would happen. The reasons they didn't make it is they were either redundant, in that there had been a short that was similar, or it just felt like overkill or trying too hard in trying to shock people. We really tried to find the right rhythm so people wouldn't feel manipulated," Farrelly explains, adding, "It gives us stuff for the DVD."
'Movie 43': On the End of a Non-Era | PopMatters Jesse Hassenger
"Movie 43" Movie Review - Springfield Romantic Comedy ... Kris Duplisea, the only A grade one could find, from The Examiner
Movie 43 | Film Review | Slant Magazine Tina Hassannia
Movie 43 :: Movies :: Reviews :: Paste Tyler Chase
The top 10 stupid comedies for smart people - Salon.com Matt Zoller Seitz from Salon, July 31, 2010
Movie 43: Film Review Frank Scheck from The Hollywood Reporter
STORY: How 'Movie 43' Producers Got So Many A-List Stars for the Raunchy Comedy Rebecca Ford from The Hollywood Reporter
Why 'Movie 43's' A-List Actors Are Staying Far Away - The ... Pamela McClintock from The Hollywood Reporter
Why did so many stars sign up? Catherine Shoard from The Guardian
Movie 43: a gross-out workout Charlie Lyne from The Guardian
Movie 43 director tells critics to 'lighten up' after film bombs at box ... Ben Child from The Guardian
Movie 43 – review Peter Bradshaw from the Guardian
Review: Movie 43 - Reviews - Boston Phoenix Brett Michel
Movie 43: Movie Showtimes and Reviews on washingtonpost.com Michael O’Sullivan
Movie 43 - Film Calendar - The Austin Chronicle Kimberley Jones
Movie 43 :: rogerebert.com - Roger Ebert - Chicago Sun-Times "Movie 43" is the "Citizen Kane" of awful
Fassbinder had a unique relationship to his nation's history. He saw his oeuvre as a history of 20th-century Germany, culminating with BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ, with its exploration of the 1920’s Berlin underclass in such personal detail (in 15 and one-half hours), a film that succeeds with its authenticity, allowing us to understand what it was like to have been a German in an era leading to the rise of Hitler. One of the better writers in cinema who was not afraid to explore the ugly, seamier side of human nature, dramatically exploring dark ulterior motives in the personal search for love, usually with enormously tragic consequences, but without all the graphic violence that explodes off the screen today. As fellow viewer Fred Tsao was known to utter after each performance: “The punishment continues.” Paraphrasing and even stealing some written material, much of the information gathered here is gleaned from the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) booklet that accompanied the showing of 37 films entitled Rainer Werner Fassbinder, published in 1977, edited by Laurence Kardish, in collaboration with Juliane Lorenz, Fassbinder’s film editor. [Curator’s essay: MoMA.org | Film & Media Exhibitions | 1997 | Fassbinder | essay]
I've always been fond
of personal anecdotes from filmmaker's lives. Before Fassbinder made his
first film at the age of 20 in the spring of 1966, he failed the
entrance exam to the German Film and
825 requested application
forms, out of which 245 submitted timely applications. There was an age
requirement of 23 to 28, but exceptions were taken into consideration with
accompanying recommendations, proof of employment, samples of their work,
etc. Fassbinder sent neither recommendations nor proof of
employment. Instead he wrote: "I am an actor but I only just
had the opportunity of taking final exams at the Theater Association. The
Fassbinder was one of 74 applicants invited to take the entrance exams in Berlin, from May 23rd to the 26th in 1966, which included both a written exam and an exercise with an 8mm camera, where they were given film with instructions to make a work of less than 8 minutes which would be comprehensible without sound. Unfortunately, Fassbinder's submittal film has not survived, but his test questions and answers have. The first part consisted of 26 questions, while the next part was an analysis of a sequence in a feature film. The applicants were presented with a sequence from Bresson's A MAN ESCAPED (1956). The title was not revealed. The test required careful observation of detail, recognition of style, description of how it was achieved, and an overall evaluation.
The filmed sequence shows a prisoner's unsuccessful escape from a prison van, from the first attempt to the last consequence. The sequence consists of about forty setups, each one clear and simple, with no regard for superficial beauty.
Each setup makes sense only in connection with the preceding one and the one that succeeds it.
The necessary prerogatives for the escape - the fugitive, his hand, the door handle inside the car, a vehicle and a streetcar which force, or almost force, the prison van to stop - are clearly shown in their interrelationships. In relatively quick succession, we see first the fugitive, who stares ahead; then the road, where in a moment a vehicle may force the prison van to stop; then the fugitive's hand reaching for the door handle.
Up to the moment of the escape, the setups change fairly rapidly; later they markedly slow down, as the main character is forced from activity into passivity. He has had little time for his flight, the police have ample time for his punishment.
The immense power of the police and the actual importance of the escape is less evident in the last setups with the battered fugitive than during the flight, where the other two prisoners don't even turn their heads when the shots ring out behind them.
With great sensitivity, the director refrains from showing the brutality visited on the escapee, who is carried, covered up on a stretcher. It is left to the viewer to use his imagination to picture the beaten-up man, so that later, when he sees the distorted, bloody face, he is not totally overcome by horror but is able to reflect on his attitude to such treatment.
The sequence has been thought through down to the smallest detail. It has been stripped of everything superfluous. The director sticks to the essentials.
By far the best known director of the New German Cinema, Fassbinder has also been called the most important filmmaker of the post-WWII generation. Exceptionally versatile and prolific, he directed over 40 films between 1969 and 1982; in addition, he wrote most of his scripts, produced and edited many of his films and wrote plays and songs, as well as acting on stage, in his own films and in the films of others. Although he worked in a variety of genres—the gangster film, comedy, science fiction, literary adaptations—most of his stories employed elements of Hollywood melodrama from the 1950s overlayed with social criticism and avant-garde techniques. Fassbinder's expressed desire was to make films that were both popular and critical successes, but assessment of the results has been decidedly mixed: his critics contend that he became so infatuated with the Hollywood forms he tried to appropriate that the political impact of his films is indistinguishable from conventional melodrama, while his admirers argue that he was a postmodernist filmmaker whose films satisfy audience expectations while simultaneously subverting them.
Germany in Autumn Gregory Avery from Nitrate Online (excerpt)
Between 1969 and the end of 1979, Fassbinder made thirty-four
feature films. Robert Katz wrote that this averaged to about one film every 100
days. And these were no slapdash efforts, either, in which the director jumped
from one project to the next, collecting his pay cheque. (For one thing, the
projects were mostly state-financed, and not awash with money.) Fassbinder's
film output included literary adaptations, period pieces, a foray into
science-fiction, political dramas, personal stories depicting the dynamics of
heterosexual and homosexual relationships, cinéma-vérité,
documentaries, and hommages to gangster and the "women's
picture" genres. Fassbinder also produced Kurt Raab's screenplay
"Tenderness of the Wolves," based on the Düsseldorf child murders,
which Raab also starred in and which gave Ulli Lommel, an actor for Fassbinder,
his first chance to direct a film. While setting up production on his film,Chinese
Roulette, Fassbinder arranged to share studio space and some of his cast
for the film, plus cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, so that Lommel could make Adolf
and Marlene, a purple fantasy in which Hitler entices the famous film star
into coming back to
"Well, there are two factors here," Fassbinder explained in interview, after he had completed his fortieth film. "First, I don't work more than other people, more than someone stamping out cans in a factory, or the like. I just work all year long; I don't take as many vacations as the others in the [film] industry. That's one side of it. The other side is that I really have a drive that's hard to explain -- it makes me have to do things, and I'm actually only happy when I'm doing things...."
At such a pace, Fassbinder's personal and professional life
inexorably overlapped. After the departure of Christoph Rosen, Fassbinder
became smitten with Günther Kaufmann, whom he cast in the lead of Whity,
a real oddball of a film which was made in
Irm Hermann, who was an actress in many of Fassbinder's films (most notably in The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant), became smitten with Fassbinder and set her sights on marrying him, but she was beaten to the punch on that account -- by singer Ingrid Caven, who became Frau Fassbinder in 1970, after which she, Rainer, and Günther all went on the honeymoon trip together. The marriage, though, did not last; Fassbinder would later refer to the state of matrimony as "a sadomasochistic relationship." Irm would end up marrying someone else.
El Hedi ben
The sturdy, supportive Armin Meier, who was born and raised in the country, would seem to be as fine a person as anyone would want to have in a serious relationship. But Armin wound up totally out of his depth with Fassbinder's friends and, sometimes, with Fassbinder himself. He refused, for instance, to let Armin attend the premiere of Germany in Autumn. At the Reichenbachstrasse apartment, Armin sat in the big chair in the kitchen, where Fassbinder would sit and receive visitors on the weekends, and consumed the contents of four bottles of sleeping tablets. Juliane Lorenz was the only one who maintained that Armin's death was in some way accidental.
Is He Fassbinder? Gregory Avery from Nitrate Online (excerpt)
Querelle was portentously advertised as being
"Fassbinder's final statement." It was not, nor was it ever intended
to be. Filming was all set to start in June on I Am the Happiness of This
World: Harry Baer had found a club that could serve as the film's main
location not far from Peer Raben's flat in
Further installments in the "BRD" series of films
Fassbinder was giving filmed interviews to Wolf Griem for a documentary Griem was making, The Wizard of Babylon, and had played the lead in Griem's cockeyed detective film, Kamikaze '89. (Fassbinder liked the leopard-spotted clothes that he wore in the film so much that he was allowed to keep them, and wore them the day Andy Warhol visited the set of Querelle. Warhol designed the poster for the premiere of "Querelle.")
Fassbinder had also been talking with Jane Fonda about her
appearing in a film about Rosa Luxemburg, who formed the Spartacus League and
attempted to start a worker's revolution in
Early on the morning on
After checking Fassbinder, she phoned for an ambulance and woke up Wolf Griem, who was sleeping in another part of the apartment. When the ambulance arrived, a paramedic walked into the apartment, into Fassbinder's room, and knelt by the mattress. After examining the filmmaker, he stated, "This man is dead." Adding, "Is he Fassbinder?"
Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation run by Juliane Lorenz
Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation Thomas Elsaesser writes an essay for the Fassbinder Foundation, listed under His Life
more Wolfram Schütte writes an essay for the Fassbinder Foundation listed under His Art
Film Reference profile by John O’Kane
Rainer Werner Fassbinder • Senses of Cinema Joe Ruffell from Senses of Cinema, May 20, 2002
Biography/Filmography from Books and Writers
All-Movie Guide bio from Lucia Bozzola
New German Cinema brief bio with interesting German and English links
glbtq >> arts >> Fassbinder, Rainer Werner biography from an encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer culture
filmportal.de another bio with links
Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Journal an open site for Fassbinder related news
The History of Cinema. Rainer Werner Fassbinder : biography ... Piero Scaruffi with reviews in Italian, with some in English
Feature: Beware of Rainer Werner Fassbinder reviews of a dozen or so Fassbinder films from Slant magazine
Mondo Digital reviews of a dozen or so Fassbinder films
Rainer Werner Fassbinder - Strictly Film School an analysis of readings and films by Fassbinder from Acquarello
Fassbinder on TCM Shop a quick capsule review of a dozen Fassbinder films out on DVD
Jim's Reviews - The Films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder Introduction to Fassbinder, film and theater credits, analysis and resources from Jim’s Reviews
A Date With Fassbinder and Despair 3 part series on Fassbinder by Philip Lopate from Cultural Report (undated)
UC users only (it is available) Fassbinder: The Poetry of the Inarticulate, by Paul Thomas from Film Quarterly (Winter, 1976-1977)
Fassbinder Death Tied To Pills and Drug Use The New York Times, June 19, 1982
Movie Review - - FILM VIEW; HANNA SCHYGULLA ACHIEVES GREATNESS ... The New York Times, October 7, 1984
FILM: 'A MAN LIKE EVA' Vincent Canby film review of Eva Matte in the title role as Fassbinder, from The New York Times, June 26, 1985
TV VIEW; FASSBINDER'S MASTERWORK John J. O.Connor on upcoming cable TV broadcasts of Berlin Alexanderplatz, from The New York Times, September 8, 1985
Holy Whore: Remembering Rainer Werner Fassbinder website and essay by Jim Tushinski, August 21, 1987
Fassbinder's Brechtian aesthetics H-B. Moeller essay from Jump Cut, April 1990
Movie Review - Schatten Der Engel - Review/Film; Fassbinder And ... Janet Maslin’s review of Shadow of Angels, the 1976 film version of a “suicidally grim” Fassbinder play, from The New York Times, March 6, 1992
MoMA | press | Releases | 1996 | First Complete Retrospective in ... MOMA Fassbinder retrospective Press release
Rainer Werner Fassbinder Cover Page for online 1997 exhibit from MOMA
MoMA.org | Film & Media Exhibitions | 1997 | Fassbinder | essay Curator’s essay by Laurence Kardish
Honoring Fassbinder The Director, Not the Man Vincent Canby on a Fassbinder Retrospective, from The New York Times, January 19, 1997
The Parasites of Fame Peter W. Jansen from Der Tagesspiegel, January 23, 1997, from the Fassbinder Foundation website
3 Who Worked With Fassbinder Recall a Demon And a Magician Mel Gussow from The New York Times, January 27, 1997
[Luc Sante] A Holy Whore, which
includes brief film clips,
Survey Of A Sadist [Films by Rainer Werner Fassbinder] | Jonathan ... Jonathan Rosenbaum, May 2, 1997
Survey Of A Sadist | Movie Review | Chicago Reader Jonathan Rosenbaum, May 1, 1997
Film Fast, Die Young Jerry Johnson from the Austin Chronicle, September 1998
The bitter tears of Fassbinder's women | Film | The Guardian Rosalind Hodgkiss from the Guardian, January 8, 1999
FILM REVIEW; Leopold & Franz & Anna & Vera in Berlin A.O. Scott’s review of Fassbinder’s unproduced play, Water Drops on Burning Rocks, from The New York Times, July 12, 2000
Nitrate Online (Gregory Avery) The Sad Days Are Over, a 4 part essay examining Fassbinder’s career, November 17, 2000
Fassbinder, and Fassbinder/Peer Raben - Screening the Past Roger Hillman from Screening the Past, March 1, 2001
The Conscious Collusion of the Stare: The Viewer ... - Senses of Cinema Julian Savage, September 18, 2001
FAST TIMES Is America Finally Ready for Fassbinder? by David Denby from The New Yorker, February 10, 2003
FASSBINDER 6-week Retrospective Film Series at Film Forum in New York City February 14 – March 26, 2003
The Merchant of Four Seasons • Senses of Cinema Girish Shambu, July 25, 2003
The Boston Phoenix [Peter Keough] 9-film
UC users only (it is available) “Straight from the Heart: Re-Viewing the Films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder,” Cineaste (Fall 2004) by Tony Pipolo (pdf)
Fassbinder: The Life and Work of a Provocative Genius – Offscreen Louis Goyette from Offscreen, August 31, 2004, also seen here: Fassbinder: The Life and Work of a Provocative Genuis - Hors Champ
Martha, Interrupted: Fassbinder's 1974 Masterpiece on DVD - Bright ... Ian Johnston from Bright Lights Film Journal, August 31, 2004
Speaking For Others: Manifest and Latent Content in In a Year with ... Justin Vicari, October 20, 2005
Rainer Werner Fassbinder | TIME Europe Magazine | 60 Years of Heroes Richard Corliss from Time magazine, 2006
Effi Briest: Beyond Adultery • Senses of Cinema Christa Lang Fuller, November 5, 2006
Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Wunderkind Leo A. Lensing from The Times Literary Supplement, April 18, 2007, posted on the Fassbinder Foundation
Battle over RWF's legacy.
GreenCine reports allegations that the remastered film has been
“markedly brightened” for public palatability,
No morals without style Ingrid Caven challenges the historical misrepresentations by Juliane Lorenz, the founder of the Fassbinder Foundation site as she speaks to Katja Nicodemus from Die Zeit, recently translated into English at Sign and Sight (May 31, 2007)
GreenCine Article (2007) June 10, 2007
Fassbinder from Film Comment, which posted a statement from 25 of Fassbinder’s colleagues demanding that Juliane Lorenz forfeit control of the Fassbinder Foundation. They cite her image contrast changes on the Berlin Alexanderplatz DVD as "an act of insurmountable presumption and borders on philistinism." (September/October 2007)
P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center: Exhibitions: Fassbinder: Berlin ... Fassbinder: Berlin Alexanderplatz, October 21, 2007 – January 21, 2008
The New German Cinema Dennis Toth from Film Notes from the CMA, August 14, 2008
Fassbinder: Life on the Edge Dennis Toth from Film Notes from the CMA, August 18, 2008
*European Film Star Postcards*: Barbara Valentin April 16, 2009
When Herr R[ainer] Ran Amok - Parallax View David Coursen essay from Parallax View, August 23, 2009
The Fassbinder Page Tom von Logue Newth from FilmFracture, September 28, 2009
Film - A Bold Vision, Still Ahead of Its Time Dennis Lim from The New York Times, April 1, 2010
Fassbinder's Visionary Science-Fiction Thriller to Have a Weeklong ... Art Daily, April 5, 2010
CINEMA IS WHERE LIFE IS Fassbinder and Herzog video clips from Wim Wenders’ 1982 documentary on the future of cinema, Chambre 666, less than a month before Fassbinder’s death, two of sixteen different directors who were filmed in Room 666 of the Hotel Martinez answering the principal question: “Is cinema a language about to get lost, an art about to die?” from Filmmaker magazine, April 10, 2010 (4:42 mi)
R.W. Fassbinder, Twisted Genius John Farr from The Huffington Post, June 13, 2010
Petra's Place • Senses of Cinema Marsha McCreadie, July 11, 2010
The Third Generation • Senses of Cinema Darragh O’Donoghue, June 5, 2011
Fox and His Friends • Senses of Cinema Colin Browne, June 5, 2011
Hollywood, Germany: The Longing of Rainer ... - Senses of Cinema Adam Bingham, June 5, 2011
Searching for the Self in Fassbinder's In a Year ... - Senses of Cinema Rebecca Harkins-Cross, June 5, 2011
The Films Of Rainer Werner Fassbinder: A Retrospective | IndieWire Retrospective reviews from The Playlist, July 29, 2011
Wunderkind - Los Angeles Review of Books Juliane Maria Lorenz, August 18, 2011
JACK FERVER PRESENTS FASSBINDER’S “BITTER TEARS…” Jay Ferver, dancer and choreographer, from Filmmaker magazine, August 22, 2011
"Fassbinder: Prodigal Son, Not Reconciled Thomas Elsaesser essay, 2012 (pdf)
JAY SCHEIB ON FASSBINDER’S “WORLD OF WIRES” Jay Scheib, professor of music and theater arts at MIT, from Filmmaker magazine, January 7, 2012
Fassbinder 16-Film Rainer Werner Fassbinder Retrospective at The American Cinematheque, Los Angeles, by Tom von Logue Newth from FilmFracture, May 28, 2012
An L.A. love letter to Rainer Werner Fassbinder Susan King from The LA Times, May 30, 2012
Fassbinder A Stupendous Weekend of Fassbinder at The American Cinematheque - More To Come, by Tom von Logue Newth from FilmFracture, June 4, 2012
Fassbinder Rainer Fassbinder Retrospective (Nearly) Over at The American Cinematheque, by Tom von Logue Newth from FilmFracture, June 11, 2012
EURO BEAT: Dueling R.W. Fassbinder Biopics, Accusations of ... EURO BEAT: Dueling R.W. Fassbinder Biopics, Accusations of Cannes Corruption, by Brian Clark from Screen Anarchy, June 12, 2012
The Single Antidote to Thoughts of Suicide by J. Hoberman - Moving ... J. Hoberman from Moving Image Source, June 28, 2012
R.W. Fassbinder's Films With Gunther Kaufmann Victor Enyutin from Acting Out Politics, July 1, 2012
Retroactive Prescience: Fassbinder's The Third Generation and the Year 1979 Thomas Elsaesser essay, 2013 (pdf)
Mirroring History: Fassbinder’s The BRD Trilogy Najmeh Khalili Mhani from Offscreen, February 2013
Fassbinder: Romantic Anarchist (Part 1) | Film Society of Lincoln Center May 16, 2014 to June 1, 2014
Daily | "Fassbinder: Romantic Anarchist (Part 1)" - Fandor David Hudson, May 16, 2014
Fassbinder and his Friends: Everett Lewis Everett Lewis from Filmmaker magazine, May 30, 2014
Fassbinder and His Friends: Ira Sachs | Filmmaker Magazine Ira Sachs, May 31, 2014
Fassbinder and his Friends: Lynne Stopkewich Lynne Stopkewich from Filmmaker magazine, May 31, 2014
“Despair/Journey Into Light” (1978) by Rainer-Werner Fassbinder by ... Victor Enyutin from Acting Out Politics, June 4, 2014
Daily | "Fassbinder: Romantic Anarchist (Part 2)" - Fandor David Hudson, November 8, 2014
Michael Ballhaus on Framing and Arguing with Fassbinder on The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant video interview from Filmmaker magazine, January 18, 2015 (2:22 mi)
Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s “Merchant of Four Seasons” (1971) – When A Child Is Too Severely (Ontologically Negatively) Judged By Mother, And Later By The Society Victyor Enyutin from Acting Out Politics, February 21, 2015
Cinematography legend Michael Ballhaus turns 80 | Film | DW.COM ... Margit Eberlein from Deutsche Welle, August 4, 2015
The Betrayals of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's ... - Senses of Cinema Claire Henry, March 18, 2016
Tony Pipolo on Fassbinder: To Love Without Demands - artforum.com ... Tony Pipola from Artforum, April 26, 2016
Rainer Werner Fassbinder: 10 essential films | BFI Alex Davidson from BFI Sight and Sound, May 31, 2016
Veronika Voss Archives – The Paris Review | The Paris Review Herr Fassbinder’s Trip to Heaven, by Charlie Fox, February 23, 2017
The muse and the monster: Fassbinder's favourite star on surviving his ... Ryan Gilbey from The Guardian, March 27, 2017
Michael Ballhaus obituary | Film | The Guardian Ryan Gilbey from The Guardian, April 13, 2017
Legendary cinematographer Michael Ballhaus has died Nadine Wojcik from Deutsche Welle, April 13, 2017
Fassbinder, R.W. They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They
Interview with Hanna Schygulla about Fassbinder by Susan Sontag from the Village Voice, February 26 – March 4, 2003
Dreams of Fassbinder: An Interview with Juliane ... - Senses of Cinema Dreams of Fassbinder, interview with Juliane Lorenz, longtime Fassbinder editor, by Maximilian Le Cain and Chris Neill, December 2, 2003
Fassbinder: The Life and Work of a Provocative Genuis Louis Goyette reviews Christian Braad Thomsen’s latest book, from Offscreen August 31, 2004
from Ingrid Caven: A Novel Jean-Jacques Schuhl from Rouge
10 favorite films Criterion Collection posted a list of Fassbinder’s Ten favorite films, compiled in the last year of his life
Short film clip with Fassbinder's editor Julianne Lorenz (45 seconds) on YouTube
CITY TRAMP (Der Stadtstreicher) B 86
Fassbinder's second short film (the first is lost), an existential silent comedy about a tramp who finds a gun and then tries, unsuccessfully, to dispose of it.
1982 Gregory Avery from Nitrate Online (excerpt)
With the help of Christoph Rosen, the young man who became his first companion, Fassbinder made three short films during 1966-67, two of which still exist. The City Tramp is about a vagrant who finds a revolver but can't get rid of it, and its story was inspired by Eric Rohmer's 1959 film, La Signe du Lion (The Sign of Leo).
1982 Gregory Avery from Nitrate Online (excerpt)
A Little Chaos concerns three friends, one of whom is played by Fassbinder, who sell door-to-door subscriptions as a way of gaining access to people's homes to burglarize them. It was made as a homage to Jean-Luc Godard's Vivre sa Vie (My Life to Live), which Fassbinder claimed to have seen twenty-one times. At the conclusion of A Little Chaos, the three main characters talk about what they're going to do with the money they now have, and Fassbinder's character exultantly says, "I'm going to the cinema!"
My first film from Rainer Werner
Fassbinder is a nine-minute short, one of the director's earliest efforts. The
film follows three youths, caught up in the rebellious counter-culture of the
1960s, who decide to supplement their meagre incomes (selling magazine
subscriptions door-to-door) by orchestrating a home robbery. The three aspiring
criminals – played Christoph Roser, Marite Greiselis and Fassbinder himself –
bust into the home of a frightened woman (Greta Rehfeld), and demand her money.
The characters, particularly Fassbinder's Franz, do plenty of over-the-top
posturing, no doubt in homage to the James Cagney-style of acting that
dominated gangster movies of the 1930s and 1940s (the film even references this
sub-genre of Hollywood film-making, musing that "I'd like to see a
gangster movie that ends well, for once"). The scene of a home invasion
surprisingly called to mind 'A Clockwork Orange (1971),' though I don't know
how likely it is that Stanley Kubrick received inspiration from the amateur
work of an emerging German director.
Though 'The Little Chaos (1966)' was undoubtedly shot on a limited budget, and the cinematography certainly betrays these limitations, Fassbinder does know how to position his camera, alternating between close-up static shots and more dynamic hand-held pans. The film opens with a long zoom across a road, as an enigmatic jazz tune overwhelms the soundtrack, suggesting the brand of classy crime capers that became popular in the 1960s. The acting is adequate enough, though certainly not authentic. Fassbinder mugs determinedly to the camera, a faux tough-guy who perpetually seems to have a foul odour beneath his nostrils. Roser's character is much more tender and introverted, a likable enough guy who's obviously been roped into something in which he desires no part. The film ends with "I Can't Control Myself" by The Troggs on the soundtrack, followed by the wail of police sirens. The three petty criminals will probably get away with it this time, but one gets the feeling that they won't be so fortunate on their next venture.
LOVE IS COLDER THAN DEATH (Liebe ist kälter als der Tod) B+ 92
“Here are people who can’t get started, who have been put down, and for whom nothing is possible.”
A restless and sombre foray into the b/w world of the Hollywood gangster film as interpreted by B-movie mavericks such as Sam Fuller, and ex-Cahiers iconoclasts such as Godard, here stripped bare by Fassbinder to reveal the cold underlying mechanism of love, death, loneliness, friendship, hate, betrayal and manipulation. Shot on a pfennig budget, this - his first feature - is both an assured 'revolutionary' critique of genre, and at the same time a constantly searching experiment in style and treatment. The plot? For what it is worth, the worn-leather-jacket-and-boots, chain-smoking ex-con and pimp (Fassbinder) refuses the brutal 'persuasions' of the Syndicate, befriends a felt hat and raincoat (Lommel), only to be betrayed by a jealous prostitute lover (Schygulla) in an attempted bank robbery. In this bleak world of bare sets, static camera shots, and stylised acting, was awkwardly born one of the greatest 'lives in film' the cinema has seen.
In Rainer Werner Fassbinder's first feature film, from 1969, Franz, a freelance gangster (the grungy Fassbinder himself, then twenty-three), brings Bruno, a pretty-boy gunman (Ulli Lommel, an Alain Delon look-alike) into his ambiguous ménage with the prostitute Johanna (a young and overripe Hanna Schygulla). They track down and rub out a thug who has falsely accused Franz of murder and discover that they like it. Scene after scene and shot after shot recall the French New Wave masterworks that inspired Fassbinder, but the grim humor and the deadpan Brechtian stylings (the film was produced by the director's own so-called "antitheatre" in Munich) are entirely his own. In Fassbinder's blasted post-'68 landscape of lost ideals, the New Wave's philosophical flights of fancy give way to a mannered, proto-punk despair: the stark, cynical view of power relations of sex, money, and violence and the sadomasochistically romantic delight in the resulting cruelties would mark the director's entire meteoric career. In German.
Love is Colder Than Death was Rainer Werner Fassbinder's first feature-length film (he had directed two shorts three years earlier: The Little Tramp and The Little Chaos), the story of a small-time pimp, Franz (Fassbinder), and his complicated relationship with his prostitute girlfriend, Joanna (Hanna Schygulla), and a criminal associate, Bruno (Ulli Lommel), who mysteriously and erotically enters their lives. Had the film been made at a later point in Fassbinder's all-too brief but remarkably illustrious and prolific career, the film's static aesthetic could have been read as a deliberate attempt on the director's part to show his critics that his camera need not move on inch to convey the same rapturous feeling of his greater films. Except Love is Colder Than Death is not a great Fassbinder film. Narratively and experimentally, it's neither exciting nor groundbreaking; since Fassbinder was still obviously trying to hone his signature Brechtian aesthetic, it may come as a surprise that the film echoes the French New Wave (namely Jean-Luc Godard's lyrical, postmodern masterpiece Band of Outsiders) than it does the cinema of Douglas Sirk. Essentially a glorified Calvin Klein advert, the rigorously symmetrical Love is Colder Than Death is drunk on vacuous posturing though you may be taken aback by the beautiful, unexpected shifts in register throughout (there's a half dozen scenes in which Fassbinder allows his camera to move sideways or forward in tandem with the filmic action, and every single one of these movements feels like a rapturous release from the film's otherwise stringent aesthetic). The film's blanched look evokes a heavenly realm where Franz and Joanna's love is constantly compromised by Bruno's threatening third wheel. When Lommel isn't rising alluringly into frame between Fassbinder and Schygulla, he points his gun at the empty space before him. There's no physical target per se, but Fassbinder's chic cuts-on-action repeatedly suggest that Schygulla's Joanna is the object of the man's secret scorn. These disquieting moments evoke a strange and complex sexual relationship between the film's characters—one that is bound to end in typically ravishing, Fassbinderian betrayals.
