Screening Room: ‘Coup 53’

The crackerjack documentary Coup 53 opens this week, with a revealing new angle on the infamous Anglo-American overthrow of Iran’s democratic government in 1953.

My review is at Slant:

When something is an open secret, does confirmation matter? Coup 53, director Taghi Amirani’s crackling, if somewhat hyperbolic, documentary about the overthrow of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh during a 1953 coup d’état, argues loudly in the affirmative. Amirani spends too much of the film recounting his dogged years-long pursuit of this or that document in trying to affirm British involvement in what was usually described as a C.I.A.-led operation. But once he finds the goods, the filmmaker engineers a highly dramatic coup of his own that snaps everything into focus: a long-buried interview in which MI6 agent Norman Darbyshire details with petulant pride how His Majesty’s Government demolished a functioning democracy that wouldn’t play ball…

Here’s the trailer:

Weekend Reading: October 21, 2016

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Screening Room: ‘Zero Days’

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With all the news the last few days about not just the thousands of emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee but the possibility that the hack was directed by a foreign power (and a certain presidential candidate’s request that that power do yet more hacking), the as-yet mostly theoretical idea of cyberwar has suddenly hit the mainstream.

zero days-posterIn a rare convergence, Alex Gibney’s prescient documentary Zero Days hit theaters just a couple weeks ago. My article, “DNC Hack Could Make Zero Days the Year’s Most Prescient Film,” is at Eyes Wide Open:

Zero Days does not directly relate to the kind of offensive cyber operation that is alleged to have happened with the DNC. However, in his deep-undercover, whistleblower-thick narrative, Gibney does paint a picture of the types of motives and capabilities that directly relate to what is potentially happening now. It serves as a kind of road map for the new geopolitical battleground that many of us might have just gotten a glimpse of in this sweltering summer of unease…

Here’s the trailer:

New in Theaters: ‘About Elly’

Golshifteh Farahani in the mystery 'About Elly' (Cinema Guild)
Golshifteh Farahani in ‘About Elly’ (Cinema Guild)

Although Asghar Farhadi finished his multilayered mystery About Elly a couple years before his masterful A Separation, it’s only getting a proper American release now. It’s about time.

My review for About Elly is at Film Journal International:

Like bloodhounds that can’t ignore a scent once they have been put on it, the films of Asghar Farhadi keep circling back to one redolent and persistent problem: the demeaning, low status of women in Iranian society. They are not message films, announcing their lecturing intent by yoking their narratives to the most politically advantageous plot points. Instead, they tell stories that would carry dramatic weight regardless of their setting, and show how the circumscribed lives of Iranian women exacerbate already lamentable situations…

Here’s the trailer:

New in Theaters: ‘The Past’

Berenice Bejo and Ali Mosaffa in 'The Past'
Berenice Bejo and Ali Mosaffa in ‘The Past’

thepast-posterLike the writer said, The past is never dead, it isn’t even past. In Oscar-winner Asghar Farhadi’s newest drama, a French woman (Berenice Bejo, from The Artist) invites her ex-husband back from Iran supposedly to finalize their divorce only to ensnare him in her tangled new relationship.

The Past opened this week in limited release but should roll out around the country over the next couple months. My review is at Film Racket:

Asghar Farhadi’s powerful but unraveled film starts as a domestic drama and then shifts into a mystery. Strangely, the further it pushes the mystery angle, with secrets peeling off like onion skin from the knotted core of the past, the less engaging it becomes. Farhadi’s greatest strengths lie in the parsing of intra-family conflict, where expectations and resentments bubble all around like a musical score. He’s on less sure footing when it comes to building tension by way of soap-operatic revelation. But give the man a husband and wife and a kitchen sitting between them as though it were the battlefield of their lives, and he’s in his element…

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Pauline Burlet as the daughter caught between her battling parents in ‘The Past’

Here’s the trailer:

DVD Tuesday: ‘A Separation’

The metaphor doesn’t get any clearer than this. As battling spouses shout at an invisible judge sitting where the camera is, the message is undeniable: they’re not just fighting over a relationship, but over a country, one that has both abandoned and entrapped them. The wife doesn’t want to stay with her husband, but it’s more their circumstances that she’s fighting to escape from with their daughter. Not that she, or Ashgar Farhadi’s film, comes out and says this. Iranian writer-director Farhadi’s subtle but explosive domestic crime story, dancing nimbly around censorship rules, makes a ringing statement as clear as the injustice witnessed in each of the main characters’ eyes…

A Separation comes out today on DVD; it was one of the most potent, unforgettable films to hit screens in 2011—foreign or domestic. My full review is at AMC Movie Database.

You can see the trailer here:

New in Theaters: ‘Chicken with Plums’

 

Anybody seeking a well-rounded love story featuring emotionally secure individuals should stay far, far away from Chicken with Plums. Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud’s adaptation of Satrapi’s graphic novel focuses on Nasser-Ali (Mathieu Amalric), a violinist living in late 1950s Iran. He plays like an angel, but suffers from an overwhelming moodiness. In the film’s first few scenes, he buys a violin and returns it almost immediately, screaming at the shop owner that he’s been cheated. In fact, life has cheated him…

Chicken with Plums is playing now, and makes for a certain kind of fantastic date movie. My full review is at PopMatters.

The trailer is here: