Fans of grown-up, morally thoughtful cinema should know the name Asghar Farhadi, a brilliant Iranian filmmaker whose 2011 film, A Separation, was my No. 2 film of that year.
His latest, The Past (my No. 4 film for 2013), won the Ecumenical Prize at Cannes, an award given by a panel of Catholic, Protestant and/or Orthodox film professionals nominated by the Catholic media group SIGNIS and the Protestant group Interfilm.
Like A Separation, The Past is an engrossing chronicle of the messiness of broken family bonds and the perils of trying to build new lives on the ruins of old ones — a theme Farhadi explores with more psychological insight and moral precision than any other filmmaker I know.
The story follows a Parisienne named Marie (Bérénice Bejo), who embarks on a relationship with an Arab man while her divorce from her Iranian husband is still pending — and complications and startling revelations build from there. Marie’s teenage daughter resents her mother’s new relationship, judgments are made on partial information, and actions are taken with unexpected consequences.
My friend and fellow critic Ken Morefield describes Farhadi’s work this way: "The modern conviction that those things which give us the most comfort in their permanence can be continually dissolved and begun afresh is one that is refuted palpably and powerfully in Farhadi’s films. Ahmad and Marie may sign papers that formally dissolve their marriage, but the ties that bind them together descend deeply." If that description intrigues you, watch The Past (and A Separation).
Alas, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is worse than its predecessor, An Unexpected Journey. Part 2 of Peter Jackson’s epically epic trilogification of Tolkien’s charming fairy tale for children, Desolation buries the charm under ever more insane action scenes, endless orcs and more orcs, a tepid love triangle, rolling heads and leering innuendo. What’s left is more like alt-Tolkien fan fiction than the real thing.
As Blue Sky Studio’s Rio 2 hits theaters, the original Rio hits Blu-ray. Directed by Brazilian Carlos Saldanha, the standard fish-out-of-water tale about a sheltered pet macaw venturing into the rough-and-tumble world of the Marvelous City is a rarity in American animation, a cartoon with an informed sense of locale and culture. Caveat: That includes the city’s sensual, risqué spirit, with skimpy Carnival costumes and mildly suggestive dialogue. If you can deal with that, the positive moral themes and cultural richness are worth the trip.
Caveat Spectator: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: Intense fantasy-action violence and battle sequences; scary images and creature menace; fleeting sexual innuendo. Teens and up. The Past: Mature themes, including infidelity, divorce and a suicide attempt. Mature teens and up. Rio: Some scary and menacing scenes; recurring mildly rude and risqué humor. Might be too much for younger kids.