Love is Colder Than Death Jim’s Reviews
Liebe ist kälter als der Tod (Love Is Colder Than Death) Tom von Logue Newth from FilmFracture, June 15, 2011
VideoVista review Gary McMahon
Turner Classic Movies dvd review a compilation of capsule reviews
DVD Times Noel Megahey, reviews the 9-disc Region 2 DVD release, The Rainer Werner Fassbinder Commemorative Collection Volume 1
KATZELMACHER A- 94
Bavarian slang for “cat screwer,” an adaptation of his 1968 play, another exploration of personal relationships, this time set in a bleak Munich apartment complex, where he arranges a group of disaffected and bored young people a little differently each time in a line facing the camera, returning to this same image frequently, as there are dramatic changes in their behavior with the arrival of a Greek immigrant, using highly stylized and distinctively different dialogue. Rainer plays the Greek immigrant, aka Katzelmacher, referring to the supposed sexual habits of foreigners, who is the object of racist hatred and scorn, and who ultimately gets beat up for going out with a German woman. This feels a bit like you’re in the middle of a Jim Jarmusch film, with Hanna Schygulla, Lilith Ungerer, and Elga Sorbas.
Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1969):
“In my films, there shouldn’t be feelings that people have already digested or absorbed; the film should create new ones instead.”
Fear and loathing in the mean streets of suburban Munich, where all behaviour obeys the basest and most basic of drives, and fleeting allegiances form and re-form in almost mathematically abstract permutations until disrupted by the advent of an immigrant Greek worker (played by Fassbinder himself; the title is a Bavarian slang term for a gastarbeiter, implying tomcatting sexual proclivities) who becomes the target for xenophobic violence. Fassbinder's sub-Godardian gangster film début, Love is Colder than Death, was dismissed as derivative and dilettanté-ish; this second feature, based on his own anti-teater play, won immediate acclaim. It still seems remarkable, mainly for Fassbinder's distinctive, highly stylised dialogue and minimalist mise-en-scène that transfigures a cinema of poverty into bleakly triumphant rites of despair.
Katzelmacher changed many people's
lives when it came out. One has to wonder how exponential the effects were, but
the waves that films like this make are usually much greater than most viewers
can fathom. (For example, although very few people are familiar with John
Cassavetes' Shadows, that film affected Martin Scorsese profoundly.)
In the interesting documentary, I Don't Just Want You To Love Me, Fassbinder claims that he didn't move the camera much during this time for aesthetic reasons. His cinematographer (Dietrich Lohmann), however, says that aesthetics had little to do with it; they simply couldn't easily move the bulky camera and dolly, and they had no budget to rent better equipment.
This film is part of an experimental avalanche, and it is amazing. The particular art house feel is a result of the times, and as Fassbinder moves on it is fascinating to contemplate how he gets his message across, using different styles. He was truly fearless, and all of his stuff is worth serious consideration.
Katzelmacher becomes even more interesting after viewing his later work.
A batch of Munich deadbeats spend the days bitching,
smoking, drinking beer and fucking each other (mostly for money), until the
arrival of a young Greek immigrant gives their petty cruelty a new focus --
ranging from rape to communism, gossip ferments until it makes the fellas take
a break from leaning against the building railing to tap dance on the
outsider's face. Very much a spawn of his Anti-Theatre sensibility, Rainer
Werner Fassbinder's follow-up to his debut Love is Colder Than Death is
all blank walls, blunt alienation and deadpan puckishness. Adapting his on his
own play, Fassbinder (who plays the Greek lunk) sheathes a generation's
post-war prejudice and despair in rootless posing and unbudging camera setups
-- the group's social-spiritual deadness, recorded in static long takes, is
razzed in mock-ethereal reverse tracking shots across the courtyard,
accompanied by some unseen Schubertian tickling. The theme is dislocated ennui,
but the director keeps things harshly droll, steering his
bored-insouciant-witty troupe (including such future staples as Hanna
Schygulla, Irm Hermann and Harry Baer) in and out of their microdramas and,
Godard-style, making something out of nothing (a couple stripping in a tiny
bare room with only a mattress on the floor and a drawing on the wall, an
argument pitched over a meal, Elga Sorbas doing a little song around an
imaginary spotlight). Cinematography by Dietrich Lohmann. With Lilith Ungerer,
Okay, this is a cheat, since I have not yet made a list for 1969, but I wanted to jot a few thoughts down before I forgot them. Contrary to its middling reputation, Katzelmacher is a pivotal work in RFW's oeuvre. It's pretty much the exact moment when his major influences come together. There is a stark visual and temporal economy that harks back to his tutelage with Straub and Huillet. There are the crisp black-and-white images, frontal blocking, and slimy, slutty underworld ambiance of Andy Warhol. But now, thrown into the mix for what I think is the very first time is Fassbinder's Sirk jones. In Katzelmacher, we see a host of pathetic back-biting bums and sluts (or both), essentially the sort of folks who we used to call "white trash" back home in Texas, before that became a classist epithet. They turn tricks, nurse pipe-dreams about movie stardom, talk shit about each other behind their backs, but mostly sit on the wall until they get thirsty and go to the pub. The only thing that can bring (most of) them together is an outsider, in this case Fassbinder himself playing a Greek Gastarbeiter with a shaky command of German. It's here that Fassbinder the writer-director first lays down his major moves, pushing social commentary right to the brink of believability. The "villains" speak in slogans and received ideas, all the better to get the point across. But unlike some desiccated leftist exercise, Katzelmacher lends a sad pathos to the hatred, as if (as in actual works by Brecht and Sirk) the racists are saying and doing what they have to do, paying lip- and fist-service to ideologies they themselves can't even fully commit to. After being a bit frustrated with some of the early films (Love is Colder Than Death, Gods of the Plague), Katzelmacher was an astonishing kick in the teeth. Fassbinder the Master Filmmaker starts here.
Katzelmacher Jim’s Reviews
VideoVista review Paul Higson
Strictly Film School Acquarello
Turner Classic Movies dvd review a compilation of capsule reviews
DVD Times Noel Megahey, reviews the 9-disc Region 2 DVD release, The Rainer Werner Fassbinder Commemorative Collection Volume 1
GODS OF THE PLAGUE (Götter der Pest) B 89
“ GODS OF THE PLAGUE is a rather precise film about the feeling of a certain period of time, the way things really were in that peculiar postrevolutionary era of 1970.”
Time Out review Geoff Andrew
Remade (in more impressive form) as The American Soldier later the same year, Fassbinder's early gangster movie is slow, absurd, and quite mesmerising. Baer's the pretty criminal 'hero' who gradually sinks back into his underworld ways by hanging around with the wrong types: card-playing crooks and layabouts with trenchcoats and ever-present cigarettes, fickle molls hanging languorously on the sidelines. Any social comment is implicit rather than explicit, the world depicted is related more closely to classic American noir than any contemporary reality, and there is very little plot indeed. But it's a witty, stylish meditation on the genre, filtered through the decidedly dark and morbid sensibility of its director.
Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Gods of the Plague picks up where Love Is Colder Than Death left off (in between both projects he helmed the successful Katzelmacher), this time with a lot less preening and not a whole lot of gumption. Franz (now played by Harry Baer) is released from prison and makes plans to rob a local supermarket with the help of "Gorilla" (Fassbinder's longtime lover Günther Kaufman in his first screen appearance), a Bavarian criminal who killed his brother. After a quick visit with Joanna (still played by the one and only Hanna Schygulla), Franz shacks up with the gorgeous Margarethe (Margarethe Von Trotta), who ultimately gangs up with Joanna in order to betray him. Gods of the Plague suffers from a curious identity crisis. If the film isn't quite successful as a noir exercise (had Fassbinder tilted his camera a few degrees to the side, we could have been watching any number of Welles classics), it's probably because there's a conflict of styles here. The film is tightly composed for much of its running time, but this rigorous framing doesn't so much evoke the claustrophobic allure of some of the best noir classics as much as it points to Fassbinder's bare-bones art direction budget. If not as accomplished as Love Is Colder Than Death, Gods of the Plague is dignified by an irresistible and emotional softness. The narrative is random and disposable, which means you'll have to settle for the allure of the film's many women. Fassbinder can summon the nurturing love of a mother for a son with as little as a delicate overhead shot and he can fabulously suggest the power of a woman over a man by simply lingering on her unavoidable and imposing gaze (see the picture-cum-advertisement in Margarethe's apartment that threatens Franz and Gorilla with its curious invitation: "Have a Cool Blonde Harp"). And in Schygulla's conflicted chanteuse, Fassbinder channels for the first time the spirit of the infamous blond Venus Marlene Dietrich summoned so many times for Josef von Sternberg. The film's women live so we can have our Lola and Veronika Voss. Never trust a blonde…or something like that.
