Film Reviews

Film Review: Season of Narges (2017)

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A couple of old female taxi drivers, an acclaimed actor having a feud with the paparazzi, a young woman looking after her suicidal friend, and a hopeless romantic trying to resolve the divorce of her best friend while seeking a love interest herself. With an all-star ensemble cast, Iranian director Negar Azarbayjani (Facing Mirrors, 2011) manages to showcase a slice of Iranian life and everyday human drama. Her light-hearted 90-minute drama successfully immerses its viewer into the tiny details of the lives of each and every character shown on screen.

 Adapting a non-linear storytelling approach, Azarbayjani cleverly manages to relate the intertwined everyday lives of her characters, and as the film progresses, the viewer manages to notice the sometimes even non-chronological connections between the characters’ lives. The variety of the characters and their problems also sheds some light on some of the problems facing Iranian society that are rather less spoken of, such as suicide and mental health or the legitimacy of organ transplant in an Islamic country. It may come across as biting off more than one could chew, but the delicate handling of these subjects among others and balancing them with other much lighter problems in comparison like seeking true love or rejection, help ease the audience into viewing these themes without feeling uncomfortable for analyzing them for long, or even putting too much thought into any part of the movie at all.

 However, this superficial attempt at exploring some of the most widely recognized aspects of human suffering not only in Iranian society but in the whole world, may be exactly what can be considered the weakness of this movie. Despite being a very human heart-warming drama, Season of Narges fails to achieve anything more artistically or intellectually. In a way it delivers only emotion to its viewer ignoring a wide opportunity at exploring any of the proposed themes solely and in-depth. The solid performances, well-written characters, and decent cinematography all make this film perfect for a lazy afternoon, but sadly for nothing more.

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Film Reviews

Film Review: Withered Green (2016)

For some reason I felt like writing this one in Arabic, however I’ll try to update this review with the English version as well ASAP, because this beautiful film definitely deserves both languages.

أخضر يابس

 بشعرية شديدة, و الكثير من السوداوية, يتابع فيلم “أخضر بابس” حياة بطلته ايمان في رحلتها للبحث عن أحد أعمامها لمقابلة عريس  شقيقتها الصغرى بدلا من والديهما المتوفي. و بينما تتوالي فصول الفيلم ينكشف لدي ايمان مدي تقييد هذه العادات و التقاليد لها و لأختها سويا. الفيلم ذو الثلاثة و سبعون دقيقة هو الفيلم الطويل الأول لمخرجه محمد حماد, و التجربة السينمائية الأولى لبطلته هبة علي, و هو حائز على جائزة المهر لأفضل مخرج من مهرجان دبي السينمائي الدولي.

على مدار أسبوع, تتبع الكاميرا ايمان أثناء قيامها بمشاغل حياتها اليومية التي تمزج بين الهدوء و الرتابة, فتنطلق من أعمال المنزل اليومية, لرحلتها المتكررة بالترام, لتعمل بمحل حلويات يبدو عليه القدم و البساطة.  يتخلل هدوء عالمها النسبي الاحباط حين يتوالى عليها فشل محاولاتها لاقناع الأعمام الذكور بمقابلة العريس الشاب. كذلك يستمر جو عام من القلق طوال الفيلم حيث يبدو أن ايمان تعاني من مشاكل صحية لها علاقة بالخصوبة, الأمر الذي تتجاهله متعمدة و بشدة طوال فترة الفيلم, حتي يظهر تأثيره الصادم كليا بالمشهد الختامي.

withered-green

 رغم هدوء ايقاع الفيلم الذي يصل أحيانا الي حد الملل, الا أن هذا الهدوء النسبي هو في الواقع أقوي عناصر “أخضر يابس”, فما أن  يتسلل الجو العام للفيلم للمشاهد حتى تمتزج مشاعره كليا ببطلة الفيلم, شاعرا بالكم المتضاهي من الضجر و الاحباط و العجز الذي تشعر به. يتطرق لذهن المشاهد أفلام مثل جين ديلمان (1975) لشانتال أكيرمان أو الخروج للنهار (2012) لهالة لطفي, حيث نجح صناع الأفلام الثلاثة بايصال شعور الوحشة و الفراغ الذي تمر به بطلاتهم بواقعية شديدة. ذلك بالاضافة لأداء بطلة الفيلم هبة علي, الذي على الرغم من جموده أحيانا, الا أنه ينجح كليا بايصال ما تمر به ايمان فقط عن طريق ملامح وجهها و بأقل حوار ممكن. فعلى الرغم من جمال الفيلم, تبقى تجربة مشاهدته مرهقة الى حد كبير لما يحويه من حزن خالص في كثير من الأحيان.

