Catching up on the last two films I was able to view at #Calgary Film Festival. Here are some brief thoughts about each.
3 Faces: This is the most recent film from acclaimed Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi. Panahi gained notoriety after being put under house arrest for trying to make a film that was deemed anti-government. He was put under a 20 year filming ban, but he has been able to make four films including this one since then. In the film Panahi plays himself as he is escorting a famous Iranian actress Behnaz Jafari in his car across the country side to try and find a missing girl. The girl left a video message to Jafari stating how she had always wanted to be an actress but she was held back and forced to marry by her conservative parents. In the video the girl looks to have killed herself, but it may or may not all be a trick. This is a wonderful film, and even though the premise is set up to be a mystery, there is more here than meets the eye. Panahi focuses his camera on the people and the culture as he and Jafari travel around trying to find this girl. They meet many people, all of them interesting, funny, and thoughtful in their own way. This is a very humane film and Panahi has a very warm touch with his camera, using it less as an obtrusive director, but more as an observer, or a witness. And yes it has to be said, his simple camera set-ups and long takes reminded me of an Ozu film making me bias in this respect. The film however is not passive in making a political message in the way women are still sometimes treated in this culture, but it also dismisses any misconceptions some people may have about Iran which is still a largely misunderstood country. The final shot, becomes one of hopefullness, and I felt elated when this small little miracle of a film was finished, easily one of my favorites of the year. I admit this is my first film I’ve seen by Panahi, but with this as well as a few films I’ve seen by his contemporary and mentor Abbas Kiarostami, I am very interested in exploring more Iranian cinema. 4 stars out of 4
A Long Days Journey into Night: Long is the operative word in the title to describe this hugely labyrinth, and experimental, but ultimately disappointing film from China. There is definitely a lot here to appreciate, with a lush production design and lighting throughout evoking an air of mystery and dreams. There is even one long extended take, which lasts for almost an hour, and filmed in 3D and the atmosphere and camera work gives you a lot to look at. However, the film tries your patience unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. By the end of it, I was squirming in my seat like I have never done in a movie, as the slow pace became shear torture. It was a different kind of torture than the one I exprienced when I saw “The House That Jack Built” but it gave off a certain discomfort I never want to have again. The story concerns a man searching for a woman from his past, and the film jumps back and forth in time to reveal their relationship and the mystery behind it. But the plot becomes so discombobulated, you become confused as to what entirely the whole meaning of it is. There is certainly the idea of the movies acting as dreams metaphor as a central theme, yet this is hardly the first film to explore that idea. I tried to engage with this film as best as I could, and there were moments I was taken by it, but those moments soon turned to restlessness and a feeling of being trapped in my own theatre seat waiting impatiently for this slog to finally end. 2 stars out of 4