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Abbas Kiarostami (#110 of 36)

Cannes Film Festival 2017 A Man of Integrity and 24 Frames

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Cannes Film Review: A Man of Integrity and 24 Frames

Cannes Film Festival

Cannes Film Review: A Man of Integrity and 24 Frames

Mohammad Rasoulof’s slow-burn conspiracy thriller A Man of Integrity, a character study about one man’s quixotic struggle to get revenge or monetary compensation after his fish nursery is poisoned by an unnamed corporation, is defined by a righteous kind of fatalism. That tenor is apropos given that the film was shot by Rasoulof in secret, while he waited for his prison sentence of six years—later reduced to one—to be carried out.

Rasoulof’s films, among them the fable-like Iron Island and The White Meadows, have never screened in his native Iran, and maybe never will. They’re caustic yet lyrical allegories that dig deep into the filmmaker’s growing certainty that Iranian society is systemically corrupt and that the only people who try to live by a strict moral code in this context are bound to either regret their stubborn decisions or become crooked themselves.

Conversely, Abbas Kiarostami’s final film, 24 Frames, is more bittersweet than it is flat-out bitter. As Kiarostami passed away shortly before he could finish the project, a collection of four-and-a-half-minute tableaux vivants based on preexisting paintings and photographs, it was left to his son, Ahmad Kiarostami, to complete it based on notes that the auteur left behind. As in A Man of Integrity, a sense of impending doom hangs over 24 Frames, though it also exhibits a refreshing awe for life, and for the gentle passage of time.

Marrakech International Film Festival A Talk with Shinya Tsukamoto, Honoring Paul Verhoeven, & a Look at The Fixer

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Marrakech International Film Festival: A Talk with Shinya Tsukamoto, Honoring Paul Verhoeven, & a Look at The Fixer

Marrakech International Film Festival

Marrakech International Film Festival: A Talk with Shinya Tsukamoto, Honoring Paul Verhoeven, & a Look at The Fixer

Under the high patronage of His Majesty King Mohammed VI—to say nothing of the friendly participation of nearly three dozen multinational corporate sponsors—your correspondent was treated to just over a week in Marrakech, for the city’s 16th Marrakesh International Film Festival (FIFM). On the flight from New York, a United Nations employee told me the country’s vertiginous economics weren’t so different from those of the United States, “but the difference is that in Marrakech, you will actually see it.” He wasn’t wrong: The floors of the palatial hotel-resort-spa-compound housing the American critics’ contingent were walked day and night by employees with spray bottles and paper towels, spot-cleaning every last inch of marble and glass for maximum lustre. Cab drivers in permanent turnaround outside the main quadrangle of hotels decried the festival compound for clogging traffic on the palm tree-laden main drag of El Yarmouk Boulevard, while children in the street ambushed American publicists with rose petals after the sun went down—then castigated them for refusing to pay for the privilege.

Film Comment Selects 2015: Belluscone: A Sicilian Story

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Film Comment Selects 2015: <em>Belluscone: A Sicilian Story</em>
Film Comment Selects 2015: <em>Belluscone: A Sicilian Story</em>

Belluscone: A Sicilian Story plays like a mockumentary about contemporary Sicilian society. It purports to explore the connection between the local mafia, the “neomelodic” music scene (a supposedly indigenous pop genre), and the islanders’ unadulterated adoration of former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. This is a film about real people who play themselves, yet it would be misleading to call the work a documentary. Director Franco Maresco is known for making satirical films and television shows that blur the line between fiction and reality as a means of making sense of the surreal nature of Italian society, especially its political landscape. Like Abbas Kiarostami in his similarly beguiling Close-Up, the film allows its participants to reenact events that seem to have already occurred in real life. But whereas Abbas harnessed the sincerity and passion of his subjects to yield something of a catharsis in both participant and viewer, Maresco turns his subjects into caricatures by bringing them into increasingly bold relief as he guides the film toward an aesthetically ambiguous and politically frustrated conclusion.

