erik lundegaard

Movie Reviews - 2011 posts

Monday March 12, 2012

Movie Review: Bill Cunningham New York (2011)

WARNING: MARVELOUS, EXOTIC SPOILERS OF PARADISE

“He who seeks beauty will find it.”

Bill Cunningham, quotidian fashion photographer for The New York Times, says this near the end of Richard Press’ excellent, moving documentary, “Bill Cunningham New York,” while accepting an award from the National Order of the Legion of Honour of France; and it’s so true to him, so meaningful to him—and, really, to the documentary about him—that his voice begins to crack. He’s not just espousing something he read. He’s telling us his life philosophy. The point of what he does, he says, is “not the celebrity, and not the spectacle. It’s as true today as it ever was: He who seeks beauty will find it.” Then he thanks the French and leaves the stage.

Poster for "Bill Cunningham New York" (2011)Cunningham is an American original. He covers the tux-and-gown society scene for The New York Times on a Schwinn bicycle. He covers the haut couture fashion shows wearing the sturdy blue jackets of French street cleaners. He is one of the better known fashion photographers in the country even though he’s the first to admit he’s not really a fashion photographer. He has an overwhelming joie de vivre that covers an overwhelming personal sadness.

His “On the Street” column is an American original. Screw the models; screw high society; what are the people wearing?

“The best fashion show is definitely on the streets,” he tells us early in the doc. “Always has been and always will be.”

What trends are forming? What’s interesting? What’s fun? Who’s fun? What “marvelous, exotic bird of paradise,” as he calls them, might he spot today? His frequent subjects include: Iris Apfel, the nonagenarian teenager wearing her great, round glasses; Patrick McDonald, the carefully chapeaued and eyelined dandy; and Shail Upadhya, the former U.N. official from Nepal, whose loud, colorful, homemade suits are at humorous odds with his dour visage.

“You’ve just got to stay out there and see what it is,” says Cunningham. “You’ve got to stay on the street and let the street tell you what it is. There are no shortcuts, believe me.”

A gentleman in the age of snark
Cunningham is in his early 80s, and so, despite his pep—and he’s someone who actually deserves that word—there’s something inevitably old school about him. He still uses film in the digital age, for example. He’s also a gentleman in the age of snark.

“He’s incredibly kind,” says socialite Annette de la Renta. “I don’t think we’ve ever seen a cruel picture done by Bill. And he’s certainly had the opportunity.”

Back in the day, and for a time, Cunningham wrote a millinery column for Women’s Wear Daily. Then he wrote a piece, similar to what he does now, on women in the street wearing the clothes of the models of the runway. It was a positive piece about style: how each woman made the fashion her own.

“And they changed his copy to make fun of the women,” says Annie Flanders, founding editor of Details magazine. “He didn’t think he’d ever get over it, because he was so embarrassed and upset. ... That was the end of his career at Women’s Wear Daily.”

Tellingly, Cunningham doesn’t say a word on the subject. He’s someone who focuses on the positive: the fashion he likes and the stories he likes.

Who’s that boy?
So who is he? Where does he live? Is he from an upper-class family? Is that why he fits in so well with socialites? Is he straight? Gay? Why is someone so passionately interested in fashion so disinterested in fashion for himself?

“People don’t get to know him very well, do they?” asks Iris Apfel. “I get the feeling he doesn’t sit down and talk to people very much.”

“I have no idea of his private life,” says Annette de la Renta. “I have no idea if he’s lonely.”

Answers come by and by. He lives at Carnegie Hall, of all New York places, in a room so cluttered, so full of file cabinets and old magazines, it could be used to torture claustrophobes. Part of the drama of the doc is that Cunningham, and the few remaining artists living there, are being evicted by the grandees of Carnegie Hall. By doc’s end, he’s in an apartment overlooking Central Park. We should all be so displaced.

