Film Reviews

Film Review: Taste of Cherry (1997)

 When it was first released in Iran,the film was deemed controversial, some even argued for its ban, since it dealt with a rather sensitive subject to its Muslim audience; suicide. Viewed today, the film is far from controversial. This is a melancholic piece about death, life, and free will that will have its audience contemplating the joys of being alive.


 Opening with the main character Mr. Badii, played to perfection by Homayoun Ershadi, as he roams the outskirts of Tehran, interviewing people on the street from the window of his SUV, much like Jonathan Glazer’s Under the skin, except Mr. Badii is not looking for human targets to turn into processed meat to send them back to his mother planet, instead he is looking for a laborer to help him with a very specific job. The job is simple, the man is to bury Mr. Badii who has already dug his very own grave, and was ready to merely lie in it and die. In his search, Mr. Badii encounters many different characters, and has a lot of eye-opening conversations, some of which may eventually lead him to change his mind. Alas, we will never know.

 With its slow pace and remarkably yellowish color palette, Taste of Cherry is a pensive work of art that explores the mind of a man determined to take his own life. The reasons for Mr Badii’s decision remain unknown , but his despair is definitely known to the audience, as it hangs around his sad and wistful face, almost like an aura that surrounds him. His arguments with the characters he meets are fascinating at the very least. When arguing with a young Afghani seminarian who refuses to do the task due to its illegitimacy according to his religious beliefs, Mr. Badii insists on the rationality of his decision as he believes that God has given man the ability to take his own life for a reason, and for that he does not consider his very own suicide sinful. However, what Mr. Badii may not realize is that he has also been given the choice of enjoying life.


 The last character that Mr. Badii picks, and the only one that actually agrees on carrying out the task, is an old Turkish taxidermist, who engages Mr. Badii in a conversation about the beauty of life, and tries to get Mr. Badii to realize that sometimes even the worst of problems can be overcome by having a Taste of Cherry,  and ultimately a taste of life. Though it may not be Kiarostami’s finest work, the film is definitely an elegant piece of cinema that will be remembered by its audience, if not for anything but the pleasantly surprising ending scene.

Rating: 7/10

Film Analysis

The Bizarre Worlds of Yorgos Lanthimos

 In 2011 a young Greek director came to light, as his astoundingly weird feature film Dogtooth was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.  He followed with the generally well received 2012 drama Alps, and as of this year, his latest film The Lobster, has been nominated for Best Original Screenplay in the upcoming Academy Awards. Whether you like his films or not, one must admit that Yorgos Lanthimos is definitely a visionary.

 It is not very often that we see a film so extraordinary being nominated for a major category by the Academy, so I decided to revisit Lanthimos’ three exceptional films once again. In this article I will be exploring the main themes used in these three films; Power, Death, and Love.


Dogtooth and the power of the authority:

 Opening with three teenagers; a boy and two girls, listening to a tape; an authoritarian voice chimes in dictating the new vocab words of the day. However this is not the usual language learning lesson one might expect. “Sea” is a leather chair, like the one in the living room, the voice says, and “Shotgun” is a beautiful white bird.

 This pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the film. The plot revolves around a couple that live isolated from the urban population. The father creates a deeply distorted reality for his children; one in which cats are vicious creatures that might kill any of them if they venture outside the property, and where they can never leave unless their canine tooth falls out and then grows back. The man’s intentions for his actions are unclear, but it is deeply evident that both parents think that the outside world could corrupt their children, and eventually lead them astray.

 The three siblings, though they appear in their twenties, seem to have the mentalities of ten year old children, they spend their days playing mindless games, most of which are created by their parents. Their mistakes are met with severe punishment, and they are repeatedly pushed to compete with each other over meaningless trophies. The framework of the system the father has created begins to collapse when he brings in a young woman from his workplace to pleasure his son. What follows is a rather bewildering turn of events that is best left untold.

 Whether it’s a film that is weird just for the sake of being weird, or a cautionary tale against following the figures of authority, Dogtooth certainly provokes the thought of its viewer. For me, it was clearly a political allegory that follows the consequences of modern day dictatorships, and how they affect their people. The deceitful language used by the father explores the role of the media in present day societies, as it follows oppressive governments to falsify the reality of the people. In our world today, the average individual is spoon-fed the facts and principles of their own surroundings, but how much of it is actually true? Moreover, are we, as a people, pushed by such states into sabotaging ourselves and relentlessly competing with each other over worthless goals? The answers to these questions are up to the viewer.


Alps and the way death shapes our identities:

 In this slow-paced drama, a group of people; a nurse, a paramedic, a gymnast, and her coach, start a small business called Alps. Their work consists mainly of impersonating the deceased, in order to help their families cope with their loss. However, for the nurse, portrayed beautifully by Aggeliki Papoulia, work begins to take over her real life and soon she begins to lose her grip on reality.

Whether it’s the underdeveloped storyline, or the fact that the director’s previous and much more successful work Dogtooth ultimately generates comparison between the two films, Alps  eventually fails to grab its viewer’s attention. With a story that is way more rooted in reality, the film explores the way death shapes our identities, and how somehow most of the memories that remain from us are of our favorite actors and singers.

 “Awareness of human mortality arose some 150,000 years ago. In that extremely short span of evolutionary time, humans have fashioned a single basic mechanism through which they deal with the existential death anxieties this awareness has evoked—denial in its many forms.”

There is something very fascinating about the way the characters deal with death, the families especially, as they seem satisfied by the services provided by the group, despite the painfully stiff performances and apathetic monologues read by them as substitutes of the deceased. The way the group members carry on with their lives outside their business; dull, monotonous, and eminently unambitious, illustrates the importance of this work to them. The services they offer might as well be the uttermost form of altruism of their lives. After all, their roles are like the Alps Mountains; irreplaceable, they can replace any other mountain, but can never be replaced themselves.


The Lobster and defying the norm:

 In his latest film, Lanthimos mocks society’s rules on love and relationships with his witty dialogue, and eccentric symbolism. Set against the magnificent landscape of Ireland, in a dystopian near future, all single individuals are sent to The Hotel, where they are demanded to find a partner within forty five days, otherwise they’ll be turned into animals. The film follows its main character David (Collin Farell), as he shifts in his stay from the camp of the couple-seeking guests at The Hotel, to the single rebellious “loners” living in the woods in near complete austerity. When he breaks the rules of the loners, and falls in love with another loner (Rachel Weisz), the couple’s situation becomes both endangering and complicated.

 Shining a light on the way society pressures its single members into relationships, and idealizes partnership as the ultimate form of protection and stability, The Lobster ventures to explore the efficiency of the system upon which our entire society is built. When guided to find a partner, the guests at the hotel are advised to find one common preference between them and their possible partner, whether it’s a limb, a lisp, or the liability to occasional nose bleeds. The superficiality of these common traits prompts some of the guests to feign such disabilities in order to find a partner and avoid the fate of being turned into an animal.

 When they actually fall in love, David and the loner woman instantly recognize a common distinction between them; short-sight. However, when the loner woman loses this trait, the couple struggle to find common ground between them once again. The fact that the majority of society, represented in The Hotel, insist on finding one common trait between new couples, actually puts pressure on David and the loner’s relationship. It weakens the power of love, clearly found between the two, as they fail to conform to society’s demands for a healthy relationship.

 With the use of an exceptional soundtrack, and stunning camera work; ranging from slow motion in the most violent scenes, to the director’s signature static shots, The Lobster never fails to impress. It is a social commentary piece shaped in the form of a black comedy that will definitely has its viewer laughing out loud on more than one occasion. Yet by the end of the day, this is a thought provoking film that audiences do not get to see very often, one that will be regarded as a classic piece of cinema instantly.


 Whether he uses a false reality created by normal people as in Dogtooth, simply a peculiar business set entirely in the real world as in Alps, or a completely artificial world as in The Lobster, Yorgos Lanthimos never fails to deliver his sharp and ingenious remarks on society’s most basic principles. His films reflect the fundamental rules that govern our daily lives, yet are accepted without the slightest form of doubt. It is especially important to view such films occasionally; otherwise one might become entangled into the conformist values of our modern day societies.

