The Past – 7.9

Among the things we don’t know: why Celine tried to kill herself; why Marie didn’t book a hotel for Ahmad; why Naimi lied to Lucie; why Marie is marrying Samir; why Ahmad left Marie; and, in the final shot, whether Celine is brain dead and whether Samir wants her to be. For each question, director Farhadi has provided two plausible answers. We do know the only possible reason Ahmad and Samir both hover around Marie: Berenice Bejo is beautiful – which is good for the viewer because her character is a pain. More than just pointing out that we can never be sure of someone else’s motives, the film seems to say that we can’t even be sure of them ourselves. This film, like its predecessor A Separation, is a wonderful character study; but like a Springsteen song, it took a wrong turn near the end and it just kept goin’. We thought the movie was about Ahmad and Marie, and until the end it was. Then, for some reason, it became about Samir and Celine, the least interesting people on the stage.

The Wind Rises – 7.9

A fascinating look from a Japanese point of view at the engineer responsible for Japan’s World War II airplanes. The view was ambivalent: Jiro was following his dream and didn’t seem concerned about where it led. The movie was matter-of-fact, acknowledging the disaster of the war, but not judgmental. The view was also sheer artistry: I saw Yoshida and Hasui woodblock prints in every landscape; and while there was no attempt to make the animated figures lifelike, their personalities came alive, with help, in our version, of the familiar voices of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Werner Herzog.

Omar – 8.2

This was a gritty, heart-stopping thriller, with twists and turns to the very end. It portrayed the harsh conditions Palestinians suffer under Israeli occupation, but that was the context of the movie, not its point. Whom can you trust, is all really fair in love and war, how far does friendship go – these were the more universal questions the movie raised; and if you think you have an answer you weren’t watching the same film. The coincidence that the Israeli spymaster resembled Mandy Patinkin in Homeland made the story resonate even more. [Smoking – 2]

August: Osage County – 8

If Nebraska was bleak, the Oklahoma of Osage County was bleaker, and hotter and the family more dysfunctional and meaner, in a deep, searing way. The film read as a play transported to the screen, not least because of the haunting echoes of the great American playwrights – O’Neill, Williams, Albee. Every line and every look had meaning, and when it came to looks Meryl Streep gave a lot of them. The pleasant surprise was that Julia Roberts stood up to Streep’s performance, with her own inherited dominating mean streak leaving her, in the end, just as alone. The rare accomplishment of Tracy Lett’s screenplay is that it not only introduced you to fully formed characters, but at movie’s end you were left to ponder, what would happen to each of them. [Smoking – 3]

Gloria – 5

1:45 was a long time to wait for Umberto Tozzi’s rendition of our favorite dance song. It was a thrilling moment to see Gloria shed her glasses and let loose to her eponymous tune, but there wasn’t much of interest that came before. She had a very pleasant smile and was good company and her character was well drawn: a bit needy, not quite able to protect herself from life’s disappointments. It’s just that her life, and the people around her, weren’t that interesting. Enough Said comes to mind as a comparison, but no one here was James Gandolfini. [Smoking – 3]