Commissioned by the Chicago Reader in September 2016. — J.R.
This gripping Iranian melodrama by writer-director Asghar Farhadi (the Oscar-winning A Separation) focuses on a couple acting in a Tehran production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. One should probably resist the temptation to read some subtle message into this exotic premise, because Farhadi (unlike Abbas Kiarostami) is neither a modernist nor a postmodernist but something closer to Elia Kazan: topical, sharp with actors, mildly sensationalist (this is about the consequences of a woman being attacked by a stranger while taking a shower), alert to moral nuances, but lacking a full-blown vision of his own. As in A Separation, Farhadi privileges a woman’s viewpoint without either sharing or exploring it. (Jonathan Rosenbaum)
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Written for Film Comment‘s web site in mid-August 2016. — J.R.
Although it isn’t widely recognized, Melbourne’s historical status as the cradle of online film criticism — as signaled by the founding of Screening the Past in 1997, Senses of Cinema in 1999, and Rouge in 2003 — remains a significant part of its film culture, so highly developed and serious that not once, during fourteen festival screenings, did I ever notice any viewers activating their mobiles. It’s equally evident that the pioneering web sites which helped to foster this kind of seriousness were neither accidental nor coincidental. All three were calculated gestures of outreach from a remote outpost to the rest of the world — allowing everyone a glimpse into a literary culture and a branch of cinematic savvy unhampered by the twang of regional accents or the pressure of imminent local releases. And as outreach gestures they no less clearly succeeded and flourished — so well, in fact, that their innovations and energies were quickly absorbed into the Internet mainstream without leaving behind many telltale markers of where they’d been nurtured. (If the Internet sometimes fosters historical blindness, this is especially true of the Internet’s own history.) Above all, the kind of criticism practiced by these three influential sites avoids the thumbs up/thumbs down reflexes of market-driven criticism for the sake of more open-ended discussions, closer to the example offered by Manny Farber (whose reviews could rarely if ever be quoted in ads) than to those of the Siskel-Ebert or Rotten Tomatoes persuasion.… Read more »