Sep 25, 2012

Iran will not defend its Oscar statue

I had the first episode of my new series on Iranian cinema all edited and ready to post, but it feels strange to write about Iranian cinema today and ignore the big news. The Iranian government has decided to boycott the Oscars in an act of protest to the release of Innocenceof Muslims.

It’s painful, to be honest; particularly because it had been announced earlier that Reza Mirkarimi’s A Cube of Sugar was going to be Iran’s representative in the category this year. It’s a gentle, thoughtful film by one of the greatest directors of Iranian cinema's new generation. I’ve always rooted for his success since his exquisite first feature, Under the Moonlight, and I’d have loved to see him take another stab at this. (Iran’s 2005 submission was Mirkarimi’s best work to date, So Close, So Far, which is criminally overlooked on the international scene.) This of course comes on the back of the country's first win for Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation, so Iran becomes one of only a handful of countries not to attempt to defend its statue. (Film Actually’s Shane pointed me to South Africa and Bosnia who didn’t submit films after Tsotsi and No Man’s Land, respectively. If you know of more examples let me know in the comments.)
Reza Kianian in A Cube of Sugar

Mirkarimi and his film aside, I just can’t see how the decision to boycott the Oscars helps any of parties involved. Why deprive the Iranian film community of the chance to show its best work on the world’s greatest stage? It doesn’t seem like a trade off, just a lose-lose situation. If the reason for this boycott is that Iranians feel insulted by Innocence of Muslims, wouldn’t a worthy film in response send a better message to the world than simply boycotting the Oscars and leaving the scene altogether? And in any case, Innocent of Muslims is absolutely asinine but responding to it at all, whether in the form of a boycott or more aggressively, with riots and violence and shootings and killings as we've seen in other Muslim countries in the aftermath of its "release" is even more...stupid. If you don’t like the film, don’t watch it and move on. This type of reactionary approach only validates it. Besides, I can guarantee you that before the ceremony is even held, barely anyone will remember the name of this "film".

As for A Cube of Sugar – which, by the way, stars my favourite Iranian actor of all time, Reza Kianian - well, it was not A Separation, but it had a decent shot, believe it or not. It’s exactly the type of film that older voters in this category welcome with open arms and it’s a heck of lot of better than some of the recent winners. But alas, Iranians will have to wait another year.

Sep 17, 2012

TIFF Diary, Part 3: Four Short Takes

Over at The Film Experience, I've written four short reviews on At Any Price, The Place beyond the Pines, Foxfire and Beyond the Hills. Make sure to check them out!

Sep 13, 2012

TIFF Diary, Part 2: Interviewing William H. Macy

One of the highlights of this year's festival for me was The Sessions, not just the film itself, which is heartwarming and funny, but the fact that I got to interview its director Ben Lewin and one of its cast members, William H. Macy. Macy's one of my favourite charcter actors so it was quite an experience getting to meet him in person. I also attended the film's reception at Soho House, met some amazing people and had a banging time.
Over at The Film Experience, I've posted my review of the film and my interview with Mr. Macy, which covers everything from priesthood to sex to Paul Thomas Anderson. Have a read and chime in with your thoughts.

Sep 9, 2012

TIFF Diary, Part I: Meeting Ewan McGregor

I feel like I might have overbooked myself a little bit for this year's festival. I literally have no breaks. Not that I'm complaining, you see. I've got to meet some of my favourite celebrities and quite staggeringly, not one of the films I've seen so far has underwhelmed me. That streak is bound to be broken at some point but for now, all is good.

The first part of my diary is posted at The Film Experience, including the story of how I happened to take this picture with my favourite actor working today and a mini review of Noah Baumbach's extremely charming Frances Ha. Head over there and have a read. There's much more to come in the next few days, including an interview with William H. Macy who's in town for the premiere of The Sessions.

