Daily Archives: July 16, 2023

Jafar Panahi’s Rebellion

Posted by New Lines (https://newlinesmag.com/) with a different title on June 28, 2023:

It is a pity and a paradox that Jafar Panahi — Iran’s most important living filmmaker, in my judgment (at least among those I’m familiar with) — seems to be valued in the West more for his persecution than for his filmmaking. His first feature, “The White Balloon” (1995), became the first Iranian film ever to win a major award at the Cannes Film Festival (the Camera d’Or), and his four subsequent features — “The Mirror” (1997), “The Circle” (2000), “Crimson Gold” (2003) and “Offside” (2006) — all won awards at major festivals. But it wasn’t until Panahi was arrested in 2010, sentenced to six years in prison and banned from all filmmaking activities for the next 20 years that he was noticed in the mainstream press in the West. (He was charged with “propaganda against the system” for attending the funeral of a student killed during the 2009 Green Movement protests and for attempting to make a film sympathetic to that rebellion.)

Since then, Panahi has miraculously managed to make five more features in defiance of the ban, appearing as himself in each of them. Severely limited in terms of their resources and shooting conditions, the films have nonetheless garnered more attention than the five features made between 1995 and 2006, prior to his arrest. Read more

The Three Burials Of Melquiades Estrada

A contemporary western with political overtones and acerbic gallows humor, Tommy Lee Jones’s first theatrical feature as director (2005) is impressive. Inspired by the unpunished 1997 killing of 18-year-old Ezequiel Hernandez Jr., the script by Guillermo Arriaga (Amores Perros) concerns the accidental and unpunished shooting of the title character, a Mexican ranch hand (Julio Cesar Cedillo) working in west Texas. Jones plays the ranch hand’s foreman and friend, who kidnaps the border patrolman responsible (Barry Pepper) and drags him and Estrada’s corpse across the border, determined to fulfill his friend’s wish to be buried in his remote hometown. A very capable piece of storytelling, clearly showing the influence of Sam Peckinpah and beautifully shot in ‘Scope by Chris Menges, this recaptures some of the grandeur of the classic western while adding modernist and absurdist ironies. With Dwight Yoakam, January Jones, and Melissa Leo. R, 121 min. (JR)

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From the April 28, 2006 Chicago Reader.

I was the head of the critics’ jury at the Hong Kong film festival last spring that awarded half its first prize to this macabre comedy-thriller from Thailand (1999, 114 min.) It’s as commercial as anything from Hollywood — as was writer-director Pen-ek Ratanaruang’s previous feature, which I liked even more, a crazed Tarantino spinoff called Fun Bar Karaoke (1997). Ratanaruang spent eight years in New York studying at the Pratt Institute and working as a freelance illustrator and designer, so his mastery of American-style entertainment obviously owes something to a prolonged absorption in this culture –though I find the Thai and global traits on view here no less striking. This picture might be described broadly as a clever version of Hitchcock lite, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t also have pertinent things to say about the present Asian economic crisis. (JR)

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Being John Malkovich

From the Chicago Reader (October 12, 1999). — J.R.


This outrageous comic fantasy may not sustain its brilliance throughout its 112 minutes, but it keeps cooking for so much of that time that I don’t have many complaints. The first feature of both screenwriter/executive producer Charlie Kaufman (who’s written for several TV series) and director Spike Jonze (who’s directed commercials, music videos, and short films), it charts the complications that ensue when an out-of-work puppeteer (John Cusack) gets a filing job on the surrealistically cramped seventh and a half floor of an office building, where he discovers a hidden tunnel that allows its occupant to become actor John Malkovich (playing himself, natch) for 15 minutes before being ejected onto the New Jersey Turnpike. Things get even wilder when the filing clerk and his wife (Cameron Diaz as a pet-store employee) both get the hots for the same woman (Catherine Keener), who has comparable lust for the wife as long as she’s inside Malkovich. What’s great about this lunatic farce isn’t only its premises about sexual and professional identity but also the spirited way the actors and filmmakers flesh them out. With Orson Bean and Mary Kay Place. (JR)

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Signs & Wonders

From the Chicago Reader (June 1, 2001).

Director Jonathan Nossiter and screenwriter James Lasdun, who collaborated on the very promising Sunday (1997), reunite for this ambitious and ambiguous thriller (2000) involving an Americanized businessman in Athens (Stellan Skarsgard) who has twice left his Greek-American wife (Charlotte Rampling at her best) for another woman (Deborah Kara Unger) but still hasn’t given up on their marriage. Shot in digital video as if it were a documentary, the film at separate junctures evokes Nicolas Roeg, Graham Greene, and Richard Lester’s Petulia, even as it takes up multinational corporations, political amnesia, the mixed blessing of American idealism, and some of the monstrous ways love can turn sour. Clearly it bites off more than it can possibly chew, and ultimately it winds up in a pretentious heap. (Some may feel it starts off that way as well.) But Nossiter, an American who grew up in Europe, and Lasdun, an Englishman who currently lives in the U.S., share a sense of cultural displacement that allows them to create something original and provocative. 104 min. (JR)

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