From Iran: The Salesman

If you cross House of Sand and Fog with Prisoners and watching paint dry in Tehran, you might end up with something like The Salesman.  This movie won the best foreign film Oscar, which completes the Academy’s trifecta of totally blowing it for the 2016 season.

Critics adored this film and the director’s last U.S. release, About Elly.  The Salesman was marginally more interesting than About Elly, but both offer more proof of critical praise based on political correctness.  And movies from Iran, I suppose, are still such a novelty that anything must be good in the critics’ eyes.

If one took this exact same movie, set in Chicago or Tallahassee and in English, critics would be screaming about how bad it is.  An oddity I noticed on this one: careless errors in the subtitling.  Amazon Studios really phoned it in on that.

The Tomatometer is so wide of the mark on foreign films generally, and especially thosethe-salesman-text-block of this director, that I’m done with these type of recommendations, at least until such time that a trailer really grabs the hell out of me.  I found The Salesman to be gutless and uninspired.  Beyond that, obvious implausibilities weigh on the story.  A bit of effective drama toward the end raises it to 4/10.

Film Brief: Elle

I though Elle was going to be about a woman who was sexually assaulted, and then took that experience and instead of feeling victimized by it, turned it around, flipped the script and used it to her empowerment.

Instead, we get a muddled take on Basic Instinct-cum-pseudo Hitchcock psychological crime drama.  Operative word is muddled.  The movie held me well enough through the first half or so, but lost its way later on.  A disappointed, marginal no.  5/10

Film Brief: In Order of Disappearance

In Order of Disappearance is a lot of fun.  It’s just too bad the conclusion is so pat.  On balance, a solid recommendation; 7/10.

Note 1: I’m including the more comically-biased trailer below, compared to the American versions which play up the drama unnecessarily.  Note 2: I saw this in the theater in Minneapolis, but it’s also available to rent on iTunes for $7.

Film Brief: Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Hunt for the Wilderpeople reminded me a skosh of Moonrise Kingdom.  It didn’t have the Wes Anderson flair, or anything close to it per se, but it had its own flair, and a spirit one could recognize in an Anderson adventure.

Normally a 100% Tomatoes score + a trailer that did nothing for me + no legs = I’ll skip it.  But the complete dearth of films out there forced the issue, and I was pleasantly surprised.  Nothing groundbreaking here, but a couple non-pat choices help out this entertaining diversion.  Note that the trailer I am including below is not the version I referred to prior.  7/10

Film Brief: Embrace of the Serpent

I was reluctant to see Embrace of the Serpent because it didn’t make sense to me that a lush jungle setting would be depicted entirely in black & white.  But it turns out that’s not the problem — monochrome allows one to focus on the textures, and only adds to the film’s richness.  Too bad the story doesn’t.  For most of the film the plot is compelling, but, like so many movies, it doesn’t know how to close the deal.  5/10

Comparison Notes: Apocalypto, Dead Man, Apocalypse Now, The Emerald Forest, 2001, The Mission

Indie Log: Metro Manila

Metro Manila - poster
For some reason — maybe the poster artwork — I thought Metro Manila was going to be a highly stylized, slick action pic.  But it’s hardly anything of the sort; rather, it is a brutal, straightforward depiction of a family attempting to survive abject poverty in a place where it is readily commonplace.

Especially regarding the wife, Metro Manila avoided plumbing the ultimate depths it might have.  But make no mistake: this is a great, suspenseful foreign indie.  8/10

Availability: Netflix

Holy See Log: Babette’s Feast

MIRTH is the operative word here.

Pope Francis continues to surprise and delight me.  What a breath of fresh air in the world!  His latest comments regarding Donald Trump brought me beyond mirth — they downright filled me with glee.  And last year when he was visiting the U.S., I was surprised to find out he’s a film buff; see “Pope Francis’ three favorite movies to be shown at Philadelphia theater.”  I had heard of Babette’s Feast some time ago; Fellini’s La Strada was already in my queue, and I’ve now added Rome, Open City.

Babette’s Feast draws multiple parallels to Big Night, and the comparisons bring about even deeper musings about life and our place in the world than either film does by itself.  Big Night is unquestionably the better film, but that could be said about most any other movie, as Big Night defines film.

There is one rather serious flaw in Babette’s Feast: people don’t live forever.  Time moves aggressively forward in the film, but the characters seem largely age-defying.  This flaw is hardly a deal-breaker, though.

Rita Kempley, The Washington Post:

This deceptively modest story, with its quiet colors and contemplative characters, actually teems with contrasts and subtle dynamics. The eternal burn of the artist vies with the cold fire of the puritan’s denial. Serious as it all sounds, Axel and his fine cast interpret Dinesen’s ironic original with great charm and gentle comedy.

Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian:

It is as if the portions of everyday sensuality they have refused all their lives are now to be totalled up and paid to them all at once in this remarkable feast, just when they must bid farewell to the world, with all its pleasures and vanities. Twenty-five years on, the story is still charming and beguiling.

Babette’s Feast — full of mirth and charm — almost defies a numerical rating, but when I have to get down to business I render an 8/10.

Availability: iTunes rental

Comparison Notes (all highly recommended): Local Hero, Breaking the Waves, Big Night