His background is working class. That helps explain the blue jacket and the taped poncho, and the egg sandwich and coffee lunches, but Women’s Wear Daily also helps explain these things. If you spend less, you need less, and you need to work less with folks whose purpose is the opposite of yours. That torn poncho, looking almost like a garbage bag, which he happily fixes with electrician’s tape, is a kind of freedom.

So: a fascinating man. A good documentary. Then, in the last 10 minutes, it becomes a great documentary.

The patron saint of unspecified sorrows
Press, the documentarian, gets Cunningham to do what Iris Apfel suggested he doesn’t do. He sits him down and asks him questions. He says has two very personal questions for him, which Cunningham may or may not want to answer. He says it’s up to him.

First: Have you ever had a romantic relationship in your entire life?

Cunningham, elfin and buoyant as usual, laughs at the question and answers it with one of his own: “Now do you want to know if I’m gay?” Then he answers it—his own question—but elliptically, with a callback to his working-class family, and how they most likely discouraged him from entering the fashion world for that very reason. Because they suspected. Even if he didn’t. Not then.

When he gets back to the romantic relationship question, he answers in the negative. “There was no time,” he says, his smile now strained. “I was working night and day. In my family, things like that were never discussed.”

His answers simply bring up more questions. Was his work a means to ignore, or cover up, what he didn’t want to face? Early in the doc, Cunningham calls fashion “the armor to survive everyday life.” Is that what his camera, and his work, is for him? A means of staying on the sidelines and not getting in the game?

Press’ second personal question isn’t a question at all. It’s a pretty innocuous statement. But it releases the deluge.

“I know you go to church every Sunday,” Press says.

“Oh yeah,” Cunningham answers. Then he bows his head, and his shoulders begin to shake, and a second later one realizes he’s crying. He sobs for 10 to 15 seconds. Then he lifts his head and answers. He seems to be clarifying things for himself as much as for Press:

Yeah, I think it’s a good guidance in your life. Yeah, it’s something I need. Yeah, I guess maybe it’s part of your upbringing, I don’t know. Whatever it is. Everyone... You do whatever it is you do as best you... Yeah, I find it very important. For whatever reason. I don’t know. (Laughs) As a kid, when I went to church, all I did was look at women’s hats. (Serious again, nodding.) But later, when you mature, for different reasons.

In the very next scene, his colleagues at The New York Times celebrate his birthday by wearing Bill Cunningham masks (photos of his face attached to sticks), but it’s in this scene where his mask slips, and a huge pool of sorrow is revealed, and we’re not quite sure what to make of it. What is the sorrow? What are the different reasons he goes to church? It seems mixed up with the usual: love and family and sex and relationships and loneliness and work and faith, and the things we try to leave behind but which stay with us, and the things we hope will eventually catch up with us but never do.

We never find out. I think this makes the doc better. Up to this point, Cunningham is admirable. He’s a professional and an original and a gentleman: someone who set out to do what he wanted and is still doing it on his own terms. Once he breaks down, he becomes us. Because we all have our pools of sorrow. We all have questions that might release a deluge. It’s part of the reason why, like Bill Cunningham, patron saint of specific joys and unspecified sorrows, we go out, every day, and seek beauty.

Bill Cunningham, seeking beauty

Posted at 06:22 AM on Mar 12, 2012 in category Movie Reviews - 2011
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Tuesday March 06, 2012

Movie Review: Page One: Inside the New York Times (2011)

WARNING: INK-STAINED SPOILERS

I was talking about this documentary with Evan, the friend who recommended it, and admitted it made me realize why I never became a true journalist. It wasn’t because I wasn’t curious enough or a good-enough writer or a fast-enough writer when I needed to be. It’s because I wasn’t tough enough.

poster for "Page One: Inside the New York Times" (2011)In the doc you watch David Carr, media columnist for The New York Times, take on various bombastic elements and shut them up. He stares them down, calls them on their bullshit, then moves on. Even when I’m able to do the first two things, I don’t move on. I allow the first two actions to linger and infect the surroundings. Carr, who looks like nothing much, Bilbo Baggins’ after a bad night, with a hoarse voice and a skinny neck and a wide middle and a face that seems permanently bent toward the ground—that seems to have trouble looking up—is able to cut so surgically through situations that there’s actually little bleeding. It’s like those scenes where Zorro takes a swipe at a candle and it doesn’t move, causing the villain to laugh at Zorro’s ineptitude and anticipate his demise. Which is when Zorro holds up the tip of the candle, or pushes the tip off with his sword, or stomps on the ground and the candle crumbles to bits.

