Wednesday, April 24, 2013


Indonesian director Joko Anwar has quite a reputation for subverting genre rules and turning them on their heads.  For fans of unique genre cinema, Anwar has become something of a hero for his daring and individual approach to cinema.  Personally, while there is no denying that the man has significant talent, I have yet to find one of his films that has come properly together to work as a whole.  Within his films (particularly “The Forbidden Door”) Anwar comes up with some brilliant scenes but overall I find his films never come together as they should and they even end up becoming a little sloppy.  “Modus Anomali” is Anwar’s latest film and even though it has been receiving middling to mixed reviews, I thought that I would still take a chance on it and see if this would be the film that would change my mind about this director.

The film opens in what appears to be a very isolated section of a forest.  The camera continually pans over the environment until a hand suddenly explodes from underneath the dirt.  A man then feverishly starts to dig himself out from the shallow grave that he has obviously been buried in.  He is panicked and the first thing he attempts to do is call the authorities for help but when the line is answered he suddenly realizes that he has no memory; he doesn’t know where he is, he doesn’t know his name, and he has no idea how he got to be in the situation he is in now.  He hangs up the phone and searches his wallet where he finds his driver’s license which indicates that his name is “John Evans”.  Looking through the wallet further he comes across a photo of a woman with two teenage kids.  On the back of the photo the words “We love you, John” are written and making it obvious that John is married with two kids.  Still a nervous mess, John keeps moving through the forest when it suddenly hits him; where is his family?  Were they taken too or has something just as bad happened to them?  Immediately the stakes have risen as not only is John worried about getting out of this forest alive, he must now worry about whether or not he must search for his family too.  Soon enough, John comes across an unoccupied (but lived in) cabin where he sees a video camera attached to a television with the words “PLAY ME” stuck to it.  Hesitantly he pushes the play button only to witness images of his pregnant wife being brutally murdered by an unknown assailant.  He is mortified and realizes he must find his kids and heads back out into the forest to search for them.  However things suddenly become a lot more dangerous for John when his captors realize that they have failed in their attempts at killing him and begin to hunt him down once more.

For the majority of the first half of “Modus Anomali”, the film is quite suspenseful and intriguing.  We know as little as John does when the film starts and we are learning things the same time as him, so as each revelation comes to light we feel what he feels.  However, “Modus Anomali” is a film that has been made only to service its third act twist and because of this I ended up reacting strongly against it.  For those wanting to go into this film with as little knowledge as possible, fear not, I am not going to reveal the twist, but I will say that anyone who is familiar with “Memento” will not find it hard to work it out early in the film.  Before the twist is officially revealed though, it is an easy enough film to like.  It is dialogue light mainly due to the fact that we are following one character and really it is just a guy wondering around a forest, but due to the fact that we know nothing about what is actually going on, it works at creating a successful atmosphere.  

Rio Dewanto is excellent early on portraying a man who has no idea what is going on and terrified by the fact that he may never see his family again.  He really does give the impression that he is scared the whole time and the way he breaks down after watching the video of his wife’s brutal murder also rang true.  The fact that this part of the film is almost dialogue free helps Dewanto enormously because while the film is an Indonesian film, it was actually shot in English, which was a decision that ultimately haunts the film.  The second half of the film includes a lot more dialogue and sadly all of the actors struggle to emote properly using the English language, particularly Dewanto.  He suddenly goes from being very believable to unbearably bad and yet it is not his fault.  I must admit that I am sick of foreign productions having to film in English so to appeal to a broader (ie. American) audience.  It rarely works and the film ultimately loses its national identity too.  While it is true that I did not like “Modus Anomali” after the twist, it would have been much more bearable if the dialogue was spoken in the actor’s native Indonesian.

