Monday, March 12, 2012

"A Separation" is Outstanding

Four Stars

This is a film about good people who get caught in a bad situation and try to live within the moral compass of their lives, their problems and their religion. Asghar Farhadi’s “A Separation”, is a film that tells us a complicated story that seems like it could happen right here. I didn’t feel after this film that these people were so different from you and me. The film opens up on Nader (Peyman Moadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami), who are separating because Nader wants to stay in Iran and take care of his father (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi) who has Alzheimer’s. Simin wants to leave with her daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi) from Iran. This couple doesn’t hate each other but can’t seem to agree on their future. Nader loves his father and wants to take care of him. Simin doesn’t want to have her child stay in Iran. Both of them have emotional reasons for wanting to stay and wanting to go. When Simin moves out, she hires Razieh (Sareh Byat) to take care of Simin’s father. Rezieh keeps the job a secret from her husband Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini), who is a strict Muslim. One day, Nader finds his father has fallen out of the bed. He believes that Temeh is responsible. She locked the door and went out to do her errands. He pushes her out of his apartment in anger. He later finds that she might have been pregnant and thus his push might have caused a miscarriage.
This causes an unfortunate series of events that bring the families together. Both sides of the conflict have emotional weight. The screenplay by director Asghar Farhadi is fair handed to everyone involved. There are no real villains in this story. Only people and they are like us. These people in this film are regular people who are trying to live the best life they can. This film is complicated at times, and never quite puts the puzzle all together. However, all the characters are emphatic, and that is a remarkable accomplishment of the script. Termeh and Somayeh, the younger daughter of the other family, remain kind to each other. Termeh doesn’t know who to believe in this picture, as she loves both her mother and father and her grandfather. However, she does ask her father if he knew the women was pregnant . She doesn’t quite get an answer.
The characters in this film are great and so are the actors. The piercing stare of Termeh is both innocent and serious at the same time. She is only eleven but shows an intelligence and awareness of what is going on around her. Each side of the conflict has a point, which also makes it interesting because it gives a double meaning to the title of the film. It’s more than one separation. It’s not only the separation of a marriage, it’s the separation of doubts and the separation of a child from her parent. It’s a remarkable script, which considers each of his characters worthy of empathy. The puzzle, unlike an American mystery, doesn’t quite come together. Instead, it’s realistic. Termeh’s safety is feared for by her family, which only adds to the desire to leave. However, this brings up an important point about foreign films.

Foreign films are important because they remind us there are other people in the world. People in Iran would take this film as a straight drama, but  here in the United States, it gives us as chance to see people in Iran as regular people going about their lives. I felt for every character in this film, whether they were a strict Muslim or simply just a person who happens to live in Iran.  In Iran, this might be viewed as just another film. However, in America, we can view this as a window to a world much like ours. It’s not the Iran we see in the newspapers. The events in this film could happen anywhere. To see a film from Iran about people we could identify with is important.

One of the functions of film is to teach us. This is such a good film; I hate to bring politics into this review, because this film is simply so good on its own. However, as Americans, we hear about Iran but we don’t get to see it's human side. This film shows us Iran as people who live there and deal with the same problems we do. That’s important for an American audience, and thus why foreign films should be distributed more. “A Separation” is a mystery, a family drama and a story about everyday people who just happen to live in Iran. One would be hard pressed to say that these people are that different from you or I. And it highlights a universal truth. Whether American law or Iranian law, laws aren’t always built to deal with our emotions. And if anything, it’s the emotions we all have in common. There are no heroes or villains in this film. Just people trying to live and survive and that is perhaps this film’s greatest accomplishment. They are just like us, after all. This is a remarkable piece of work, and the best film of the year.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

"The Lorax" is Harmless

Three Stars

“The Lorax” isn’t the best animated movie out there. There’s the beautiful Japanese cartoon “The Secret World of Arrietty” out in theaters now. That’s worth taking your kids to, though this isn’t a bad choice either. However, I am going to endorse this film because it has a message I do agree with. A lot of people have been whining that “The Lorax” has a political message, trying to brainwash children into caring about the environment. When did that become a bad thing? Yes, the Pixar film “Wall-E” does a better job with the same message, but this film doesn’t do too badly of a job either. The film opens up with the town of Thneed-Ville, a walled in city where the townspeople happily breath artificial air and have never seen an tree before. Ted Wiggins (Zac Efron), a 12 year old who is named after Dr. Suess’s real name Theodor, wants to impress the local high school girl named Audrey (Taylor Swift).  She is named after Dr. Suess’s widow.
She dreams of seeing a tree for the first time. With the encouragement of his grandmother (Betty White), Ted sets out from Thneed Ville to find the Once-ler (Ed Helms), a man who regrets creating a product that ended up chopping down all the trees. The most powerful man in town, the mayor (Rob Riggle), gets adrift of this and tries to stop him from succeeding.  Ted returns each day on his electric bike to hear the Once-ler tell him the story of how he didn’t listen to the Lorax (Danny DeVito) who keeps warning him that he shouldn’t chop down the forests and that he speaks for the trees.  

There’s some musical numbers in here that work fine. The jokes are hit and miss. Some of the pop culture references seem a little misplaced in this film. However, the animals are cute and the Lorax speaks for both them and the trees. The film doesn’t run too long at 94 minutes. There are some jokes that seem a little too political for a kid’s film, but things quickly resolve themselves. Any decent person wants the Lorax to succeed. I mean, a lot of film critics on the right have complained that this film is liberal propaganda. But I wanted this kid to succeed, with his crazy idea that trees should be protected. They even mention the word “photosynthesis” in this.

However, without sounding like an evil liberal, teaching your kids to respect and care about the environment isn’t a bad thing. The villain is an evil businessman who sells air, and once again, conservatives have complained that it is somehow liberal. A lot of movies have evil businessman as their villains. The book was originally published in 1971, and it makes sense that Dr. Seuss would base the theme around environmentalism. Those who know Dr. Seuss’s history know he was a political cartoonist before he wrote children’s books. The whole enterprise is ultimately harmless and cute. The 3-D works just fine and hey, maybe your kids can finally get excited over a camping trip, and nature instead of the newest video game coming out. There’s nothing wrong with that. So, I’ll just throw my hands up and give the film three stars. It’s not really worth going on a rant about. And to everyone trying to find a message beyond a cute story about protecting the environment, I say give a hoot, don’t pollute.