That’s what Carr is like. The other guy laughs at his ineptitude and then David stomps on the ground and the dude’s argument crumbles to bits.

As both Evan and I admired this ability of Carr’s, and lamented our own ability to cry bullshit in social situations, he added, “You know what I could use? A David-Carr-in-the-box. So when I get in those situations, I can take out my David-Carr-in-the-box, and just, you know, pop. Let him loose.”

I agreed. We could all use a David-Carr-in-the-box. The New York Times should get on that. Talk about your revenue streams.

Who’s afraid of the big bad Wolff?
“Page One: Inside the New York Times” also reminded me, of course, of something I lamented daily about two years ago: the death of newspapers; the death of print. I’m in the business, an offshoot of journalism, a small, momentarily protected niche, but I haven’t worried about the death of investigative journalism much in the last year. I’m not sure why. The problem certainly hasn’t gone away.

It’s a seemingly insurmountable problem. Investigative journalism, done right, is expensive, and in the past was paid for by two revenue streams: ads and subscribers. The Internet, our new, more democratic printing press, has cut into, if not obliterated, both of these. Craig’s List killed classified ads, online ads pay a fraction of print ads, and online readers, those spoiled, spoiled children, have been conditioned to expect content for free.

There’s also the problem of audience. Investigative journalism is not only tough to do but tough to read. It takes work. How much better to go to an aggregate/opinion site/blog that boils it all down and also gives you pictures of celebrities in bikinis or with baby bumps or in the midst of divorces. How much easier to just be distracted. How much more fun.

One of the pivotal and most satisfying scenes in “Page One” occurs about halfway thorough, at a debate by a group called “Intelligence Squared,” which, for its topic of the night, raises a purposely provocative one: GOOD RIDDANCE TO THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA.

Carr, the schlub, gets to represent the mainstream. His opponent, at least as far as we see in the doc, is Michael Wolff, founder of newser.com, an aggregate site. Wolff looks a bit like Alvy Singer’s balding, viral man. He seems fit, and tough, and his bald head gleams like he’s from the future. And he brings us a message from the future:

What you’re going to hear tonight is that the media is necessary for the commonweal. An informed citizenry is what this nation is about. That is self-serving crap. The New York Times is a good newspaper—sometimes...  But after that it’s off the cliff. It’s oblivion. The news business in this country is nothing to be proud of. The media is a technology business. That’s what it is. That’s what it has always been. Technology changes, the media changes.

Carr obliterates him. He begins politely by holding up a print copy of the home page of Wolff’s site. “Newser is a great-looking site,” he says, “you might want to check it out. It aggregates all manner of content. But I wonder if Michael’s really thought this through. Get rid of mainstream media content...” Then he holds up that index page without the aggregated mainstream articles. It’s mostly holes. It barely exists. He peeks through it at the audience, which is applauding, and says, “OK, go ahead.”

Great scene. It not only reveals Wolff’s hypocrisy—how he’s making money off the very thing he’s disparaging—but it reveals the hypocrisy of the Web. Much of the Web simply repurposes someone else’s work. The Web doesn’t care for originality or accountability; and it’s creating a society that doesn’t care for originality or accountability.

Is the Times necessary because it’s good?
At the same time ... OK, Carr makes a salient point. What happens when mainstream sites like the New York Times, which still drive much of the discussion on the Web, disappear? What replaces them? Don’t we need vegetables? Don’t we need meat? Or are we just going to keep popping the content equivalent of Milk Duds in our mouths?