Another thing that I really reacted strongly against was the very manipulative camera work.  The way the camera constantly moved in an attempt to portray somebody’s point of view was very misleading and as I just said, manipulative.  You get the opinion that poor John is being constantly watched by someone in very close proximity to him but it always turns out to be not the case.  I particularly hated the shots where the camera would hide behind a tree and then peer out; it was a very cheap attempt at creating tension and is akin to a jump scare in a horror film.  One effective scene that I did very much like was one when John, in an attempt to hide from (this time) a very real assailant, hides in a giant chest only to be locked in it and it then to be set on fire.  That was a scene that had real terror associated with it and because of that I really loved the scene (can you imagine being trapped in such a small space and then realize that the thing was on fire also?).
As I have mentioned already, I really reacted strongly against the twist in “Modus Anomali”, mainly because in hindsight I realized that the whole film only exists because of its reveal.  Without the twist, there is almost no movie (well, at least that is what it appears the filmmakers thought).  Once we understand exactly what is going on, the rest of what we have witnessed suddenly feels very orchestrated and I felt a little cheated.  As I have said a number of times regarding “Modus Anomali”, it felt incredibly manipulative.  Once the truth has come to light, it makes little sense and we are never given any real credible reason as to why anyone is doing what they are doing, which makes the film incredibly frustrating.  The fact that the film relies on how you react to the twist, it makes it very hard to review it without spoiling it, so unfortunately I cannot go into it any deeper than I have already.  Let’s just say that I had a huge problem with character motivations.

Overall, while “Modus Anomali” started strong, I felt that it went downhill pretty quickly and I ended up not enjoying the film much at all.  The main word I would use to describe the film is manipulative, and the decision to shoot the film in English was one that ultimately hurt the film more than it helped.  I think if the film had continued down the path it had initially set for itself without the twist, it would’ve been much stronger for it, as it is though, I found “Modus Anomali” a bit of a mess and once again I was less than impressed by Joko Anwar’s attempts at putting all the pieces together to make a great film as a whole.

2 Stars.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


One of my six most anticipated releases of 2013, Terrence Malick’s “To The Wonder” is something of a frustrating experience to watch.  While the film is no doubt gorgeous in its look, with some of the most stunning images ever captured on film, it is none-the-less a very cold film and one that is hard to emotionally invest in completely.

The film starts in Paris where Neil (Ben Affleck) and Marina (an always twirling Olga Kurylenko) start a whirlwind romance, as the two fall head over heels for one another.  It is here we witness the beauty of love when a romance is new and fresh and possibilities seem endless (as does the time together).  Marina has a daughter, Tatiana, from a previous romance and through an expression of his love, Neil takes the girl on as if she were his own.  The three of them appear to be a perfect family and when Neil has to return to the United States for his work, he asks the women of his life to join him.  They ecstatically say “yes” and head off to America and a new life.  However once the family comes to live in Oklahoma problems begin to arise and the lovers start to drift apart.  With Neil focused on his environmental work and Mariana and Tatiana struggling with home-sickness, the perfect love they once shared seems doomed.  Tensions constantly arise and disagreements are regular, and the fact that Neil and Marina are unable to marry (due to the fact she is still legally married to Tatiana’s father) causes a problem that the couple are going to have to face up to sooner than later.  It comes to pass that Marina’s visa is to expire and she must head home, and due to Neil’s unwillingness to ask her to stay, she does just that.  Soon after, the cycle of love continues afresh when Neil runs into an old school friend, Jane (Rachel McAdams), and the two fall in love, but Neil abandons this chance at happiness when Marina returns (after finding Paris a horrible place to live without both Neil and Tatiana, who decides to live with her father) in an attempt to find that love that they shared once more.

Terrence Malick’s previous film “The Tree Of Life” hit me like a ton of bricks when I first watched it.  It was one of the most emotional viewings I had ever had in a cinema, and this emotion has continued through multiple viewings.  Even though the style of that film is non-traditional, to say the least, I actually found it to be incredibly beautiful.  Through fragments of moments, Malick was able to communicate so much.  When I heard that he was continuing with this lyrical style for his follow-up film, “To The Wonder”, I was immediately excited, even when it was reported that the new film was going to be more experimental than “The Tree Of Life” and even less narrative based (if that was possible).  It has been mentioned many times already that “To The Wonder” is like a spiritual sequel to “The Tree Of Life” and right from the beginning of the film, I immediately felt this.  The rhythm of the editing is almost identical and because of this I found it very easy to settle in and observe the new film.  I’m sure people who have not seen “The Tree Of Life” may find the storytelling alienating but for me, it was like slipping back into a familiar world; a world I was dying to revisit.