 If you had a different thought regarding these films, make sure to express it in the comments below. After all, it’s the ability of these films to ignite discussion that makes them really standout.

Film Reviews

Film Review: Split (2017)

 M. Night Shyamalan’s much-anticipated movie has been finally released to generally positive reviews. The director, once regarded as a sensation in the horror genre, has been constantly put down over the past few years due to his rather disappointing films (The Last Airbender springs to mind). Nevertheless, his latest film, Split, is a solid thriller that probably exceeds all of his previous work over the past decade.


 The plot revolves around Kevin, a man who suffers from multiple personality disorder, and accordingly has twenty-three different personalities; including a nine-year old kid, a lady, and a perverted man called Dennis, all played by James McAvoy. He kidnaps three teenage girls; Claire, Marcia, and the enigmatic Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy). The girls are to be devoured by the twenty-fourth character that is yet to come, The Beast. Meanwhile, Dr. Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley), has to help uncover Kevin’s deeply hidden secret, and to understand the character so-called The Beast which is supposed to have superhuman abilities.

 Despite being an entertaining thriller, Split fails to be anything but. The script though engaging and even quite intelligent at times, leaves enough plot holes to frustrate its viewer. The characters, even when performed excellently by the entire cast, lack any real depth to them, and come across as plain stupid at times, especially the kidnapped girls. At certain points, the film seems to fall into some of the disappointing clichés of horror films.


 The film may be a compelling endeavor on Shyamalan’s behalf, but it definitely does not add to his oeuvre. However, it certainly adds to McAvoy’s, as he shifts from one character to the next of Kevin’s multiple characters effortlessly. He manages to thrive in all nine characters he gets to play, and his performance seems to be the highlight of the film from the opening titles till the ending credits. In conclusion, Split may be considered a fine film, or even a tiumph, but only on McAvoy’s behalf, and definitely not on Shyamalan’s.

Rating: 6/10

Film Reviews

Film Review: Excision (2012)

 Where do I begin on this one? How can you write a review for a film that opens with a girl, covered in blood, masturbating, while bleeding from her mouth and ears? This is just how crazy this film gets. Originally a short film by the same name, Richard Bates Jr.’s debut feature film is a classic gem added to the genre.


 Starring Annalynne McCord as Pauline, an eighteen year old outcast, shun by her high school colleagues, repeatedly reprimanded by her professors, and almost constantly criticized by her mean, nagging, and downright obnoxious mother Phyllis (Tracy Lords). The teen, though academically a failure, has delusional ambitions of becoming a surgeon, led mainly by her rather disturbing fascination with blood. Her behavior is as described by her mother “sometimes downright sociopathic”, however she seems to express genuine affection  towards her sister Grace (Ariel Winters), the sweetheart of the family who suffers from cystic fibrosis.

 All throughout the film, grotesque vignettes are shown in the form of Pauline’s astoundingly perverse dreams. In her dreams, she is no longer the greasy haired, slouching girl with acne in her face, instead she’s the closest thing to a model. The erotic tone maintained in these dreams, as well as the copious amounts of blood found in them, show Pauline’s deeply damaged psyche, as in them, she is somewhat of a surgical goddess. Distorted as they may be, the sequences seen in the main character’s fantasies are both enigmatic and hypnotizing, retaining an avant-garde feeling to them that keeps the viewer from looking away. Of course, at this point it is needless to say that if you’re ever the tiniest bit squeamish about blood, then this is not the film for you.


 Whether intentionally or not, Excision shines a light on psychological disorders going untreated. Pauline’s mother, refuses to send her daughter to a psychiatrist due to the high cost, instead, and as a result of the mother’s religious background, Pauline is sent to visits to the reverend of their local church (John Waters), which are unsurprisingly useless. Had their been a form of actual therapeutic interference in the life of Pauline, could the gruesome finale have been avoided ? that’s up to the viewer to decide.

Rating: 7/10