Sunday, January 22, 2012

A Separation (2011)

Ironically, A Separation, a film about family conflict and social antagonisms, reminds us of what unites us. That for all the mad accumulation of weapons, and hard political rhetoric on both sides of the East and West divide, there are children, old people, wives, husbands, mothers and fathers, all struggling with life’s vicissitudes.

A young middle-class family in Tehran is torn apart by the ambitions of the wife who in seeking more freedom and better opportunities for herself and her 11-yo daughter wants to emigrate. The husband can’t leave an elderly father burdened by dementia. She unsuccesfully petitions for a divorce and then moves out to her parents as she won’t leave Iran without her daughter, who wants to stay with her father.  He hires a poor working woman from the outer suburbs to care for the grandfather while he is at work.

All too human frailties on both sides of the marriage, between the sexes, and across class divisions lead to tragic consequences.  The husband as well as care for his fractured family, must now navigate the maelstrom of a chaotic but not uncaring judicial system.  There are no villains in this story, only real people with problems we can all relate to.  The film-maker does not take sides and leaves it to us to develop our own responses to what unfolds.  In the end a child is asked to make an impossible decision – and we never know her choice – even though she says she has made it, tears streaming down from her hurt tender eyes.  It is the innocents that suffer most: the daughter, the grandfather, and the young daughter of the carer, all buffeted by the passions raging around them.

The film has a deep humanity and an assured veracity that holds you transfixed.  It has an unwavering cultural integrity and an unflinching commitment to realism. The director takes you into the family home with a disciplined hand-held camera and uses the confined space with imagination and flair. His mis-en-scene is richly redolent, with close-ups used to convey emotions with understated clarity. Outside he uses medium long-shots brilliantly: the harrowed carer desperately trying to find the grandfather on a busy street after he gets out of the apartment, and a wonderful scene of the carer and child from the back on a bench waiting for their bus home, the little girl’s legs dangling.

Yet there is something that disturbed me. The wife in leaving her family is selfish.  In our societies we can say this and it has no consequences beyond the immediate circumstances.  But in a society like Iran’s the actions of the wife and other women in the film can be seen – I believe not unfairly  – as troubling.  The patriarchal argument could easily be made that what unfolds in the film is what happens when women are given more freedom.  As an Iranian film I can’t help but feel that it may have a reactionary consequence. Though this hopefully comes not from an intention of the film-maker, but from the script which leaves the wife’s character not as deeply explored as the husband’s.

Beautifully acted with beguiling performances from the children and grandfather.   The young child of the carer is young enough to wear cute clothes and her angelic bewilderment adds color and true pathos.

An essential film.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was a big disappointment. I have read most of Le Carre’s novels, and while critics find his 70s work superior, I prefer his most recent output as it reveals a weary disillusionment, and a greater concern for the tragic ‘collateral damage’ that is inflicted by so-called democratic regimes.

The film is a flashy anachronism suited more to the cold war years. The world has moved on. This is not to say it could not have been better. Rich period detail and an intelligent script are pluses, but the pace is glacial and there is little if any of the tension you would expect from a spy thriller. There is intrigue but the action is plodding. A big mistake was casting a major star Colin Firth in a minor but pivotal role – anyone with half a brain knows who the mole is at the get go.

The denouement is so flat you wonder what the hell you have been doing for the last two hours. The story should have focused more on the mole, Karla (the Soviet spymaster), and Control, very ably played by John Hurt, who we see much too little of. Some unnecessarily graphic gore is really indulgent. Definitely over-rated, and BAFTA is being patently parochial in naming it one of the best films of 2011.