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New on Disc: 'A Separation' and more …

20 Aug, 2012 By: Mike Clark

A Separation

Street 8/21/12
Sony Pictures, Drama, B.O. $7.1 million, $30.99 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, ‘PG-13’ for mature thematic material.
In Persian with English subtitles.
Stars Peyman Moaadi, Shahab Hosseini.
Given its Oscar, 99% RottenTomatoes.com rating (yeah, there’s always some out there person who …) and best foreign-language-release citations from London critics, the Cesar folks and virtually every U.S. voting band — pause here for a huff-puff — Iran’s brilliantly constructed domestic drama doesn’t need any piling on in the good way from me. But it revs me up to do it, so I will. For me last year, A Separation was in the pantheon with Hugo, The Tree of Life, Margaret and Alex Gibney’s ESPN documentary Catching Hell. And it comes closer to perfection than a couple of those.

Repeat again: domestic drama. That it takes place in an Islamic Republic absolutely informs and affects what happens on screen, but this is an achievement more casual moviegoers can’t get away with sloughing off because he or she doesn’t want to deal with a “heavy” political drama. Ultimately, we’re in divorce court, and what could be more American than that? Even as the story opens, Simin (Leila Hatami) and Nader (Peyman Moadi) have hit the wall, martially speaking. She has steadfastly elected to go live in the West with their pre-adolescent daughter sooner than her husband would like, due to the Alzheimer’s incapacitation of his father. The fate of the child (played by the real-life daughter of the film’s writer/director Asghar Farhadi) is in the fate of a judge who’d probably rather be doing just about anything else than rendering the decision. The set-up, to make a somewhat gonzo Hollywood comparison, makes me think a little of Judy Holliday and Aldo Ray in the tragicomic Garson Kanin/Ruth Gordon/George Cukor The Marrying Kind, where both participants invite sympathy. The treatment here is obviously more solemn, which suits the material.

Still, we do understand the motivations of both parties in Farhadi’s remarkably even-keeled treatment — an attitude that still prevails when the story kicks into second gear once Nader is forced to hire a caretaker on the sly (or at least her sly) to care for dad when everyone (and Simin now permanently) is away from the premises for work or school. This is perhaps the closest the movie comes to dramatizing a culture whose twain can’t be expected to meet for some international audiences. Complicating matters for Western eyes isn’t the influence of an oppressive government but basic religion. At least some of the awful things that end up prevailing might have been averted if the hired hand (her woes already endless) didn’t have to conceal from her husband that she is laboring exclusively in male company (their young daughter’s being along doesn’t count). Just as before, Farhadi is sympathetic to all parties even including the domestic’s hothead husband (though his tendency to toss fire on the flames definitely presses it). As a result of this precise story construction, the film’s running time is a tad over two hours, but we never feel it. The proof here is that the screenplay got a lot of year-end acclaim, just by itself.

Extras: Sony’s release includes a 30-minute Q&A on stage with Farhadi, an interviewer and a translator. Interestingly, he seems to understand fully the interviewer’s questions but answers in his own language, leaving it to the translator to make certain the fine print gets over to the audience. There’s also a short featurette about Farhadi’s background that features clips from previous works that look interesting, though slightly (from what we see) lighter in tone. And yet, A Separation is about as accessible as movies get — and really makes me wonder about a typical Internet goon whose comment I was reading several months ago that was along the lines of: “How can such tripe be earning critical praise? These people are trying to kill us.” Not the poor schmo in divorce court, buddy, though there really are a lot of Americans spouting off on the Web who’d be comfortable in an oppressive political regime themselves.


Olive, Drama, $19.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, ‘R’ for strong sexuality, violence and language. Unrated version also included.
Stars Jennifer Tilly, Gina Gershon, Joe Pantoliano, John P. Ryan, Christopher Meloni.
In this jumpstart revitalization of the familiar double-cross/caper genre, the Wachowskis’ screen debut, a glorified dim-bulb who launders money for the mob (the greatest big-screen Joe Pantoliano ever) is slow to figure that his apartment mate of five years (Jennifer Tilly) has gay hots for the plumber/handywoman (Gina Gershon) who has just moved in upstairs. Together, the two women plot to “lift” the nearly $2 million that’s hanging like laundry in the Pantoliano/Tilly apartment. The movie, now and then, is a little like what the Coen Brothers did with their own debut launch, Blood Simple. Both films are kind of a case of, “give us a few actors, a little money and a worn but bedrock genre — and we’ll supply all the attitude you’ll need.”
Read the Full Review

The Hanging Tree

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $17.95 DVD-R, NR.
Stars Gary Cooper, Maria Schell, Karl Malden, George C. Scott.
The Hanging Tree has its share of angry characters, starting with the alternately warm and dictatorial physician Gary Cooper plays — one with a mysterious past. Based on a novel by Dorothy M. Johnson, who also wrote a short story that eventually led to The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, the yarn deals with this mining camp newcomer/doc and an attractive Swiss immigrant (Maria Schell) whom he nurses back to health after she is injured in a stagecoach robbery. George C. Scott makes his screen debut as a disapproving preacher. It’s good to see this Technicolor release in its proper 1.85:1 aspect ratio.
Read the Full Review

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