The films of Terrence Malick, particularly the more recent ones, are films that you feel more than anything.  You let them wash over you and feel the emotions being presented even though it is being done in a non-traditional way.  This is actually the biggest flaw in “To The Wonder” because sadly, I felt (almost) nothing throughout.  The main reason for this is that we are never given real access to the characters of Marina and particularly Neil.  They remain forever allusive, even though we spend the entirety of the film watching them.  We never really know why they are feeling the way they are feeling at any given time; why are they fighting? Why are they sad?  Why are they moving?  Because of this, it makes it really hard to care about them.  Much has also been made that even though he is in the film the majority of its screen time, Ben Affleck only has around six lines of dialogue.  I found this an odd choice, particularly when you could see that his character was speaking and yet his lines had been muted.  Obviously, Malick wants the voice of the film to be that of the character of Marina, but because of this Neil is never given a voice (literally and figuratively) that deems him to be of any importance and as such ends up becoming a cipher within the film.  In actual fact, I think that Ben Affleck has been totally miscast also, and his performance was quite wooden.  To my eyes, he always appeared lost, like he didn’t know why he was doing what he was doing.

The girls of the cast fared much better with the performances of both Olga Kurylenko and Rachel McAdams being both excellent.  Personally the scenes which featured McAdams I found to be the strongest of the entire film including a truly amazing scene with both Neil and Jane, sitting atop their vehicle while surrounded by a field of bison.  For a film about the subject of love, “To The Wonder” features a large amount of despair and sadness, and most of this unhappiness is subjected upon Marina, Kurylenko’s character.  Kurylenko is fantastic in both scenes of immense unhappiness and is absolutely luminous in the early scenes when her character is in the initial throes of love.  Also most of the poetic narration is heard through her voice.  

One character I failed to mention during my synopsis is that of Father Quintana who is played by Javier Bardem.  Whilst barely connected to the main story of “To The Wonder” his character proves vital for laying out the film’s themes.  Quintana is also arguably the most interesting character in the film being that he is a man who regularly preaches about love and what it is to love, without having any love in his own heart.  He is a man questioning his faith and about the existence of God as well as his right to be preaching about a topic he personally knows little about.  While Quintana has the potential to be the most interesting character, Malick never seems to follow up the groundwork he has laid out for this character which almost results in giving the feeling that he is from another movie entirely.  As it is, his links with the Neil and Marina characters are tenuous at best, but it is his sermons (and narrations) that become most important in regards to the rest of the film.

As expected “To The Wonder” is a stunningly gorgeous looking film.  Going into a Terrence Malick film, you know what you are going to get from a visual standpoint and yet his images never cease to amaze me.  All of his films are stunningly beautiful but his work with Emmanuel Lubezki is just in a league of its own.  This is the third film that the pair have made together and they just seem like a perfect fit.  As usual everything is backlit and looks as if it is shot during magic hour but it all just feels so effortless.  Terrence Malick just seems to see the world with different eyes than the rest of us and as such he can see the beauty in everything and he proves this with some of the images he comes up with in “To The Wonder”.  While there are too many shots to list here, two examples that just wowed me were a shadow of a chandelier on a roof and the movement of the water-drenched sand on the beach of Mont Saint-Michel as Neil and Marina are standing on it.