But it doesn’t address all of Wolff’s points. From the above, two remain:

  1. The Times says it’s necessary because it’s good but Wolff says it’s not that good so it’s not that necessary. So: Is the Times good?
  2. Media means technology. Technology changes. You can gripe all you want but it’s going to change.

To the first point. The Times has its weaknesses. It’s a serious paper—it’s not sensationalistic like most of the mainstream media—but it has a love for, or at least a trust of, the institutional voice. The doc treats Judith Miller’s reporting on WMDs like it’s an anomaly but that was based upon institutional trust—upon getting access to the institutional voice and printing it—and the Times does this all of the time. Its coverage of Hollywood, say, is almost always from the studio perspective. Its coverage of business is almost always from the Wall Street perspective.

And in politics? It gets played. It assumes an opposition voice, no matter how marginalized, provides balance. It assumes that an institutional voice is legitimate even if it’s in the middle of a lie. It won’t call a lie a lie. Public Editor Arthur S. Brisbane’s recent column, “Should The Times Be a Truth Vigilante?,” is indicative of this attitude. Brisbane wrote:

[Some readers] fed up with the distortions and evasions that are common in public life, look to The Times to set the record straight. They worry less about reporters imposing their judgment on what is false and what is true.

Is that the prevailing view? And if so, how can The Times do this in a way that is objective and fair? Is it possible to be objective and fair when the reporter is choosing to correct one fact over another?

That sound you heard was people around the country exclaiming, “WTF!?!”

The answer to Brisbane’s dilemma is obvious. If a public figure says something demonstrably false, you call him on it, and as high up in the article as possible. If a public figure says something harder to disprove (or prove), but without evidence, then that’s your story: X ACCUSES Y OF Z: PROVIDES NO EVIDENCE. It’s less choosing to correct one fact over another than printing what facts we have. And if an institutional voice proclaims factual what is not factual, that’s your story. Objectivity is not stupidity.

But the doc doesn’t own up to this or any weakness in the Times. It’s basically saying: we’re good so we’re necessary. So please don’t kill us. For your own good. It's saying, as Carr said to the Intelligence Squared audience, “OK, go ahead.”

The Times they are a changing
For the most part, I agree. But then we get into the second of Wolff’s unaddressed points: It doesn’t matter if the Times is good or not. Its model, the printing press, is now obsolete. Everyone has a printing press. Most everyone’s printing. Or posting. Or uploading. The Times used to have to compete against however many newspapers in New York City, and maybe two or three nationally, and another one or two internationally. Now the competition is everyone and everywhere. Even this little ol’ site is competition. You’re reading it, after all, instead of the Times. Wastrel.

“Page One” is a fine-enough doc, particularly when David Carr’s onscreen, but, in journalistic parlance, it misses the story. Can one support serious investigative journalism in the digital age and on a digital budget? If not, what replaces it? And what becomes of our misinformed and malinformed and don’t-want-to-be informed citizenry—and, by extension, our democracy—then?

Posted at 06:56 AM on Mar 06, 2012 in category Movie Reviews - 2011
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Monday March 05, 2012

Movie Review: The Rum Diary (2011)

WARNING: 161 MINIATURE SPOILERS

“The Rum Diary” is a 2011 movie based upon a 1998 novel, which was actually written in the early 1960s, about misadventures in Puerto Rico in the late 1950s. It doesn’t have to be old news but it is.

It’s an odd version of old news. The lessons its protagonist learns are lessons its writer, Hunter S. Thompson, along with many others, communicated to the culture a long time ago. Druggies can be heroes and upstanding citizens can be villains. It’s us vs. the bastards, and the bastards are businessmen and bankers and land developers, shady and older and curiously sexless, while we, the heroes, or antiheroes, are young and aimless and vaguely anarchistic. We booze it up and experiment with drugs and lament the poor while trying to find ...something. Our artistic voice. Freedom. America. A girl.

