6. Iranian Double Feature

A Separation

2011, directed by Asghar Farhadi

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This film is messy, but in a good way. Masterfully crafted and written, there’s no surprise it won Iran’s first Oscar for Best Foreign Picture. The drama is primarily a conflict between two families of different social classes. The central family is upper middle class, doing well enough that the wife wants to move with their precocious daughter to be educated abroad. The husband wants to stay in Iran because he is caring for his elderly father who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. The argument leads the mother to seek a divorce, which the court roundly rejects in the first scene of the film. Hence, they separate.

Without his wife at home, the husband hires a home caretaker for the grandfather, whose condition is worsening. The caretaker is a poor woman, and her deep religious faith is tested by the menial, yet demanding job, which includes changing the grandfather’s pants when he soils himself. The caretaker’s husband is in debt, hot-headed, and possibly also mentally ill. Moreover, she is four months pregnant. Nevertheless, she is a financially dependent on the job, so she pushes forward. When a tragic event happens near the 1/3rd point of the film, the social fabric frays and tensions boil to the surface — conflicts of class, but also of gender and religion.

When credits roll, I took some time to think about who was right and who was wrong. The correct, but admittedly not neat, answer is: some were right sometimes; some were wrong sometimes. I will say that the family that we follow throughout the film are definitely not the heroes of the story. And, the father specifically makes some incredibly selfish and mean choices to the other family and his own. Ultimately, it is complicated, and that’s an insight about life from the film.

Iran’s authoritarian government was apparently unhappy with the film’s “dirty” depiction of Iranian society. Truth be told, the theme of class stratification can be applied seamlessly to a U.S. American setting. So can the gender and religion conflicts, to certain extents.

I saw A Separation on DVD from the Arlington Public Library. You can find it on streaming platforms.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

2014, directed by Ana Lily Amirpour

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A debut film that is pure cinema. I wish I saw it on the big screen. All I knew was it’s an Iranian vampire movie, but I didn’t expect an atmospheric neo-noir, horror Western heavily influenced by the style of Quentin Tarantino. Of course, it has to be in black and white, beautifully. Set in an desolate, sad town called “Bad City.” Featuring an ensemble cast of lonely twentysomethings, addicts, whores, and gangsters, as well as a femme fatale vampire who skateboards, listens to Iranian indie rock, and doles out vigilante justice to bad-behaving men. The story follows these characters woven together with a love story between the vampire and a young man — but an Iranian Twilight, this is not. Dialogue is purposely sparse, and style is preferred over substance. Some of the characters’ arcs abruptly end or do not wrap up satisfyingly, but the lovers’ journey and poetic ending make it a pleasurable romp.

This film is more a product of the Iranian diaspora than Iran itself; the director is of Iranian heritage, was born in England, and grew up in the United States. As a descendent of a diaspora myself, I can appreciate the blending of cultures, symbols, and ideas in her work. I did not think twice about the fictional “Bad City” setting until about halfway through the movie, when I thought: this Iranian town looks a lot like a U.S. American suburb. The movie was actually filmed in a small town in the California desert. That may have been a pragmatic choice, but perhaps it was also meant to give the audience a sense of displacement, or to comment on the shifty nature of place itself. Fitting this film is also compared to Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns, like A Fistful of Dollars, which were made in Spain, a clever substitute for the American West.

Can we take this time to appreciate the vampire genre? Director Amirpour described the allure of the vampire mythology: “A vampire is so many things: serial killer, a romantic, a historian, a drug addict — they’re sort of all these things in one.”

My favorite movie podcast Filmspotting had a recent poll, asking which movie genre would you save if one had to die, “vampires or zombies?” Despite my adoration of Shaun of the Dead, I don’t think it is even close. Nosferatu, Murau’s and Herzog’s, the Blade franchise, Neil Jordan’s vampire movies, From Dusk Till Dawn, Let the Right One In, . . . yes, even Twilight (a god-awful movie), . . . and finally A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, a worthy addition to lore.

I saw A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night on Kanopy.

This is #6 in my World Tour of Cinema project. Read my introductory post here.



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