While the way the story has been told may be alienating for some viewers, I believe the point of the film is still easy to understand.  The film is ultimately about the cycles of love but what Malick seems to be suggesting is that the act of falling in love is the most important thing and even when that love has been transformed into something else, the memory of that love will endure, therefore one should always remain open to fall in love and experience love because a life without love is a life that is not lived (a sentiment that is also echoed in “The Tree Of Life”).  Probably the most important line in the film is “Love that loves us…..thank you” and sums up the theme of the film brilliantly.  However you may be thinking after watching “To The Wonder” if the point of the film is to convey just how great love is in life, why is there so much misery in the film?  I guess the simple answer to this is the old “no pain, no gain” line, meaning without all the heartbreak and tribulations we face whilst in love, would we ever truly understand just how magnificent being in love really is?

Overall, there is much to like about “To The Wonder” but the fact that we are never given any real access to our main characters means it is hard to actually care about their tribulations.  The film is absolutely beautiful with some stunning images as Terrence Malick continues to evolve his style to an almost pure cinema level.  Dialogue is becoming less and less important to him which is true of “To The Wonder” which rarely sees its characters talk.  Interestingly, the majority of the dialogue (via narration) is subtitled with a mixture of French and Spanish spoken throughout.  While I want to like the film more, after my initial viewing of “To The Wonder” I have to be honest and say that I was ultimately disappointed by it especially by the fact that it didn’t leave me feeling anything (unlike its predecessor which utterly destroyed me).  Hopefully over repeated viewings, my appreciation for “To The Wonder” will grow but as of now, despite the number of good things in it, “To The Wonder” is my least favourite Terrence Malick film so far.

3 Stars.  

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


It is the last Wednesday Eve before the Persian New Year and all of the inhabitants of Tehran are out celebrating in the streets the festival of “Chaharshanbe-Soori”.  Also known as the Persian Fire Jumping Festival, it sees the locals making large bonfires in the street and then proceeding to jump over the flames for what is considered a cleansing ceremony in the hope that enlightenment and happiness will follow in the coming year.  As well as the bonfires in the street, fireworks are also being constantly let off, and nary a moment goes by without the sound of a cracker exploding.  When young housemaid Roohi is sent to the apartment of Mozhde and Morteza by her company to help the couple with the cleaning of their place before they head off for an extended holiday to Dubai the following day, she unwittingly becomes involved in fireworks of a completely different manner.  It is on this day that emotions boil over between Mozhde and her husband Morteza after she is convinced that he is having an affair with a neighbour.  Mozdhe is such an emotional mess regarding the situation that she appears on the verge of a nervous breakdown, but no matter how much she accuses her husband of infidelity, he always has evidence to back up that she is mistaken.  The accusations and suspicions are taking its toll on this couple, but is there anything to justify these suspicions or is Mozhde completely paranoid?  Through brief conversations with the neighbours in passing, Roohi understands they all think Mozhde is crazy, and her interactions with the woman herself earlier in the day seem to prove this theory as well, but with her entering this world of strangers with fresh eyes, Roohi is able to pick up on a number of lies and mistruths being told.  Without knowing the full story or who is actually telling the truth, she has to decide whether or not to get involved in this couple’s problems.

“Fireworks Wednesday” is Iranian director, Asghar Farhadi’s third feature film and like all of the others that I have seen, is really impressive.  Like always for a Farhadi film, the screenplay is fantastic and rooted in absolute honesty.  The dialogue is intense and with the huge amount of dialogue that is presented in the film, it makes the atmosphere within the film very tense and it is actually quite exhausting to watch because of this.  You understand right from the beginning the ramifications of the disagreement; if the couple cannot work out their problems on this day, they will not be together for very long after it.  The intensity is brought on from the fact that we have a character who is on the verge of having a breakdown; she is seriously affected by everything that is going on or what she assumes is going on and as such her actions are not always well thought out, nor is what she is saying half the time.  The big example to highlight this is when she sends Roohi, a girl she had never met before today, to pick up her son from school while she attempts to spy on her husband who turns out to be innocently doing his job at his place of employment.  

One aspect of the film that I admit I found incredibly distracting was the loudness of “Fireworks Wednesday”.  Obviously Asghar Farhadi always strives for realism and in this regard I assume it must be factual, but the constant sounds of fireworks going off were painful.  Also because of the intensity in the fight between Mozhde and Morteza, a large portion of the dialogue is actually shouted.  Again, it makes the film feel very real, but it also made me feel a little uncomfortable.