Poster for Johnny Depp in "The Rum Diary" (2011)If most movies present an absolutist vision from the right, with a taciturn hero taking on bad guys through direct violence and winning, the alternative version, the left-wing version popularized in the late 1960s, gives us an antihero, often glib, taking on dull but horrific institutional elements through subterfuge and losing. The very thing that Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp) needs to learn in “Rum Diary,” in other words—bankers, etc., are bad—was communicated to the culture so long ago, by Kemp’s creator, that it became a genre unto itself: “Easy Rider” and “Animal House” and almost every B-movie from 1967 to 1982. So we wait for him to catch up. We wait for him to figure out what kind of movie he’s in.

It takes awhile.

Kemp may arrive in Puerto Rico in 1960 unformed in Hunter S. Thompson’s politics but we first see him in the classic Hunter S. Thompson pose: waking up, in a hotel room overlooking the beach in San Juan, dazed and hungover and horrified, unable to recollect who knows what godawful escapades from the night before. He’s there for a job, at the San Juan Star, because his two novels never caught on—either with publishers, or, in the end, with Kemp himself. Later in the movie he’ll talk about writers he admires. He’ll quote a line from Coleridge and talk about how the poet wrote it when he was only 25; he’ll talk about the difficulty of finding his own voice. The movie is the story of how Kemp, and by extension Thompson, finds his own voice.

He wants to write meaningful articles but his toupee-wearing editor, Lotterman (Richard Jenkins), isn’t interested. He assigns him horoscopes, and pieces about the bowling alleys of San Juan, frequented by the dull and overweight middle class of middle America, and Kemp’s mind wanders. He finds a beautiful girl, Chenault (Amber Heard), but she’s engaged to a jerk, Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart), who wants Kemp, of all people, to write marketing copy for land development on a nearby uninhabited island. They plan to wreck paradise again. Kemp goes along for the ride, signing an NDA and everything, but mostly he’s sniffing after Chenault. He doesn’t reject Sanderson until Sanderson rejects him. He finds religion because he’s cast out of Eden.

Did we need narration in this thing? Once Kemp finds his voice, we get noteworthy lines, presumably culled from the novel, such as: “I discovered the connection between starving children scavenging for food and the shiny brass plates on the front doors of banks.” We could’ve used such language throughout. The movie would’ve benefited.

Depp is obviously a great actor. “How does anyone drink 161 miniatures?” Lotterman demands when he gets Kemp’s hotel bill. There’s a pause, a few blinks, a slight wobble. “Are they not complimentary?” he finally responds.

But he’s too old. Sorry. Kemp is supposed to be unformed and learning. He’s supposed to be 22. Depp is nearly 50. He should’ve been playing Lotterman.

I actually identified with Lotterman. The movie doesn’t. It hates him. He’s on the side of the establishment. He’s old and toupee-wearing and soul-crushing. He makes sure that nothing really noteworthy gets in his paper. Except, I kept thinking, it’s not his newspaper, is it? He’s just the editor. He’s a higher-up flunky. Maybe I’m projecting, maybe Richard Jenkins added a humanity at odds with his character (see: Philip Seymour Hoffman in “Patch Adams”), but I get the feeling Lotterman would’ve liked the San Juan Star to be more than articles about bowling alleys and horoscopes. He would’ve liked to have had hair. He would’ve liked to be as handsome as Johnny Depp. Who wouldn’t? But that wasn’t his world.

Instead, the movie has sympathy for the worthless and vaguely fascistic Moberg (Giovanni Ribisi), who also works at the San Juan Star but who rarely contributes copy. He spends his days in a drug-addled stupor, stumbling from spot to spot, and occasionally putting on an LP of speeches by Adolf Hitler. Riotous, dude.

