Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Tue Mar 06, 2012 1:17 pm 
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LEYLA ZAREH IN GOODBYE

Another quintessential Iranian picture

Mohammad Rasoulof, who has done intriguingly poetic films like Iron Island (2005) and The White Meadows (2009), has come down grimly close to home with this claustrophobic, cold study (everything is blue gray and nearly everything is close up and indoors) of a woman lawyer trying to get out of the country. Like Rasoulof himself, she is having visa problems. Like the woman in Asghar Farhadi's recent much honored A Separation, she wants to leave Iran. Her life has been shut down by the regime. Her right to practice law has been taken away and she has lost her cases. Her husband, a journalist, has had his newspaper shut down and is operating a crane on an industrial construction project in the south of the country. She has gotten pregnant. She was told to by a man we never see, who takes money to help people leave. And it turns out late in the film that her child will have Down Syndrome. What a nightmare! But she only cries once, and that is muted, her shoulders shaking as she lies face down on the bed.

Leyla Zareh, as the lawyer, with her beautiful long-suffering face, looks like Ingrid Bergman. It's good that she's beautiful, because we have to spend a lot of time looking at her. Her little apartment contains nothing but her and a turtle. Across from it is the airport, and that and the turtle who escapes after she puts it in a larger container and apparently dies or disappears, are blatant in a way that Rasoulof has not been before. His experience has robbed him of his detachment and his cinema has lost its poetry.

Goodbye is a punishing film, impeccably made, perhaps, with its clean looking digital images, with a few nice shots and enough specific detail to make you, if you can stand it, pay attention. But it's basically very thin on artistry, though the stress on chilly office putdowns make this seem another quintessential contemporary Iranian film. After seeing it at Cannes Mike D'Angelo gave it only a 49 and wrote: "More political statement than movie. Even as a movie it’s on shaky ground, with the symbolic turtle and so forth." But it is a movie, a conventional movie, almost an instructional film. (If it were only that it would be a notable one, because instructional films don't usually get actors as good-looking as Leyla Zareh). No, it's a little more than that but a lot less than Jafar Panahi's This Is Not a Film, which was also at Cannes, and linked with it because they were both smuggled in and added to the festival at the last minute. Both men were arrested with more than a dozen others at the same time, and jailed, but unlike Panahi, Rasoulof has not been officially banned from making films. Ironically, Panahi, banned from filmmaking, made a film that is self-referentially witty and ironic and strong. Rasoulof, not banned, has made someting blatant and obvious and tedious. Farhadi, well, he has made a film that to me is annoying, but it is intricate and neatly constructed and a picture of Iran's problems that is, relatively, warm and full of life, but to say that is to see just how chilly and empty Goodbye is.

Commenting from Cannes on mubi's online Notebook, Daniel Kasman seems to share my dissatisfaction. He finds Goodbye repetitious, lacking in deput, "a cyclical dirge," and sees it as "cloaked and variably choked by both the clandestine nature of the film's production and the hushed and desolate story it tells." Yes, we must applaud both Panahi and Rasoulof for their smuggled-out cries of protest against their country's repression. But Panahi's film is intriguing and this one is numbing. Simon Abrtams calls it "too literal and pat." Nonetheless, predictably, there were raves, and Alissa Simon in Variety predicted that "fest and niche arthouse play can be expected."

Goodbye was also released in France in September and shown at Toronto and in other festivals. It was watched for this review at a press screening for the MoMA-Film Society of Lincoln Center New Directors/New Films series.

Goodbye (Bé omid é didar, in Farsi, 104 min.)
Thursday, March 22nd | 8:30 PM | FSLC
Saturday, March 24th | 1:00 PM

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