While the screenplay is usually the strongest aspect of a Farhadi film, “Fireworks Wednesday” excels because of the brilliant performances by all of the actors.  It is a supremely acted picture but without a doubt Hediyeh Tehrani, who plays Mozhde, steals the film with her raw and emotionally filled performance.  She is amazing as she really does come across as someone who could break down at any second.  She is incredibly intense and there are times when she walks around with this vacant look on her face as if she really has no idea what she is doing anymore.  She also has a stunning scene in the bathroom with her sister when she confides in her about her suspicions.  Tehrani gives a master class of acting in “Fireworks Wednesday”, but her co-stars are no slouches in that department either.  Hamid Farokhnezhad, who plays Morteza, is similarly excellent as we see a man being weighed down by the constant accusations that ends up seeing him lashing out and doing things he normally despises in a man.  When the film begins, Morteza has his hand bandaged after he punched it through one of the windows during an argument with Mozhde, and later in the movie he even strikes the woman, which he is disgusted in himself for doing (it is the first time he as ever hit anyone in his life), but it has gotten to the point where he, himself, has snapped.  Both characters look exhausted throughout the film and you know if something doesn’t change soon, it is not going to end well.  Even though Morteza does a lot of wrong (and uncharacteristic) things, through the sensitive portrayal of Farokhnezhad it is obvious that this is a good man who has just been pushed too far.

The thing I was most looking forward to in regards to “Fireworks Wednesday” was witnessing another performance from the beautiful Taraneh Alidoosti who plays Roohi here.  What surprised me most though was how different she looked from her role in “Beautiful City”.  I cannot put my finger on why she looks so different, but I will say that her infectious smile gives her away every time.  In fact, her character Roohi, appears to be the only one in the film who is truly happy.  She is a bride-to-be, due to be married in days, and she has a beautiful, bubbly personality.  She is the light of this dark tale, and of course she is fantastic.  It is funny, because at times I actually thought her character was a bit manipulative during the course of the film but I think that I was misreading certain scenes as they played out in front of me.  Roohi is put in the middle of a difficult situation and obviously does not know what to do and who she should be trusting or befriending, so she just does what she thinks is right in the moment without giving too much thought about it.

One thing I will briefly mention is that I always praise Asghar Farhadi for his ability to disguise events or objects that will turn out to have significant importance later in the film.  For the first time, however, in “Fireworks Wednesday” I was able to pick up on one of these things immediately.  As soon as the moment happened (which I refuse to reveal), I knew it would have significance later on and sure enough, I was right.  Knowing this though, did nothing to stop me enjoying the moment later on.

Finally, the visual style of “Fireworks Wednesday”, I found to be really stunning and quite unlike most films that come out of Iran.  Some of the framing and cinematography from Hossein Jafarian was really surprising (in a great way), and I was really impressed by a number of overhead shots looking down on the action that aren’t all that common in Iranian cinema.  My favourite visual moment though was the scene when Morteza travels down the elevator to street level to confront his wife.  The camera is in the elevator with our actor and briefly leaves when he does, but as he confronts his wife, the camera retreats back in the elevator as it goes up again and we witness the violence performed on his wife from a distance.  It is a brilliantly staged and timed shot.

Overall, “Fireworks Wednesday” was another enjoyable and emotional film from Asghar Farhadi.  While smaller in scope than his previous film “Beautiful City”, it is no less intense.  The film is littered with brilliant performances; none better than Hediyeh Tehrani who plays the fragile Mozhde.  Normal to Farhadi’s films, “Fireworks Wednesday” does not have a conclusive ending although it is fairly easy to assume what will happen next in the lives of Mozhde and Morteza.  Even though the constant noise from the fireworks drove me to distraction, I still thought “Fireworks Wednesday” was a great piece of cinema and it has got me primed and excited for Asghar Farhadi’s new film “The Past” (which he shot in France).