تصوير الفيلم بالغ الحرفية, تملأه كادرات تظهر بعد أيمان عن الكاميرا و ضآلتها على الشاشة, تماما كبعدها و ضآلتها عن حياتها نفسها.  كذلك المونتاج, حيث يتخلل حياة ايمان اليومية مشاهد لسلحفاتها المنزلية التي تبدو على الرغم من بطء حركتها و كأنها تنعم بحياة أكثر راحة و صفاء من ايمان. و يضفي طاقم العمل غير الاحترافي, و الذي يتكون أغلبه من أقارب صناع الفيلم و أصدقائهم, طابع من الواقعية الخالصة على الفيلم, فينجح أخضر يابس باضافة بعد انساني ملموس لشخصياته, فهي أكثر من مجرد شخصيات خيالية ,بل هي واقع المجتمع المصري بذاته, و يبقى تمرد ايمان بنهاية الفيلم على تقاليد هذا المجتمع و تحكماته ما هو الا ردة فعل لكم الضغوط التي تعرضت لها, بل هو أقرب ما وصلت اليه من التصالح مع النفس و مواجهة الواقع بدلا من تناسيه في تجهيز ستائر المنزل لمقابلة العريس المنتظر, أو ترتيب معروضات المحل.

 

Film Reviews

Film Review: Sheikh Jackson (2017)

 From acclaimed Egyptian director Amr Salama (Asmaa, 2011, Excuse my French, 2014), comes a 90-minute feature that defines the mediocrity that has overcome mainstream Egyptian cinema. The amateurish endeavor which stars some of Egyptian cinema’s most recognized faces was surprisingly selected to be submitted for the 90th Academy Awards, despite its conspicuous flaws and shortcomings on both the artistic and entertainment aspects.

Sheikh Jackson

 The story follows a religious man as he goes through a crisis of faith when he realizes that his childhood idol, Michael Jackson, is now dead. The film shifts from the present to past memories to even dream sequences in its journey to unravel the life and upbringing of its main character, spawning a number of supporting characters and subplots along the way that most of the time serve no purpose whatsoever to the plot. This nonlinear approach at storytelling, along with the clumsy script, eventually leads the whole film to appear rather messy and underdeveloped.

 Despite the fine camerawork and lighting, mainly the change in color palettes between present day and past memories, Sheikh Jackson fails to deliver the artistic merit it promises. The vulgarly flawed script, stiff acting, the lack of depth that all the characters sport whether supporting or even the main character itself, and the particularly cringe worthy CGI of a certain dream sequence all guarantee the film’s inevitable fall into oblivion over the upcoming years.

Sheikh_Jackson_1

 I tried not to bash this film, I honestly did, however there is something absolutely insulting when presenting similarly unexceptional films as masterpieces, especially when other underrepresented indie films are much more worthy. In the end, Sheikh Jackson may be an entertaining film, that is if you overcome the excruciatingly unrealistic societal backgrounds of the main characters, the highly clichéd script, the god-awful CGI, and the extremely distorted soundtrack, but is it really worth submitting to the academy, or even receiving half the praise it got? I highly doubt it.

Rating: 3/10

My Cinema Paradiso

#3: A Woman in Berlin (2008)

woman_in_berlin

A Woman in Berlin is yet another film that explores the fall of Germany from the point of view of a Nazi sympathizer. As the main character, who remains nameless, says in the beginning of the film “We all breathed the same air, and it was intoxicating”. The beautiful Nina Hoss stars as a single woman trying to survive the stray bullets and the multiple rape assaults brought on by the Russian army during the fall of Berlin.

