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Entries in Shohreh Aghdashloo (3)

Monday
Jun222015

Happy 75th, Abbas!

Amir here, to wish the happiest of birthdays to one of the masters. For all the success of Iranian cinema throughout the 90s and the emergence of several filmmakers who were lauded at international film festivals, the country's cinema had become, for better and for worse, synonymous with one man's name: Abbas Kiarostami. This has somewhat changed in recent years, with Kiarostami taking increasingly longer periods between projects and Jafar Panahi (This is Not a Film, Closed Curtain) and Asghar Farhadi (A Separation, About Elly) receiving so much attention, but ask any cinephile who their favourite Iranian director is and chances are you're going to get the same response you did twenty years ago.

 

Kiarostami turns 75 today, and to celebrate his birthday, we're going to suggest five films from his vast filmography that aren't widely seen. If you're unfamiliar with his work, any of these is a great place is to start. For the purposes of this list, I have excluded his three milestone: Close-up (ranked among one of the 50 greatest films of all time in the latest Sight & Sound poll and recently name-checked right here as one of Cara Seymour's all time favorite movies), Taste of Cherry (the 1996 Palme d'or winner at Cannes) and Certified Copy starring Juliette Binoche which was his first fiction film outside of Iran, and the film that reignited critical and mainstream interest in his career.

The Experience/A Suit for the Wedding/The Traveller
Several of Kiarostami’s films, long or short, are available on youtube and other streaming sites. Unfortunately, the above three films aren’t among them. Still, this combination here is as good a way as any to spend 50 pounds. All three films deal with the troubles of children who are thrown into the adult world much sooner than they should be. Playful, compassionate and endlessly re-watchable, these films share little in the way of style or approach, but are indispensable both as social studies on children and markers of Kiarostami’s evolution as a director. (Available: Amazon)

The Report
Scenes from a (shattering) marriage, Iranian-style. The Report is a formal and thematic anomaly in Kiarostami's oeuvre — at least until the arrival of Certified Copy — but it’s nevertheless one of his richest works. This morally challenging, multi-faceted portrait of the break-up of a family doubles as a microcosm of a society on the brink of crumbling unto itself right before the revolution. The Oscar-nominated Shohreh Aghdashloo delivers a heart-breaking turn in one of her earliest films here. (Available: Certified Copy’s Criterion Collection)

Kiarostami (wearing shades) and Shohreh Aghdashloo (centre) on the set of The Report

Homework
Although Homework isn’t among my personal favourite Kiarostami films, it’s a crushing experience and an essential viewing. Almost entirely made up of interviews with young children about their school work routine, Homework exposes the limitations of the Iranian school system of the time, the violent social consequences of illiteracy and the disturbing effects of bullying. Only a filmmaker of Kiarostami's magnitude can lend such imposing power to a static shot interview with a kid. (Available: Youtube)

Where’s the Friend’s Home?
Inspired by and reflective of the elegance and deceptive simplicity of modernist Persian poetry, this film became Kiarostami’s ticket to international fame. The story couldn’t possibly get any simpler: a young boy discovers a classmate’s notebook in his bag and walks over to the neighboring village in order to find his house and give him the notebook. Soulful and deeply rooted in the fabric of rural culture in the north of Iran, in Kiarostami’s hands, this minimalist film is elevated to a near spiritual experience. (Available: Youtube, DVD, DVD)

Through the Olive Trees
The third instalment in Koker Trilogy, this is the director’s best film and remains criminally under-seen. Kiarostami creates a delicate and intimate story by, ironically, highlighting the deceit and artificiality inherent in fiction filmmaking. Through the Olive Trees, Iran's Oscar submission in 1994, tells two parallel stories — the film within the film, and the making of the film within the film — that accentuate the boundaries between form and content, and simultaneously assert their cinematic inseparability. This is a film in which we see the same take as it is being filmed and refilmed several times, and are nevertheless moved to tears when the effort is finally over; it's as if Kiarostami is taking perverse pleasure in tugging at our heartstrings while continuously reminding us that his film is a synthetic construct. This masterwork is a testament to the sheer emotional force of cinema and to the director's keen eye for finding magic in small, innocuous moments of human interactions. (Available: Dailymotion Part 1, Part 2)