3.5 Stars.

Monday, April 8, 2013


As I write this, ACMI (The Australian Centre For Moving Images) are currently in the midst of their Asghar Farhadi retrospective where they are screening the entirety of the director’s oeuvre.  Whilst at this point in his career, he has only made five features (although his sixth, “The Past”, is in post right now and is expected to premiere at this year’s Cannes Film Festival), the majority of them are very hard to find and see.  As a huge fan of Asghar Farhadi’s previous two films (“About Elly” and the masterpiece “A Separation”) I was very excited at the chance to finally catch up with his first three.  Alas, as is my luck, illness struck me down and stopped me from seeing Farhadi’s feature debut “Dancing In The Dust”, but I was able to catch up with his second film “Beautiful City”.

Akbar has just turned eighteen.  For the past two years he has been held in a rehabilitation centre for a murder he committed at the age of sixteen.  Being condemned to death, now that he has turned the legal age for the death sentence to be carried out, Akbar is transferred to the adult section of the prison to await his execution which could be any day now.  However it is everyone’s belief that the Akbar of today is not the same person as the sixteen year old boy who committed the violent act that landed him in prison and thus does not deserve the death penalty.  A’la, a prison friend of Akbar, upon his release is determined to find Akbar’s plaintiff in an attempt to gain his consent for a pardon and to stop his friend’s execution.  Along with Akbar’s sister Firoozeh, they have the difficult task of trying to convince a grieving father to give up his legal right to have his daughter’s murderer killed and whilst attempting to do this releasing just how much themselves they are going to have to give up to succeed in their task.

What I love about Farhadi’s films is the way that they are told.  Everything appears natural and nothing is forced.  I am convinced he is an expert storyteller, particularly when it comes to the script.  His stories are very tightly structured but come across as anything but.  When you are watching his films, everything feels in the moment and it is hard to pick up immediately things that may become very important later down the line.  He does not put undue emphasis on objects or plot devices to signify there importance, rather he trusts his audience to be able to retain all of the information he is presenting.  Unlike “A Separation” which is a drama that plays like a thriller, “Beautiful City” is much more formally structured; in fact it is almost presented like a novel rather than a film as we continually learn more about our characters as their situations increase in importance.  Complications continue to arise throughout the story that you would never suspect at the beginning of the tale when it is being told to the point that by the end of the film, the film is full of morale and personal dilemmas throughout.  What might have seemed like an easy task of getting an old man to reverse his decision about a death sentence ends up having far greater consequences for everyone involved, as characters have to work out just how much they are willing to sacrifice or what they are willing to live with themselves for, for the initial task to be successful.

The complexities of “Beautiful City” are what makes the film special but never once is the film hard to understand.  Another thing that I love about Farhadi’s films is that he presents them in a world of grey.  Nothing is black and white in his films and he never victimizes any of his characters.  He presents them honestly as we always get both sides of the story.  While we are always rooting for A’la and Firoozah to succeed in getting Mr. Abolqasem (the plaintiff) to change his mind in regards to the death sentence, he is never presented as “the villain” of the film.  Personally I find his story the most heartbreaking in the film as he has had his only daughter taken from him and yet he has to regularly suffer through the family of his daughter’s murderer coming to his house and trying to get him to give up something he lawfully deserves.  I was actually quite shocked by the fact that this harassment (which is really what it is even though it is done under the guise of civility) is allowed and at such a full on level.  In fact at one stage in the film A’la flat out tells the man that he will not back down until he gets his consent, meaning he will continually come to the man’s house until he wears him down.  “Beautiful City” was such an eye opener for me particularly in regards to Islamic Law because during the film Mr. Abolqasem has had enough of the abuse and goes to the prison to demand the execution happen as quickly as possible, where he is told he would then have to pay Akbar’s family “blood money” for his death.  Otherwise he is told to accept “blood money” from Akbar’s family for his daughter’s death and then pardon the boy who no longer deserves to die.  While it is shocking that money can have such an influence in the life or death of a person under Islamic Law, what really shocked me was the fact that Mr. Abolqasem would have to pay double the “blood money” to Akbar’s family for his death than what the “blood money” he would receive for his own daughter’s murder, and for the simple fact that Akbar is male.  When Mr. Abolqasem is told this he is furious because he feels he is being penalized for the fact that his deceased loved one is considered inferior because she was a girl.