To be honest, “Rum Diary” reminded me of all I disliked about those cinematic, absolutist visions of the left: the celebration of drugs and anarchy. We get that damned quote of Oscar Wilde’s for the zillionth time: “Nowadays, people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.” We get Depp as Kemp writing his credo:

“I want to make a promise to you, the reader. And I don't know if I can fulfill it tomorrow, or even the day after that. But I put the bastards of this world on notice that I do not have their best interests at heart. I will try and speak for my reader. That is my promise. And it will be a voice made of ink and rage.”

It’s tiresome. Putting hallucinogens in your eyes isn’t a political act, it’s a stupid act. The left never got that. They conflated the two. Watching “Rum Diary,” I thought of the sadness of the political arc I’ve lived through. Kemp is working toward a credo, an ethos, a style, that dominated our culture for a time but ultimately led to Reagan and Bush and Bush. He puts the bastards on notice but the bastards only got stronger.

Posted at 06:24 AM on Mar 05, 2012 in category Movie Reviews - 2011
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Wednesday February 29, 2012

Movie Review: One Day (2011)

WARNING: A SPOILER A DAY

“One Day” is a gimmicky little film that doesn’t deliver. It gives us one day a year for 20 years in the lives of Emma (Anne Hathaway), a smart, mousy girl who loves Dexter, and Dexter (Jim Sturgess), an attractive, outgoing, shallow lad who's too busy sowing wild oats to get serious about Emma. That’s the film’s main conflict: When will they get together? This year? Next?

The day in question is always July 15th, or St. Swithin’s Day in Britain, which is famous because of the following traditional verse:

St. Swithin's day if thou dost rain
For forty days it will remain
St. Swithin's day if thou be fair
For forty days 'twill rain nae mair.

poster for "One Day" (2011)I knew about the day mostly because of the Billy Bragg song, and because it sounds so fantastically British: Swithin’s. According to a quick online search, St. Swithin was “a Saxon Bishop of Winchester. He was born in the kingdom of Wessex and educated in its capital, Winchester. He was famous for charitable gifts and building churches.”

So is the movie about building churches? No. Is it about the weather? Not so much. Does it have anything to do with Billy Bragg’s song of lost love?

The Polaroids that hold us together
Will surely fade away
Like the love we spoke of forever
On St. Swithin's Day.

Sort of. But the movie fudges things in the manner of movies about love.

It begins chronologically in the late 1980s with the graduation of Emma and Dexter from college. Each has grand plans. She’s moving to London to write a book. He’s going to France to... I forget what. Learn about other cultures and then forget them.

In London, Emma winds up working long hours in a cheesey Mexican restaurant and getting nowhere with her writing and feeling defeated. Eventually she becomes a teacher involved with the wrong guy, Ian (Rafe Spall), a drab fellow who wants to be a stand-up comedian even though nothing he says is remotely funny.

Dexter winds up breezing through life. Before we know it, he’s the host of a loud, shallow TV show aimed at loud, shallow twentysomethings who like clubbing and video games. His dying mother (Patricia Clarkson) is appalled that he’s wasting his talents and his time in this manner. His father (Ken Stott) is merely appalled. He feels his son is drinking too much and not spending enough time with his dying mother. We’re supposed to take the father’s side in this, but the structure of the film, the one-day-per-year template, doesn’t allow for much emotional involvement. The father harangues the son for drinking before we even realize he’s drunk, for example.

Then fortunes change. Emma breaks it off with Ian, writes a book, it’s popular, and she moves to Paris and meets a gorgeous Parisian man. Dexter gets married to a busty blonde, has a kid, but loses his job and can’t find another. His wife cheats on him with his best friend. He’s washed-up and gray at 30.

But Emma still takes him back. She ditches Frenchy for him. True love.

With the central tension of the film thus resolved, other tensions need to emerge. They do. Year by year, Emma: 1) wants a kid; 2) still hasn’t had a kid; 3) dies in a biking accident. All on St. Swithin’s Day.

