Saturday, June 28, 2008

Boutique, an intense Iranian film

Serious cinema that instinctively casts itelf in opposition to Hollywood style of story telling (acting, frames, camera movements, pacing of scenes and shots) demands attention and engagement from viewers. Kevin Thomas of Los Angeles Times fails to see the difference. Not only does he want every Iranian film to be a masterpiece, he confuses boredom (lack of action?)that emanates from the tragic, depressing and stagnant lives of young men sharing an apartment for weak direction. His complaints "A lot of screen time is spent on the roommates sitting around talking, often about nothing in particular, way past the point of tedium" or "Etti and her dreams bring the film into focus, but Nematollah (the first-time director) can't seem to resist diffusing it with sequences that go on too long" is typical of a child-viewer who's more at ease with the idiom that Hollywood - and by extension most entertainment - hammers into our brain.
Serious films - even when they're made to entertain as well - have to be viewed differently. Slow, unusual pacing of shots allows viewers to engage with what may be happening underneath the skin of the characters who seem depressed, lonely, angry, rejected, inept, unloved, confused. The filmmaker, by his/her choice of lens, camerawork, dialogues, lighting, long shots, forces viewers to examine the worlds the loneliness inside each one of us may have come to resemble. A serious filmmaker tries to bridge the gape between the highly philosophical and banal, attempts to bring into a clash/contrast the exterior and the interior of his characters.
Robert Koehler writing in Variety is more on the mark when he points out, "In this wide-ranging and despairing portrait of a society in crisis, Nematollah's camera frequently seems as loose and unhinged as his characters, some of whom while away the day addicted to opium or watching the tube. Golzar, departing from his usual mode as a bland matinee idol, uses Hamid's subdued nature as a front; when he explodes with anger at the end, it's the rage the movie has been building slowly to all along." Yet the fact is that we don't see Golzar explode in voice, only in action, even that only off camera. The entire scene puts the likes of Scorcese, Spielberg, Tarantino and many other icons of Hollywood to the dustbin of mediocrity. A lesser film would have the half-conscience of the film, the male hero, explode, a lesser filmmaker would have allowed the lead actor to unleash his talent, his range, from subdued to meteoric. However, one of the memorable scenes, acting-wise, takes place at a bridge over street traffic: the lead actress, Golshifte Farahani, who completely succeeds in keeping the audience ambivalent, even irritated, about her childlike behavior, in fact, explodes, revealing an anti-heroine, an angry young woman suffocating inside her. The range of acting the two display should give the viewers some hint into the rich and complex Iranian school of acting.


Marie said...

Sometimes I think differences of opinion like this come down to different cultural sensibilities, which is a valid issue. I agree that American cinema trains people to expect a certain fast paced visual and narrative style, and sometimes people don't have the patience to process something in a different style. But then again the same can probably be said of anything- I can't always sit through certain kinds rapid-fire Japanese anime movies, and it's not because I'm stupid or lazy. Sometimes some things just aren't for everybody.

moazzam sheikh said...

dear marie,
i see things a bit differently. for example, i don't think people are stupid or lazy most of the time. of course there's fatigue element which only makes us human. the real issue is how media/filmmakers/writers don't see work in terms of moral and intellectual endeavor. they produce things in a way where it fools their audience. it is not difficult to fool intelligent people. think of our iraq war. think of raiders of the lost ark's scene where the uncivlized arab is pitted against the modern white man, sword vs gun, a scene so racist and culturally inaccurate that it should make us belch. when i first saw the movie in pakistan as a young man i laughed and loved it. because? there was not much discourse or education about colonialism. british colonialism had also taught us look down upon ourselves (take for example: gunga din) and arabs via movies and literature. i don't think my father was stupid. or i. ruling class has too many tools to fool intelligent people. writers and filmmakers will find confluence of interest (that's a very MIT phrase :) with the govts. it is only when artists go against the grain, do they have a chance to create art. otherwise it is only predominently entertainment. look at coke. it has no nutritous value. it is pure entertainment. and we know how many active, smart, intelligent people drink it even when we know it is extremely damaging to women's bones or that their plants and chemical refuse in third world countries continue to destroy agricultural lands :)
- moazzam