 The film is originally based on the controversial memoir by the same name, and it stays true to the source material for the entirety of its length. Director Max Färberböck succeeds in capturing the moral confusion of his main character, a female journalist living in Berlin in 1945. As the Russian troops sweep through the city, she finds herself, along with every other woman in her building, subjected to rape and sexual assaults every single day, as the Russian soldiers begin to implement their own idea of justice and revenge against the atrocities of the Nazi army. As it becomes harder and harder to escape the unwanted attempts, some of the women decide to offer company to high-ranking officers in exchange for protection from the night raids and the humiliation, a decision that will mark them for life.

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 When the memoir was first published in 1953 it received incredibly harsh opposition from people who believed these women where shameless to dignify themselves and their country in such a way, but are they really? The beauty of A Woman in Berlin lies in its multi-layered complexity. No one is innocent, and everyone deserves punishment, yet the vulnerability of all the characters represented on-screen can make the viewer’s moral compass extremely indecisive. It is a beautiful portrait of women in war-time that is rarely presented, and almost never with such precision.

 Another film that deals with similar themes springs to mind, the 2011 Chinese drama The Flowers of War. However, in the case of Yimou Zhang’s epic, the shades of good and evil were easily separable. A Woman in Berlin manages to deliver a much more realistic tale, emotionally charged with all the human emotions that one would expect from a similarly chaotic time. It forces its viewer to ultimately gape in awe and sympathy at the strength of these women, who dare to make jokes out of their rape stories, and to simply survive.   

My Cinema Paradiso

#2: The Patience Stone (2012)

The patience stone

 In a nameless country, and with nameless characters, writer and director Atiq Rahimi weaves a hypnotizing tale about the cultural and sociological fall of a country, as seen through the life of one of its women; the mesmerizing Golshifteh Farahani. This film will not blow you away, it will not amaze you, or give you any sort of immediate satisfaction. However, give it a couple of days and it will creep its way into your heart and soul, expanding on every aspect of delayed gratification.

 In a war-torn middle-eastern country, a young woman (Farahani) looks after her comatose husband, along with her two daughters, all cramped together in their old filthy house in a poor neighborhood that is in fact the frontline of the ongoing war. As the conditions harden, the woman finds herself talking to her unhearing husband, confessing her deepest secrets, and recounting her life story and how she came to marry him for ten years without him once listening to what she had to say. The longer she stays with the unconscious husband, the more she talks, and the more she talks, the more she reveals about the melancholic and often shocking mode of life imposed on the women of this country. It doesn’t really matter which oppressive middle-eastern country is depicted in The Patience Stone; as they all seem to obey the same pattern.

 The beautiful Golshifteh Farahani pulls her weight in a bewitching performance that is indisputably the best of her career. She puts her heart into her character, and carries out her performance with such skill and mastery, where every blink of an eye conveys multiple layers of emotion. With the addition of the attentive cinematography of Thierry Arbogast, and the dexterous script of Rahimi and Jean-Claude Carrière , The Patience stone captures the spirit of Farahani’s performance like no other, and ultimately that of human emotion itself.

jppatience-master675

 I read some reviews arguing that the film is rather slow or even boring. I remember when I first watched this gem I felt absolutely compelled to re-watch it again immediately. It was spectacularly abrim with emotions I had to watch it again to make sure I did not miss any of its facets. However, I do believe that a certain degree of knowledge of the dire conditions and toxic customs of middle-eastern countries similar to the one represented by Rahimi is crucial to recognize the expertly nuanced performance of Farahani, otherwise subtle emotions such as her fear of disobeying her unconscious husband, or her mixed feelings towards religion might go unnoticed.

 The Patience Stone is a heartbroken love letter from Rahimi to his homeland Afghanistan. His portrayal of the chaos and turmoil is highly accurate yet remains as elegant as can be. Even scenes of violence and assault are depicted with such grace that maintains the privacy and humanity of his characters. He expertly embodies the way war, and fanaticism affect an entire country through the solemn tale of one of its women. This film is a beauty that might prove baffling to some, but those who can truly see its essence will ultimately grow sentimental about it, I am sure of it.