Gods of the Plague Jim’s Reviews
VideoVista review Gary McMahon
Turner Classic Movies dvd review a compilation of capsule reviews
DVD Times Noel Megahey, reviews the 9-disc Region 2 DVD release, The Rainer Werner Fassbinder Commemorative Collection Volume 1
WHY DOES HERR R. RUN AMOK? (Warum läuft Herr R. Amok) B 87
Fassbinder's first color film, based on an idea at age 17, using a spare dramatic style, improvised dialogue and action, a clinically detailed, satirical examination of the supposedly perfect, suburban middle class as represented by the bored, bland, complacent life of Kurt Raab, who is anything but boring in Fassbinder’s hands as the prevailing order is crying out for a little chaos, leading to the ultimate alienation, which is observed with utter calm, sort of a case study for MERCHANT OF FOUR SEASONS with minimal action, a follow up to LOVE IS COLDER THAN DEATH, as emotions express weakness in this world.
Using anti-theatre regulars Peer Raben, Hanna Schygulla, Irm Hermann, and his wife, Ingrid Caven, as well as the bored, bland, overweight, and supposedly happily married Kurt Raab as Herr R, who can't stand to listen to his wife, Lilith Ungerer, and her friends, particularly Irm Hermann, always cast in the most negative light by Fassbinder, who finds a way to utilize candleholders to extract her punishment. Herr R, a likeable office worker with a family, calmly picks up an ornate lamp one evening and bludgeons his wife, child and neighbor, then just as calmly, shows up for work the next morning. A variation of this same theme is used by Chantal Akerman in JEANNE DIELMAN (1975), though meticulously perfected into a complete work of art by Akerman, this appears largely experimental in Fassbinder's hands, as much of what we see seems as if we may still be in the rehearsal stage. As Fred Tsao says, "The punishment continues..."
Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1970):
“In KATZELMACHER we wanted to offer an alternative viewpoint through the style, and in AMOK through the use of color as well; the audience should understand the content and see that it relates to them, while at the same time, through the form by which it is communicated, they gain some distance so they can reflect on what they’re seeing.”
Made for about $10,000, this 1970 provocation by Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Michael Fengler stars Kurt Raab (The Stationmaster's Wife) as a character with the same name--a moody, misfit draftsman at a German architectural firm who grows increasingly alienated from his workplace, his neighbors, his parents, and his bourgeois wife (Lilith Ungerer). As did Sinclair Lewis in Babbitt, Fassbinder navigates carefully between mockery and empathy, heightening the interior drama with his superior staging: in almost every key scene, the chattering characters become white noise as we focus on the silent sufferer in the room. With Franz Maron and Hanna Schygulla. 88 min.
Co-directed by the young Fassbinder (then only 25 years old)
with his friend and producer Michael Fengler, 'Herr R.' shows Fassbinder's
tendency to get up the nose of the middle class.
Here, in opposition to his more characteristically considered style, a shaky hand-held camera eavesdrops on the eponymous Herr R.(played to perfection by the great Kurt Raab) who is tediously seen at his work, with his wife, during a visit from his parents and the like, while slowly unwinding inside.
Long takes predominate and we are also let into the life of Herr R.'s pretty but equally vapid wife for whom he, in a most affecting scene, buys a record without knowing the singer or song title - much to the shameless merriment of the shop-girls who serve him. Fassbinder keeps the tension tightly wound throughout and it is this knowing sense of what to show and when to withhold that gives the greatest indication that this is the work of a man who was to become one of
No doubt, many will find the extreme sense of realism and boredom too oppressive but 'Herr R.' has proved to be highly influential on a much later generation of film-makers and still retains the power to provoke and unsettle.
The first scene in Rainer Werner Fassbinder's mysterious, mesmerizing Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? (1970) has four co-workers telling silly, rather stupid jokes. The first four jokes pass by with nary a raised eyebrow, but the fifth one is a joke about a man strangling his wife.
That's a clue as to how the rest of the movie is going to go. It's a series of unstructured, almost innocuous scenes that could almost be arranged in any order.
In another early scene, our hero Herr R. (Kurt Raab) and his wife (Lilith Ungerer) are having a drink with a friend. The friend is played by the beautiful, playfully determined Hanna Schygulla, a familiar face in Fassbinder's work (she would go on to play the title role in his most celebrated film, the 1979 The Marriage of Maria Braun).
Schygulla's character talks about being free and single, being able to go where she wants and to do what she wants. In another Fassbinder film, the camera might follow her off to some adventure. But in this one, we never see her again.
Instead, we're plunked right down into the middle of Herr R.'s facile existence and his numbing daily problems. His son is having problems at school. He invites a boring friend over for drinks. He tries to find a record in a music shop while the teenage shopgirls quietly make fun of him.
These scenes occur mainly in long, unbroken takes; I doubt that this 88-minute movie has more than 20 individual shots. Within each, Fassbinder points his camera wherever his mood carries him.
Finally, Herr R. runs amok. It's a scene of almost shocking nonchalance, punctuated by ennui and annoyance rather than rage or violence.
Which brings us back to the title. Fassbinder continually shows us moments that Herr R. does not see; we understand that he is not particularly well liked or admired, but he may not see this. So what triggers him?
Perhaps the answer is not really in the film, which is why Fassbinder asks the audience with the title. Heaven help you if you know the answer.
Turner Classic Movies Jeff Stafford
Man kills entire family and himself". How often have we
read a newspaper headline like that and wondered what triggered that final act
of madness? When there are no survivors to question, we can only speculate
based on the press coverage but, in the end, we can never really know why.
German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder doesn't provide any easy answers
either in Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? (1970), the tale of a seemingly
successful, middle-class family man who suddenly snaps one day, killing his
wife, a visiting neighbor and his son, before taking his own life. But long
before we witness that climactic act of violence, there are telltale signs
along the way that trouble is brewing at home and at work.
Shot in a mere thirteen days in
Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? was said to have strongly influenced Danish director Lars Von Trier who owes a debt to this film, which in many ways prefigures some of the tenets of his Dogme 95 film movement - hand-held cinematography, shooting in real locations with available light, natural sound with no added musical score or effects, and an avoidance of genre clichés. Unlike the stylized theatricality of Fassbinder's earlier Katzelmacher (1969) which was adapted from a play, Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? has a cinema-verite quality and most of the dialogue was improvised. All of the actors also address each other by their real first names. According to writer Ronald Hayman in his book Fassbinder: Filmmaker the director "probably knew he was more likely to get the performance he wanted from Kurt Raab if he cast Lilith Ungerer as his wife. She was an antitheater actress Raab had always disliked...These provocations may seem petty, but they must have reinforced the concentration of petty provocations in the plot." The cast also includes Fassbinder regulars Harry Baer and Lilo Pempeit (Fassbinder's mother) as fellow employees and, in a small bit, Hanna Schygulla as an acquaintance from school.
The theatrical release of Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? came at a time when Fassbinder was just starting to receive international recognition as one of the leaders in the New German Cinema along with Volker Schlondorff, Werner Herzog, Margarethe von Trotta, Hans-Jurgen Syberberg and Wim Wenders. His work, however, was a reaction against the commercial cinema of his time as he himself stated: "The established culture business needs outsiders like me." Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? could be interpreted as Fassbinder's attack on the complacency of his fellow man but film scholar Jim Clark in the liner notes that accompany the DVD makes this observation: "While this is perhaps Fassbinder's most hyper-real picture, it's also among his most richly ambiguous works, mysterious to the bone. The allegorical title suggests that he has symbolic intentions, but he never forces a narrow this-means-that interpretation." Fassbinder's comments on his film, in typical fashion, were much more obtuse: "In Katzelmacher we wanted to offer the possibility of a kind of alternative attitude through the style of the film, and in Amok we are also using color to this end: the audience should understand the contents of the film and see that this has something to do with them, while, at the same time, finding a distance to it through the form in which the action is presented, so that they can reflect upon what they see." In a later comment, Fassbinder stated that Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? was "the most disgusting film I ever made."
The Fantoma DVD of Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? showcases a new digital transfer of the film in its original 1.33:1 aspect ration. The only extra is an interview with cinematographer Dietrich Lohmann, who collaborated with Fassbinder on many of his early films and offers a revealing look at the director's working methods.
Though the title asks an important
question, the film itself offers no such resolutions, with Fassbinder simply
supplying us with a series of potential ideas and scenarios that might lead an audience
to draw their own conclusions as to why the film ends the way that it does.
Although this was quite obviously an early work for Fassbinder, produced at a
relatively young age and on a limited budget, the themes and ideas behind it
are in keeping with the far greater and more assured films that he would
eventually produce during the following years of his life. These ideas of
dissatisfaction, fulfilment, alienation and dislocation would all be explored
in varied films, such as The Merchant of Four Seasons (1972), Fox and his
Friends (1975), Mother Kusters' Trip to Heaven (1975) and In a Year of 13 Moons
(1978) respectively, with the director expressing these feelings often through
jarring stylisation and alienation techniques to help convey the emotional
intensity of the characters in a way that made it easier to comprehend from the
perspective of the audience.
As some commentators have previously noted, the film-making technique employed throughout Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? (1970) draws heavily on cinéma-vérité conventions of heightened realism and bare formality, as the director - here co-credited alongside Michael Fengler - uses minimal production design, naturalistic lighting, long-takes and jarring jump cuts to establish a sense of drab, everyday normality and ironic, faux-documentary-like realism. This presentation of the film, when combined with the episodic narrative - in which nothing 'seems' to happen - make the eventual resolution all the more shocking and provocative. What Fassbinder is suggesting through the scenario presented here is never fully clarified, with the film beginning and ending with the title covering the screen and all potential notions that might have resulted in the breakdown of communication and the urge for destruction often being dismissed by the director(s) almost as soon as it has been established. Nonetheless, we can draw our own conclusion with the evidence that is implied here; whilst the benefit of repeated viewings and close attention paid to the character of "R." as he progresses through the film hints at a human being finally crushed by the humdrum grind of day-to-day subsistence.