Berlinale 2015 Jafar Panahi’s Taxi

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Berlinale 2015: Taxi

Berlinale

Berlinale 2015: Taxi

One may be initially struck by the lighter-than-expected tone of Jafar Panahi’s Taxi, the third film he’s made in spite of the government-ordered limitations imposed on his filmmaking. In contrast to the poignant melancholy of This Is Not a Film and the more intellectualized meta-movie surreality of Closed Curtain, Taxi features, as one of its opening scenes, an exchange between two cab-riding passengers that verges on the comic even as it touches on deeper issues of human empathy. It doesn’t take long, though, for Panahi’s usual thematic obsessions to rear their head, as we discover that a beret-donning Panahi himself is driving this particular cab, and that those two passengers are, in fact, actors, as a new passenger—a video-store clerk/DVD pirate who recognizes the director from seeing him rent movies at his store—realizes upon recognizing one passenger’s parting lines as being lifted straight from Panahi’s Crimson Gold. Even then, though, the fourth-wall-breaking revelation is handled in a breezy manner—until the airiness is brutally interrupted when a bloodied passenger is brought into his cab and Panahi is thrust into a situation in which getting him and his terrified wife to the nearest hospital means life or death.

Cannes Film Festival 2013: The Past Review

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Cannes Film Festival 2013: <em>The Past</em> Review
Cannes Film Festival 2013: <em>The Past</em> Review

Just like many of his fellow countrymen, including compatriot Abbas Kiarostami, Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi has been forced to ply his trade outside his homeland’s borders under threat of government intervention. Whatever the logistics, however, Farhadi’s latest domestic drama, The Past, while produced in France, is a seamless translation of both his stylistic and thematic sensibilities. Farhadi arrived on an international level with 2011’s A Separation, a typically knotty character study which netted awards all the way from festivals to the Academy. He’d done similar, equally compelling work prior to his breakthrough (2009’s About Elly stands as arguably his strongest film), but with an increased eye on Middle Eastern cinema in the wake of Kiarostami’s Certified Copy and the jailing of the more radical, uncompromising Jafar Panahi, coupled with the film’s heart-tugging narrative, A Separation arrived at an opportune time for his country’s rise to international cinematic prominence. The Past parlays this goodwill with even more wide-reaching potential, extending Farhadi’s streak of strong work while cementing him as one of world cinema’s most universal storytellers.

Understanding Screenwriting #108: Side Effects, Like Someone in Love, Point Blank, Downton Abbey, Parade’s End, & Smash

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Understanding Screenwriting #108: <em>Side Effects</em>, <em>Like Someone in Love</em>, <em>Point Blank</em>, <em>Downton Abbey</em>, <em>Parade’s End</em>, & <em>Smash</em>
Understanding Screenwriting #108: <em>Side Effects</em>, <em>Like Someone in Love</em>, <em>Point Blank</em>, <em>Downton Abbey</em>, <em>Parade’s End</em>, & <em>Smash</em>

Coming Up In This Column: Side Effects, Like Someone in Love, Point Blank, Downton Abbey, Parade’s End, Smash, but first…

Fan mail: David Ehrenstein, reacting to my comments on Cat Ballou, thought that all the things I liked about the writing and acting came together “thanks to efforts of that controversial new-fangled invention known as the Director.” I didn’t get around to mentioning the director, Elliot Silverstein, because this is one of those films, like M*A*S*H (1970), Chariots of Fire (1981), and Thelma & Louise (1991), that succeeds in spite of its director rather than because of him. Silverstein is very sloppy about where he puts the camera and the acting is all over the place. This was his only truly successful film, and he soon went back to television, where he started.

Side Effects (2013. Written by Scott Z. Burns. 106 minutes.)

Better than Hitchcock. Both Alfred Hitchcock and producer David O. Selznick were interested in psychiatry. In the mid-’40s, Hitchcock persuaded Selznick to buy a novel that was, according to Hitchcock’s biographer, Donald Spoto, “a bizarre tale of witchcraft, satanic cults, psychopathology, murder, and mistaken identities.” (The background material here is from Spoto’s The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock.) Hitchcock presented some ideas on how a movie could be made out of the material to Ben Hecht, who wrote the screenplay for Spellbound (1945). Hecht’s version deals with an amnesiac who replaces a man scheduled to become the head of a mental hospital. The amnesiac is accused of murder and with a helpful female psychiatrist works out his problems. Since she’s played in the film by Ingrid Bergman, he falls in love with her as well. The film was a commercial success, but it’s rather clunky, like many ’40s films about psychiatry. And like many Hitchcock films, it’s less about character than about giving the director a chance to show off. As befits Selznick, the film is a slick production with stars (Gregory Peck as the amnesiac) in a romantic mode.