While a lot of American movies have vengeance as a back drop that is almost presented to the point of fetish, here we have an example of a system that has a lawful vengeance killing part of it but throughout “Beautiful City” it becomes apparent just how much emotional strain is put on a person when it comes down to their decision to terminate a life.  It isn’t as easy as you would think and you can see the pain regularly on Mr. Abolqasem’s face regarding his decision.  He is also torn because he believes that if he does pardon the young boy, he has made a deal against his daughter’s life and you can see this heavily weighing on the poor man, even when it appears to be in his best interests to accept the blood money and move on with his life, it turns out to not be that simple.

“Beautiful City” is less a film about actions but rather about the consequences of actions and how one small thing (not that I consider the murder of a person to be minor at all) can create a crippling effect on the lives of many.  The character of Akbar in the film is as minor as can be, with him only appearing in the first scene, however the consequences of his actions resonates throughout the entirety of the movie with every other character’s subsequent actions being affected by Akbar’s own.  While I am reticent to actually go into further details about the plot of the film for the simple fact that I think the film’s surprises are worth keeping quiet on, what I will say is that by the closure of the film’s running time “Beautiful City” turns out to be about just how far each character is willing to go or give up (even if it means giving up their own happiness) to get what they want or believe that they deserve.  

As usual for an Iranian film, there is also a lot of social commentary that exists within the film (although it is never at the forefront) but what particularly interested me was the way religion could be manipulated in an attempt to better serve your own purposes.  What I mean by this is during part of the film Mr. Abolqasem visits his local priest for guidance where he is told he to let the boy go and forgive his violent act.  The priest than reads from the Qur’an a passage about forgiveness, in an attempt to convince the grieving man to grant Akbar a pardon.  This however incenses the man who also brings up another passage from the Qur’an that states that he has every right to want and achieve vengeance for the crime committed against him.  Both men use the Qur’an and its writings in an attempt to justify their opinion even though their views are conflicting.  

As of yet I have not even mentioned the acting but let me say that everyone is brilliantly naturalistic which creates a realism needed for the film to work as well as it does.  I must single out Taraneh Alidoosti who plays Akbar’s sister Firoozeh and is simply stunning in the role.  She is absolutely mesmerizing on screen and incredibly gorgeous too.  Alidoosti is something of a Farhadi regular, appearing in three of his films (“Beautiful City” was their first collaboration) and I remember back when I saw “About Elly” for the first time how mesmerized I was by her back then too.  Without giving away details of that film, she is only in the film for the first half of “About Elly” (even though she plays the title character), so it was a great pleasure to spend the entire film with this amazing actor in “Beautiful City”.  She is so nuanced in her performance here with much of it being played behind her eyes rather than being outwardly emotive and she is so effective.  Likewise, Ahu Kheradmand gives a devastatingly emotional performance as Mr. Abolqasem.

Overall, while not quite as brilliant as “About Elly” and “A Separation”, “Beautiful City” is no doubt another Asgard Farhadi success.  Once again he tackles tough emotional subjects but in his usual subtle style.  The film is beautifully acted and shot (I loved the shots from Firoozeh’s upstairs window looking down at the train tracks below; they were almost like from a fairytale), but if you go into this film expecting a Hollywood ending, you may be sorely disappointed.  Instead of answering every question presented within the film, “Beautiful City” actually ends on a question (with at least one character answering with the simple gesture of lighting a cigarette), thus leaving the audience to determine what will happen next.  This unresolved ending may frustrate a lot of viewers but personally I thought it was perfect and fit with the rest of the film before it.  For now, Farhadi is three for three with me; bring on “Fireworks Wednesday”.

3.5 Stars.