There are a number of factors that seem to lead to the final act of the film; with the character belittled by his attractive wife, who stays at home while her husband works and continually chips away at his self-esteem by mentioning his failure to receive a promotion, his lack of social skills and his subsequent weight gain. He also has a son that is under-performing at school, as well as becoming alienated from his classmates as a result of an unfortunate speech impediment. "R." dutifully spends his time after work with the boy, reading to him and trying to coach him through certain words while his wife entertains their snooty and slyly condescending neighbours. This seems to suggest a tenderness and compassion to the character; qualities that are also obvious in the scene in which "R" and his wife recline on the couch in bathrobes drinking wine, listening to music and reminiscing fondly on how they first met. Nothing is black and white in Fassbinder's films, with the shades of grey presented in the character making the eventual shift in tone even more enigmatic and perplexing; with the cold and rigid examination of Fassbinder and Fengler also making any clearly defined interpretation more difficult as a result of the persistent lack of moralising or melodrama.
Some viewers have noted the similarities here to the later work of Lars von Trier, in particular a film like The Idiots (1998) with its roots in the Dogme 95 manifesto, as well as films like Breaking the Waves (1996) and Dancer in the Dark (2000). Like von Trier, Fassbinder is cold and clinical in his approach to the film, casting a cynical eye on the mechanisms of contemporary society and hinting at the very nature of bourgeois, 20th century living as a possible reason for this seemingly unprovoked cycle of violence. In one of the films key scenes, "R." visits his family physician for an annual check-up. Here, he complains of headaches, and the doctor opines that he's most probably over-worked and over-stressed. Instead of prescribing any kind of help, the doctor tells him to give up smoking, which will bring his blood pressure down and "help with the headaches". The flippant, unsympathetic tone of the doctor and his assessment of "R." seems a deliberate move on Fassbinder's part, with the clear hint that the characters problems stem from his heavy work load and need to provide for his family. Instead of addressing this issue, the doctor instead tells him to give up smoking; one of the few small pleasures that he seems to gleam from social interaction.
There are other hints layered throughout the film, which opens with "R's" work colleagues telling bad taste jokes that come to delicately set up a number the actions that the character will subsequently take. Fassbinder would later return to the themes of Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? in his subsequent masterpiece, Mother Kusters' Trip to Heaven, which could almost be seen as something of a thematic sequel to the film in question. For me, the later film is infinitely better; one of the director's most pointed, affecting and intelligent works, and one of the very best examples of New German Cinema produced during that particular period. However, the way that the themes of that film are paralleled here gives yet another shade of interpretation to Herr. R's enigmatic approach to cinematic examination. Though it is (perhaps) a little rough around the edges, Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? is an interesting film from Fassbinder; one that benefits from the cold cynicism of its director, and a truly mesmerising performance from the subtly affecting Kurt Raab.
Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? Jim’s Reviews, which include the DVD essay
Cinepassion.org Fernando F. Croce
DVD Times Noel Megahey, reviews the 4-disc Region 2 DVD release, Rainer Werner Fassbinder Volume 1
RIO DAS MORTES – made for TV C 75
Pretty straightforward for a Fassbinder movie,
The film involves two friends (Michael König and Günther Kaufmann) who decide they want to sail a Peruvian river in search of a fabled treasure. The journey will take a lot of money, so they proceed to do everything in their power to raise it. They borrow. They work overtime. They try to find investors for a hypothetical cotton plantation. They even sell the car -- a nondescript sequence that consumes 10 of the film's 84 minutes. Eventually, a girlfriend (Fassbinder regular Hanna Schygulla) gets wind of the plan and tries to stop it.
Despite its short running time, the film is padded with protracted scenes like the aforementioned car sale, dancing in a bar, talking on the phone, and reading aloud about, of all things, the life of Lana Turner. They jabber endlessly about her past -- even Schygulla is unable to hide her obvious boredom when one speech drags on for five minutes or more. There are few moments of real drama in
Overall, it's safe to skip this minor entry in the Fassbinder litany.
The mundane oppression of German life, which drove the stumplike protagonists of Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? and The Merchant of Four Seasons into suicide, is fended off by the two proletarian heroes (Michael König and Günther Kaufmann) here through absurd fantasy -- they dream of escaping into the Peruvian jungles to seek out some unlikely buried treasure, and spend most of the running time half-assedly trying to drum up funds, muddling from doomed scheme to doomed scheme. The occasional Antitheatre set piece notwithstanding (five gals smoking and walking in a circle in front of a huge blackboard, where a looming dick is chalked in, tagged "USSA"), this mostly forgotten entry of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's early futzing-around period feels unaccountably close to an American road-trip comedy, though, as befits the director's stark inquiry into the stunted alienation of a generation, the characters remain for the most part locked in political stasis. In between scrambling for money, there's pub jitterbugging to "Jailhouse Rock," reading aloud from an entry on Lana Turner, and some authentic bohemian décor circa 1970, wicker chairs, Buster Keaton posters and all. It is illustrative of the characters' apathy that their expected amorous triangle with König's bored bride (Hanna Schygulla) never solidifies, though she does display a far more lucid grasp on life than the two, who, to quote from Kaufmann's monologue about his days in the Navy, "take the line of least resistance." And yet, in the end it is Schygulla who's left behind, lost in her own lipsticky melodrama while the fellas take off together for literally greener pastures -- even this early, Fassbinder understood just how much more elusive escape is for a woman. With Katrin Schaake, Harry Baer, and Ulli Lommel.
After the heavy-handed Brechtian
devices of a number of his early films, Fassbinder really begins to get going
in this made-for-TV piece about a couple of working class men who share a boyhood
dream to search for treasure in Rio das Mortes in Peru. The dream they share is
a typical storytelling "call to adventure" and the film delineates
their deadbeat and usually hopeless attempts to raise the money for the venture
- their economic situation is too hopeless for them to save, selling their
possessions and cashing in their inheritances doesn't add up to much and
attempts to finance the trip as a business venture and a research expedition
fail due to their hopeless inabilities. But luck arrives in the form of a widow
with more money than sense, who stumps up the finance and so off they go. What
we've seen of them doesn't inspire much hope for their adventure...
All the while, their male story is ironically counterpointed with the hopes, dreams and aspirations of the live-in girlfriend of one of the men, played by the extraordinary Hanna Schygulla. She goes to college and takes part in a feminist theatre-piece (the conclusion of which is "women's own behaviour is the best evidence of their oppression") but learns little, as she dreams of placating her nagging mother by marrying and having lots of kids. All of that is made nonsense of by the dream-journey of the men, which she almost kiboshes by nearly shooting them at the end, a quirk of fate saving them.
Fassbinder, to my mind for the first time successfully, moulds his early obsession with the homo-social exclusion of the female in male friendships into a contemporary melodrama of some verve and wit. His story, a classic "quest myth", is ironically set in a society seething with casual misogyny, violence, class contempt, economic want and ignorance. Gritty realism is used to undermine the high-falutin dreams of the men, but the film suggests that lucky twists of fate might save a dream - all Fassbinder leaves men with is faith in turns of a friendly card; all he leaves women with is incompatible hopes of settling down with their menfolk, who shaped the patriarchal world in which they're subservient to ideals to which men's inmost dreams are opposed.
Rio das Mortes Jim’s Reviews
Rio das Mortes Tom von Logue Newth from FilmFracture, September 28, 2009
VideoVista review J.C. Hartley
Fulvue Drive-in dvd review Nate Goss
Turner Classic Movies dvd review a compilation of capsule reviews
THE COFFEEHOUSE (Das Kaffeehaus)
Cologne (105 mi) February – 1970
Das Kaffeehaus Fassbinder Foundation
People meet and chat at Ridolfo’s Coffeehouse. The conversations are mostly about money. But they are of course also about feelings, ideals, friendship, love, fidelity, and respectability. But all this has its price. The TV adaptation of the play – still very popular today – is based on the Venetian comedy writer Carlo Goldoni (1707–1793) and the stage productions of Fassbinder and Peer Raben in Bremen and Munich (with the antiteater group).
WHITY C 70
“ Yet in actual fact, the entire film is pitted against the black man, because he always hesitates and fails to defend himself against injustice. In the end he does shoot the people who oppressed him, but then he goes off into the desert and dies, having come to realize certain things without being able to act. He goes into the desert because he doesn’t dare face the inevitable consequences. I find it OK that he kills his oppressors, but it is not OK that he then goes into the desert. For by doing that he accepts the superiority of the others. Had he truly believed in his action, he would have allied himself with other suppressed individuals, and they would have acted together. The single-handed act at the end of the movie is not a solution. Thus in the last instance the film turns even against blacks.”
Whity is a strange but beautiful movie. It is a German
language western set in 1878. The only time any English is used is during the
songs sung by the saloon whore who performs like she's in a cabaret in
The bizarre story (believe me this is unlike any western you have ever seen) centers on the title character - real name Samuel King - the bastard son and slave to the wealthy Nicholson family. The father is a sadistic son of a bitch whose favorite form of punishment for his grown-up sons is a buggy whip. In one scene Whity willingly steps in for one of his brothers and takes the beating for him.
The other members of the family keep begging Whity to kill their father (or husband whichever the case may be). Otherwise they pass the time by regularly humiliating Whity. All except for the youngest brother. He's a bit special. He and Whity have a much more physically intimate relationship. Whity's mother is also a family slave. She's the cook.
Every so often Whity steals some time for himself and pays a visit to his gal at the local saloon. She's the singing hooker with the heart of gold and she wants Whity to go East with her.
I won't give away the ending to this one but believe me it's suitably strange. But not in a makes-no-logical-sense-David-Lynch sort of way. It has a cohesive plot. One thing you can say about this movie - love it or hate it - is that it succeeds at being what it was trying to be.
Normally I'm not a big fan of the art for art's sake school of moviemaking. But Fassbinder's Whity is one example that I love. It works because the story is so far out-there, especially for a western, that it allows you to focus on the cinematic pictures while still making enough sense to hold your attention. Also it helps that Whity is such a unique hero and that Günther Kaufmann gives a great performance.