Afterwards, director Lone Scherfig (“An Education”) and screenwriter David Nicholls (from his novel) do a good call-back to that first St. Swithin’s Day, in the late 1980s, and to a moment where the relationship could’ve deepened immediately but didn’t. There’s a sadness to it, certainly, this early scene, but it’s not the sadness of the Billy Bragg song. Bragg’s sadness is about how love, which we claim to be forever, fades. “One Day” claims that love is forever. So the sadness of the callback, and of the movie, relates to the earlier, shallow choices Dexter made with his life and his love. It’s about all that time wasted.

I would argue that, regardless of what we do with time, whether we “waste” it like the grasshopper (Dexter), or "make proper use of it” like the ant (Emma), it keeps going. That's what's truly sad. It's not about bad choices made but of any choices made. Time takes us from a place where we are young and have many choices to where we are old and have but one: death. It takes us to the moment when one of us is gone and the other is mourning, to the moment when both of us are gone and what survivors we have are mourning, to the moment when both of us are long-gone and there’s no one left to mourn.

Love the poster, though.

Posted at 07:04 AM on Feb 29, 2012 in category Movie Reviews - 2011
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Friday February 17, 2012

Movie Review: A Separation (2011)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Our sympathies keep changing in “A Separation” in a way that reminded me of life.

Initially, Simin (Leila Hatami) seems the sympathetic one, at least to western eyes, since she wants out of Iran for both herself and her daughter, while her husband Nader (Peyman Maadi) seem stubborn and awful for refusing to go. When Simin does leave, she goes, not out of the country but across town, to stay at her mother’s, leaving Nader to care for their daughter, Termeh (Arina Farhadi), who’s 11 and smart, as well as his father (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi), who is old and suffering from Alzheimer’s.

A SeparationBut we also have sympathy for Razieh (Sareh Bayat), whom Nader hires to help in his wife’s absence. She’s pregnant; she has her own daughter, Somayeh (Kimia Hosseini), an adorable, big-eyed thing, to worry about; and now, for 300,000 rials a day (about US$26.50), she has to look after Nader’s father, who wets himself, and who may wander off at any moment to get the newspaper at the newsstand down the street. Wetting himself, and not being able to change himself, is the big problem. She’s unsure whether it’s a sin for her to be this close to a man she doesn’t know, but there’s a kind of Islamic hotline she can call to plead her case. She does, successfully, but it’s really more than she bargained for. So she asks Nader: Could her husband, Hodjat (Shahb Hosseini), take the job instead?

Nader is willing, even grateful, but surprised when it’s still Razieh who shows up the next day, and the next. Something about her husband being in jail? Something about creditors? Nader is even more surprised, and angered, when he comes home early one day to find no one at home and his father tied to the bed. Initially he thinks he’s dead. He’s not, but he’s bruised. And really who would do such a thing? And where is the day’s money Nader left on the dresser? And it’s at this point that Razieh returns, with her daughter, and with nothing like shame or guilt on her face. Who is this woman? How could she do such a thing to his father? And still she demands her day’s pay? Why doesn’t she get out of his apartment. Out! Out!

Yeah, so what if Razieh slipped when he shoved her out the door. Really? She miscarried? That’s awful. From the shove? That doesn’t seem...? She and her husband are pressing charges? For murder?

Poor Nader.

God, where the fuck is his wife during all of this?!

The relativity of all of this is key. The lack of absolutes is key. The small lies that occur daily, or the big lies that occur when our backs are to the wall, or the information withheld to make one’s case better, all of these things are key. “A Separation” begins inconclusively before an unseen judge, and it ends—beautifully—in a kind of purgatory of inconclusiveness, and in the middle ... is anything resolved? The more both parties go to find justice, the more injustice they find. The more control they attempt to exert, the more things fall apart. “A Separation” isn’t just about the separation of a man and a wife; it’s about a separation from truth, from respect, and maybe from love.

Posted at 06:06 AM on Feb 17, 2012 in category Movie Reviews - 2011
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