Sep 5, 2012

Final TIFF Line-up

After weeks of anticipation, TIFF finally kicks off tomorrow. You can really feel the excitement if you walk around the entertainment district in downtown Toronto, or even if you check #TIFF12 on twitter. I’m expecting one of my best festival experiences to be honest. There are a few films I wish I could fit into my schedule (Ernest & Celestine, Like Someone in Love, Fill the Void, The Impossible) but overlapping schedules happen for everyone at festivals and missing a few films isn’t gonna stop me from enjoying the much larger number than I will get to see. Especially because, animated films aside, my line-up covers a wide range of stuff: big premieres, small Indies, documentaries, Venice hot shots, European films, Asian films, American ones. Everything’s thrown in the mix. Plus, there are a couple of events planned that I will not talk about until they actually materialize. But I couldn’t be more excited about them and you’ll know why when you eventually read my coverage.

Joss Whedon's Much Ado about Nothing
For me the festival doesn’t start until Friday afternoon, when I get to watch the buzzy Israeli documentary The Gatekeepers but it will finish on the last day, or the last hour rather, with a late night screening of Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder. Last year’s festival went out with a bang (and tears) as I finished on a high with Oslo, August 31st, my favourite film of the year. Here’s hoping the Malick will follow suit.

As with last year, I have the pleasure of covering the festival for Nathaniel Rogers and his amazing readers over at The Film Experience, and as always, you can follow me on twitter (@amiresque) for instant reactions and such.

Italian Actress Monica Bellucci in Iranian director Bahman Ghobadi's Rhino Season

My final line-up, in order of screening date, looks like this as of now (though there are always films added as the festival moves along):

The Gatekeepers (Dror Moreh)
Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach)
The Place beyond the Pines ( Derek Cianfrance)
Something in the Air (Olivier Assayas)
The Sessions (Ben Lewin) 
The Patience Stone (Atiq Rahimi)
At Any Price (Ramin Bahrani)
Berberian Sound Studio (Peter Strickland)
The Iceman (Ariel Vromen)
Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang (Laurent Cantet)
Lore (Cate Shortland)
Beyond the Hills (Crisitan Mungiu)
Barbara (Christian Petzold)
The Central Park Five (Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, David McMahon)
Much Ado about Nothing (Joss Whedon)
Dormant Beauty (Marco Bellocchio)
All that Matters is Past (Sara Johnsen)
Rhino Season (Bahman Ghobadi)
Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God (Alex Gibney)
What Maisie Knew (Scott McGehee, David Siegel)
To the Wonder (Terrence Malick)

Sep 4, 2012

Announcing the Blog's New Weekly Series

As you guys are all no doubt aware, a few weeks ago Sight & Sound magazine published its decennial list of the greatest films of all time. Many conversations ensued among cinephiles about Hitch dethroning Welles, about the individual lists of all voters, about the futile nature of list making, etc. I shared my two cents at The Film Experience right after the list came out but I’ve been meaning to write more about it ever since and take a specific angle. I never really got around to it until now.

When I started the blog two years ago, one of my goals was to shine a light on little seen Iranian films for the English speaking audience.  Clicking on the ‘Iranian Cinema’ tab on the blog’s header tells me that I’ve failed miserably, having posted less than 10 times about Iranian films in total.  When the Sight & Sound poll was released, I noticed that Abbas Kiarostami’s Close-Up (Namaye Nazdik) was the highest ranking Iranian film on the list and it actually made the top 50. Though I personally love the film to no end, I was surprised that it ranked so highly given that it isn’t revered nearly as much in its home country.

Guess who? A Separation's Leila Hatami as a young boy in Kamalolmolk (1984) directed by her late father Ali Hatami

Looking further down the list, there are quite a few films by Kiarostami and others like Makhmalbaf, Mehrjui and Farrokhzad that I’m quite happy to see have found a foothold, strong or weak, among the critical community outside Iran. Initially, I wanted to seize the opportunity and write about all the Iranian films that appear on the list as a way to compensate for my inactivity in that area. But that sort of defeats the purpose. Those films already have their supporters, after all. So I cast my net wider.

Starting on Monday, September 24th, after TIFF craziness and my coverage at The Film Experience is over, I will be writing about an Iranian film every Monday. I will cover all the titles that appear on the Sight & Sound list but I won’t stop there. Many of my favourites – in fact, most of my personal top ten, which are mostly available in North America, by the way – understandably don’t show up on their list, but that doesn’t mean they’re not worth your time. So be sure to check back in three weeks!