As art every shot is sublimely thought-out and executed. The camera work is fluid and dreamy with many long takes. Fassbinder's eye for color rivals Vincente Minnelli's. He shoots his star like he's Cary Grant. Clearly this was a director in love with his leading man. And no wonder. Günther was hot, not to mention a truly magnetic presence in front of the camera.
Truly weird, but beautiful.
was the sickest film of Rainer Wener Fassbinder's career. This fascinating
Weltschmerz spaghetti western from 1970 concerns itself with the liberation of
a black slave (Günther Kaufmann) from the home of his master and white father,
Benjamin Nicholson (Ron Randell). Though the genre-blasting Whity sees
Fassbinder toying with classic western conventions and trying to address and
subvert distinctly American forms of racism, the moral catastrophes he exposes
are nonetheless played for a world-weary pathos and universality. Whity may
passively accept his place in society, but does the we-shall-overcome anthem
his kitchen-stranded mother, Marpessa (Elaine Baker), sing get her much further
in life? In the char-darkened face of Whity's mother and zombified mugs of the
masochistic Nicholson clan, Fassbinder ghoulishly and fascinatingly evokes the
respective decay and retardation of the human spirit. For Fassbinder, the
complex pathology of the film's racists and passive aggressors (as always, the
director takes to task those who actively participate in their own
victimization) is deliriously likened to various sexual perversions. The
Nicholsons are sadomasochists who derive pleasure from Whity's pain, just as
the Hanna Schygulla's seemingly liberated showgirl enslaves Kaufmann's Mandingo
in her own deceptive way (in one scene, she kisses him knowing that a gang of
bar rats will no doubt beat him up). Whity is a triumphant work of
political resistance, a force mirrored in the film's aesthetic: Fassbinder's
ever-gliding camera startlingly parallels the lives of characters who don't
quite understand their function within the filmic space, and therefore their
place in society. Because Whity is so technically triumphant
(Fassbinder's sensuous camera repeatedly calls attention to the many prisons
the characters occupy; the actors often had to exit the film's frame in order
to put on their white-faces and re-enter a scene, sometimes in one continuous
shot), it's easy to see why this rigorousness provoked many an emotional
windfall between the director and his crew. Whity was shot in the
Spanish town of
Whatever else it may be -- Anti-Theatre roadshow, cheekily
ghoulish roundelay, the Western spoof Mel Brooks was afraid to make -- this
stylized genre-bender should be remembered first and foremost as the film in
which Rainer Werner Fassbinder discovered the beauty and power of the image.
Working for the first time with wizardly cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, he
delineates a mise en scène almost parodical in its lushness, the gliding
camera movements and engulfing décor seemingly a far cry from the purposeful
bareness of Katzelmacher or Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? Rather
than decreasing the earlier intensity, however, the movie's drunk-on-surfaces
stylistics push the stark aesthetics to their limits by encasing their
terseness within a pungent cinematic skin. Society/family is again on trial:
set in a 19th-century
Rarely screened, forgotten by even the most devoted admirers of Fassbinder, _Whity_ is nonetheless a crucial film in Fassbinder's own development as a film-artist. For one, the style of the film marks Fassbinder's turn away from his earlier, Neo-realistic efforts (notably _Katzelmacher_ and _Why Does Herr R. Run Amok?_) and turn towards the flamboyant, melodramatic form favored by him until his untimely death in 1982. Melodrama turns out to be the best possible style for the film's story, which chronicles the fall of the seigniorial Nicholson family in the Mexican 19th century. Indeed, this film should be seen for no other reason than the inescapable weirdness one feels in watching German actors play Mexicans in the Old West. It's like seeing Peter Lorre playing John Wayne: ridiculous, if only it weren't so creepy. "Decadent" and "dysfunctional" are words redefined by the Nicholson family: the patriarch, Ben Nicholson, is remote and cruel, the wife a nymphomaniac, the older son a flaming homosexual, and his brother a severely retarded adolescent. Then there's Whity, the ironically named mulatto slave of the Nicholson family, an inadvertent focus point of each family member's perverse obsessions. It is this mutual obsession with Whity (an obsession shared by the viewer by film's end) which allows Fassbinder to explore the themes which were to comprise his greatest contribution to film's development as a medium, including: dominance and submission, the role of the Other, sexuality, the doppelganger, the economy of familial relationships, and the obstacles fate puts in the way of consumating love. These issues gain complexity when one considers that the slave Whity is played by Fassbinder's then-lover, Gunther Kaufmann. Given this, what is the viewer to make of such stylistic scenes as when Whity is disciplined by his master, while the other family members garrulously look on--knowing that Fassbinder himself is also watching from his director/dictator's chair? (The complex inter-relationships of Fassbinder and the actors during the filming of _Whity_ were later chronicled by Fassbinder in his film _Beware of a Holy Whore_, which is based on the real-life melodrama that occurred _off_ the set of _Whity_.) If nothing else, _Whity_ deserves to be included in with the other Fassbinder films, such as _Despair_, which are so justly celebrated for their psychological depth and complexity. Beyond this, two aspects of Fassbinder's technique in making _Whity_ deserve special mention. The first is that in _Whity_, one of the first of his films to employ a half-way reputable color process, Fassbinder shows himself to be a great colorist in the tradition of Delacroix, bathing the eyes with the lushest oranges, browns, and reds to be seen this side of a sunset. The palette is one that seems to have existed in film only in the late 60s and early 70s, finding similarly gorgeous expression in Truffaut's _Fahrenheit 451_, Boorman's _Point Blank_, Godard's _La Chinoise_, and Nicolas Roeg's early efforts (_A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to The Forum_ , _Performance_, _Walkabout_, _Don't Look Now_, _The Man Who Fell to Earth_). The second aspect of noteworthy technique is a camera movement that truly has no precedent in film history--a fact which makes the obscurity of _Whity_ among film scholars all the more remarkable. The best example of the technique occurs in a scene in which Ben Nicholson reads his last will and testament to the silent family members surrounding him. During an unbroken ten-minute take, the actors remain virtually motionless, as if posed in some Rembrantian tableaux (and in this way recalling Dreyer's _Day of Wrath_). Against this stasis, the camera pans slowly from one family member to another, following their own sight-lines, as if the camera were recording the trace of their attention. For ten minutes the camera repeats this zig-zag path with methodical precision, while psychedelic, trance-inducing music drones in the background. The greatest merit of the technique (seen also in an equally static scene between Whity and the retarded son in the horse barn) is that it allows the viewer time enough to meditate on the relationships among the characters involved in the tableaux--in this case most profoundly on the relationships of power among family members. It's as if Fassbinder, using film technique, took a snapshot of the family, and then spent ten minutes tracing out with his finger exactly who is dominated by whom, who resents the domination, who is perceiving whom and how, and so on. The technique, which to my knowledge Fassbinder never used again to such great effect, can only be seen as the great innovation that it is, and as such, a powerful tool for the revelation of psychological truth. However, let none of these deeper concerns eclipse the enjoyment to be had watching this bizarre, Teutonic _Dallas_ unfold. Like the best moments in a Warhol film, the high camp of _Whity_ is very, very funny to watch--certainly because it is absurd, which is not to say it is without profound meaning.
Whity from Jim’s Reviews
Fulvue Drive-in dvd review Nicholas Sheffo
THE NIKLASHAUSEN JOURNEY (Die Niklashauser Fart) – made for TV B- 80
“As Godard’s WEEKEND captured the anarchic spirit of France in the sixties, this rarely seen Fassbinder film reflected sexual and political upheaval in Germany...Fassbinder gleefully jumbles the worlds of medieval Europe, the (then) Third World, postwar Germany and the Roccoco period.”
This 1970 allegory about allegory veers from intellectual exercise into emotional exhortation and blurs the line between theater and film. Nesting complex visual strategies within simpler ones, writer-directors Rainer Werner Fassbinder (who plays a monk in a motorcycle jacket) and Michael Fengler present a series of scenes that demonstrate the martyrdom of a shepherd, who's also a performance artist and revolutionary, after his followers persuade him to abandon his sheep and take up residence in the home of a bourgeois chick who's got a big crush on him. The story alternates between this troupe--allegorical characters within the fiction of the movie as well as the street-theater pieces they perform--and a clan of ecclesiastical and royal types who seem to spend most of their time choreographing decadent scenarios in elaborate interiors. Amazingly simple editing and sound design--most scenes are complete in one shot and use only one or two sound effects or just music in addition to the dialogue--create a minimally realist and hypertheatrical vision of class conflict and potential doom.
Who needs the revolution?" asks Rainer Werner Fassbinder, his black-jacketed back to the camera, in a stark Antiteater tableaux against a red brick wall. The people do, of course, and in this early call-for-arms curio, co-directed for German TV with Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? pal Michael Fengler, Fassbinder mines a feudal past for present-tense guerilla fare -- for him, as for Godard and Glauber Rocha around the same period, the possibility of revolution still throbbed. Ostensibly set in the 15th-century, the story follows a hippiefied shepherd (Michael König) who claims visions of the Madonna, rallies up the masses (or at least a bunch of Fassbinder axioms, including Hanna Schygulla, Günther Kaufmann, Margit Cartensen) against an epicenely oppressive ruler, and gets crucified and burned for his trouble. Bourgeois lucidity is the first casualty of the movie's recklessly anachronistic agit-prop, so that the rehearsal of a Virgin Mary soliloquy gets interrupted by news of the killing of Black Panthers founder Fred Hampton, the shaggy Messiah caps an al fresco sermon with a fervid "Long live Lenin, smash fascism!" and the conceptual audacity of the director's camera movements far outweighs the resources of cinematographer Dietrich Lohmann. In his most explicitly politicized (though far from best) film, Fassbinder suggests a temporal continuum of thwarted upheaval that can only be addressed (and, thus, confronted) by way of frontal artistic attack -- or, as one of the languid sleepwalkers in the opening sequence puts it, "agitation through instruction and militant example." With Kurt Raab.
One of Fassbinder's first films, 'The Niklashausen Journey' might be the most explicitly political the filmmaker would ever get. Once again - as with all his earlier work that I've seen - Godard's influence is palpable, particularly the messy mythologizing he applied to revolutionaries in 'Weekend' (although from what I've read about Straub-Huillet and other first generation of filmmakers from the New German Cinema, the influences extend much farther beyond that). 'Niklashausen' is a scathing critique of both political radicals and the society that produces them. Unlike Godard, Fassbinder makes this a very specific society, a very German society. The movie draws very clear parallels between religion and revolution, questions both the means and ends of revolutionary violence, suggests similarities between this uprising and the one led by Hitler several decades earlier - and it completely dismisses the ruling class as worthless, absurd fools quick to devastation when their enemies are involved. It works on the viewer in unexpected ways, building on our empathy with the revolutionary cause, while nearly condemning the whole movement, to make us truly care about enacting change - it is not as depressingly claustrophobic as the summary would have you believe. Without the usual melodrama to carry the film along, it does feel like an emotionally distant version of Fassbinder's later films like 'In A Year of 13 Moons' or 'Querelle.' It is difficult to deny that the film is formally and structurally brilliant, however, and of immediate interest to anyone who wants to see yet another side of a genius manifesting itself for the first time, in one of his more fascinating experiments.
The Niklashausen Journey is very
much a product of its time, being halfways between a Goddardian (by way of
Brecht) "distanced" telling of a historical tale, full of
anachronisms and on-screen commentary, and a hip parable, not unlike an
ultra-leftist Godspell with polemic replacing the songs.
The film is based on the life of one Hans Boehm, a shepherd from Niklashausen who, in the early 15th century, had visions of the Virgin Mary, gathered a large popular following amongst the peasantry, increasingly stirred up ill-feeling towards the clergy and nobility and was burned as a as a heretic and enchanter in 1476. In Fassbinder and Fengler's television film (shot on 16mm), a motley group of contemporary types re-enact the shepherd's story as well as talk endlessly about the methods, implications, pitfalls and necessities of political revolution. Along the way, the film suggests not just the mystic revolutionaries of the reformation period but also the German and Russian communists of the early 20th century and the hippies & black panthers contemporaneous to the film's release. The story would seem to suggest that the revolution - although justified by the corruption and guile of the ruling classes - is always doomed; the shepherd himself is a gorgeous blonde youth with little personality whose followers seem to be in the grip of some spell or hysteria, suggesting that he's nothing more than a Pied Piper, Hitler or Charles Manson.
Fassbinder himself plays one of the shepherd's cohorts, walking & talking alongside the group wearing his trademark blue jeans and black leather jacket. At one point one of the female followers chastises him for thinking that happiness can ever be achieved on earth - life on this plane of existence is merely ours to illustrate that there can be no happiness outside of heaven; Fassbinder says nothing either way about this...
The film is rather uncompromisingly lacking in narrative pull, although its amalgam of tableaux, slow zooms and intricately choreographed tracked dialogues does make it filmicly exciting. Basically, it's another of Fassbinder's long, slow steps out of avant-guarde cornerism towards becoming a master of 1970s cinema. Worth catching once, appreciable but difficult to really warm to. Not that it is meant to be taken warmly...
The Niklashausen Journey Jim’s Reviews
VideoVista review Jim Steel
Das Nicklashauser Fart (The Nicklashauser Journey) Tom von Logue Newth from FilmFracture, September 28, 2009
Turner Classic Movies dvd review a compilation of capsule reviews
THE AMERICAN SOLDIER (Der amerikanische Soldat) B 89
Interesting that this film introduced the storyline for Fassbinder’s later film, ALI: FEAR EATS THE SOUL, in a scene where barmaid Margarethe von Trotta, in a long sequence where she sits on a bed, recounts the story of Emmi and her husband Ali, a 60-something German cleaning lady and a 20-years her junior Moroccan guest worker. According to Fassbinder, “They marry and one day she is murdered. Nobody knows who the killer is – whether it was her husband or one of his Turkish pals. But I didn’t want to tell the story the way it actually happened. I wanted to give the young Turk and the old woman a chance to live together.”
“ THE AMERICAN SOLDIER ...is a synthesis of LOVE IS COLDER THAN DEATH and GODS OF THE PLAGUE, and the narrative method is very concrete and professional. The earlier two films were actually accurate reconstructions of the people and atmosphere in Munich, while THE AMERICAN SOLDIER was more a real film and had a real story, and besides, it was larded with quotes from Hollywood films as well as French gangster films, and above all from the films of Raoul Walsh and John Huston.”
Time Out Tony Rayns
1970's The American Soldier shows Fassbinder getting
drunk on Godard's experiments in noir. The main character, a gunman hired by
the local police to take out criminals they can't dispose of legally, spells
out another character's name thusly: "W as in war, A as in
The strongest of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's early noir riffs, trailing the white-suited, white-fedoraed eponymous thug (Karl Scheydt), just back from Vietnam, as he makes the underworld rounds of a chiaroscuro Munich. Although crammed with buffish winks -- hoods playing poker with porno cards under harsh Langian lighting, characters tagged Murnau and Fuller (and, more esoterically, Rosa Von Praunheim), some cutrate Dietrich lip-synching at a dive dubbed "The Lola Montes" -- Fassbinder goes beyond Nouvelle Vague pastiche. Comparisons with Alphaville are de righteur (Scheydt's ice-water hit man is cut out of the same attitudinizing mold as Lemmy Caution, Godard's own trenchcoated signifier of Yank imperialism), though Fassbinder's concerns are postwar German to the core: as in Love is Colder Than Death or Gods of the Plague, film noir tropes are dusted off to connect the characters' sense of spiritual malaise to a nation's cultural displacement. (It's only fitting that, quoting from a vintage Hollywood genre, the filmmaker points back to such legitimate, if transplanted, Germanic presences as Lang, Siodmak and Wilder.) A huge advance on the stylistic wobbliness of Gods of the Plague, the movie keeps druggy, almost Jarmuschian mood and tone compact even when coming up with the most lyrical of interruptions. (My favorite -- forlorn maid Marguarette von Trotta leaning against the railing of a motel bed, plaintively outlining a couple of future Fassbinder projects while Scheydt and some undercover slag fuck on the mattress behind her.) Peter Raben did the narcotizing theme song ("So much tenderness is in my head/So much emptiness is in my bed"), poured unforgettably over the finale's boldly unending, undercranked spoof of Bonnie and Clyde's tommy gun-dance climax. Cinematography by Dietrich Lohmann. With Elga Sorbas, Hark Bohm, Ulli Lommel, Katrin Schaake, Ingrid Craven, Kurt Raab, and Irm Hermann. In black and white.
The München police cannot cope anymore with some of their
underworld elements, so they hire Ricky Murphy alias Richard von Rezzori, a
German who served for the US in Vietnam, to kill first a gypsy, then a
porno-merchant (and by the way also her lover), and last the girlfriend of one
of the police detectives. It happens to be exactly this girl who is sent to
Ricky when he stays in a hotel and orders a girl. In the scene in the hotel we
hear also the story of the house-keeper Emmy who married a much younger man
However, after Ricky has done his duty for the detectives that engaged him, they must get rid of him because otherwise they would have to admit their incapability to solve their problems on their own in front of their boss, an ancient police-chief who seems to be in the hand of his officers. The end scene, in which Ricky and his buddy Franz lose their lives because of a simple "accident", I do not want to spoil here, because the end of "The American Soldier" is an end of such a magnitude of splendor that you will hardly find in any other movie. However, what I want to add is that the message of this movie goes way beyond that of Fassbinder's inclination towards American gangster movies from the 40ies: People who know Fassbinder's work also know that he gave his movies strong political and sociological messages on their ways. "I want my movies to go on in the heads of the audience after they have left the cinema", Fassbinder once said. In this movie, Germans engage an American-German with Vietnam-experience to do the dirty work in
Yup, this is full of allusions to
brilliant German directors, and French and American cinema, but "The
American Soldier" is much more than a clever exercise-- and cuts deeper
than film noir. For this, I think, is as much about the Vietnam War, misogyny,
and German/American superiority as it is about an underworld hit man. In fact,
the genre seems no more than a departure point.
Ricky's inner power is in no way individuated---he's a type, a type produced by powerful entities. He's not a man born, but a male made. He's one of a multiplicity of monsters let loose on the world by the naked display of power--whether it be located in DC or
But he's not a typical hit man. He's cool all right, and does cut the figure. But he seems cumbersome, as if new to his form, his movements contained as if by a low ceiling, his body by an uncomfortable suit. He's "the man" but he seems programmed--and is, simply following orders from his own "the man" who also happens to have state authority. He's detached, indiscriminate, naked in his actions, and impersonal--his mind almost narcoleptic. There seems to be some flaw in his design, as if the suit made to cover the soldier, and the soldier made to cover the killer, are not totally effective---not for him, not for those who control him. His murders have all the raw arbitrary-ness of the automated martial male, created in an era of war treachery that has no end.
Ricky's females, a spectrum of femme fatales, have a malaise about them, as if narcotized by drugs, drink, sex, or more obviously, by a submissiveness to power. Ricky orders them in the same precise way he orders his Ballantine--and with the same certainty of availability. He takes them, literally dumps them, mocks them, uses them and, if they get too close, murders them. He has to drink whiskey before every sexual encounter to negate any emotion or doubt. Gay men suffer a similar scorn from the brute, his contempt for the powerless underwritten by the world of organized violence that created and controls him. "So much tenderness in my head, so much emptiness in my bed" is heard over and over during Ricky and his brother's final sex/death scene. Which might be interpreted that in a perverse world poisoned by super masculinity and violence, sex with the dead is more possible--or preferable than sex with the living.
The American Soldier Jim’s Reviews