Thursday
Apr242014

Supporting Smackdown '03: Holly, Marcia, Patty, Renée & Shohreh

For the latest edition of StinkyLulu's Supporting Actress Smackdown -- which was delayed for reasons I won't bore you with again --  Stinky and I welcome you to a much-discussed Oscar contest, ten years back. This was not, as we've rediscovered, a particularly strong vintage despite a certain nostalgic pull for any storied shortlist that combines five very distinct performers. The truth of it is that most of 2003's acting races were messy affairs with little precursor agreement or too much of it. Further complicating matters was a mix of various stages of career momentum, a frontrunning film without any acting bids (Return of the King), and that semi-annual deadly combo that always mucks with Academy discernment: weak prestige pieces and much of the best work occuring in genres Oscar doesn't care for. The Best Actress race, for example, was historic but totally odd and disatisfying, and Best Supporting Actress coalesced around these five players...

THE NOMINEES


Shohreh Aghdashloo, a "discovery" at 51 though she was already famous in Iran, and previously snubbed character actress sensation Patricia Clarkson were the first timers. Oscar winners Marcia Gay Harden and Holly Hunter were also included for anchoring gritty dramas as desperately confused mothers. And finally Renée Zellweger, the eventual winner, on her third consecutive nomination but her first for a drama after two lead nominations for popular comedies. (All legitimately supporting roles. That doesn't happen over a whole supporting field anymore)

You know who won the Oscar but who will win the Smackdown? Read on...

THIS MONTH'S PANELISTS

Nick Davis, Guy Lodge, Joe Reid, Nathaniel R, Tim Robey, Stinkylulu and You (we tabulate reader votes as well and quotes from your ballots appear).

2003
SUPPORTING ACTRESS SMACKDOWN

Click to read more ...

Saturday
Nov302013

Introducing... Five Nominees 2003

For the buildup to this  year's Oscar race we thought it would be fun to revive StinkyLulu's Supporting Actress Smackdown and so far it's gone just beautifully. This month we're hitting the 2003 lineup for its 10th anniversary. Unfortunately I have to announce a small delay: The Smackdown will now air on Thursday, December 5th at Noon EST instead of, well, right now.

But in its place our new Smackdown tradition which we keep meaning to turn into a regular non-Smackdown series. "Introducing..." in which we remember our first glimpse of key movie characters. You've met this month's panel but these events now include an extra panelist: You (the collective you) so feel free to send in your ballots (by tomorrow at the latest) if you'd like your vote to be counted. Here's how you do that.

Without further ado...

INTRODUCING... (in the order of how soon they appear in their films)

[no dialogue]

Shohreh Aghdashloo as "Nadi" in House of Sand and Fog
Arrival: 1½ minutes into the 126 minute running time, preceded only by Fog (and Jennifer Connelly) and Sand: She's reflected in the water in the opening credits and then glimpsed frolicking with her children on the beach, before a terrible visual omen strikes: trees felled nearby. Subtle!

I'm ready.

Holly Hunter as "Melanie Freeland" in Thirteen
Arrival: 3 minutes into the 100 minute running time. She stamps out a cigarette. Note the smart girly girl styling -- kudos to the makeup and costume team on this movie -- you don't even know she's not a teenager until the camera pans up. 

[no dialogue]

Patricia Clarkson as "Joy Burns" in Pieces of April
Arrival: 4 minutes into the 80 minute running time. While her family frantically searches for her, she's found waiting in the care for their Thanksgiving road trip. 

Where have you been? It's 3 AM."

Marcia Gay Harden as "Celeste Boyle" in Mystic River
Arrival: 16 minutes into the 138 minute running time. She's looking in on her sleeping child when her husband returns home with (gasp) what is that? Blood! on his hands!!! With Marcia's arrival the plot arrives to mingle with the foreshadowing prologue and completed character survey. 

Those cows want milkin'. If that letter ain't urgent then cows is, is what I'm sayin'. 

Renée Zellweger as "Ruby" in Cold Mountain
Arrival: 50 minutes into the 154 minute running time. And boy is the director (and the Zeéeeee) marking it. She steps into the frame like it's a proscenium, her face hidden by a huge hat as she turns from side to side. Cows even moo to introduce her and she sighs loudly before barking out her first line at Ada (Nicole Kidman) who is lost in her papers on the porch.

*

Did you know you were in for something special when these actors came into frame?