Saturday
May012010

Evening Dress (La Robe du soir)

BY ALEX CIRILLO

writer bio

When I attended the New York premiere of La Robe du soir as a part of the New Directors/New Films series at MoMA, I was expecting to see a film about a young girl’s homosexual lust.  Not because that’s what I was hankering for, but because every synopsis I read emphasized the so-called ‘crush’ twelve-year-old Juliette (Alba Gaïa Kradhege Bellugi) has on her teacher Madame Solenska (Lio). Turns out, that’s not what this film is about at all.  And that’s not just my opinion; French director Myriam Aziza confirmed my suspicions in a Q&A after the film.  Leave it up to Americans to pervert a story about solitude and finding a role model and turn it into kiddie porn.  But I guess that’s what watching 24-hour marathons of Law & Order SVU will do to you.

To be fair, Madame Solenska’s provocative clothing and flirtatious behavior didn’t help my mind stray from the whole ‘crush’ scenario.  Well, that and her using words like “tits” and talking about menopause in front of her seventh grade students.  While inappropriate, I did find it amusing when she mandated that one of her students correct the grammar in a note he was passing to another boy in the class, which said something to the effect of “Ms. Solenska has nice tits”.  But perhaps that’s just a cultural difference?  Or maybe she’s a whore.  The jury’s still out on that one.

Honestly, it wasn’t until the scene in which Juliette dresses up in her mother’s clothes and sings the song her teacher sang earlier in the film, that I realized there was no crush at all, it was simple admiration.  Growing up with a single mother who is rarely home, Juliette is simply searching for a female role model.  But if she wasn’t an adorable twelve-year-old girl, she would have been a complete creep.  I literally got the chills when Juliette found a piece of Solenska’s hair in a book she had borrowed, and after fingering the strand of hair for several awkward moments, she put it in her mouth!  GAG!  Oh, and did I mention that she rode her bike all the way to her teacher’s house just to stare into her windows?  I have to hand it to her though; after feeling like she’d lost Solenska’s favor to the class Romeo, she acted like a real New Yorker when she keyed Solenska’s car and accused her of being a “degenerate pedophile” in front of the entire class.

I thought I’d talk more about the cinematography, music, or lighting, but they were done so well and realistically that they were barely noticeable.  The heart of the film is Juliette’s story and the technical aspects of the work support and enhance the story instead of overshadowing it.  Bellugi gave an incredible performance as Juliette and I was shocked to find out that this was only her third film.  Also a shocker, European pop icon Lio was excellent at “treading the line between education, seduction and power,” as described by Aziza.  Perhaps a pop star turned good actress was the ultimate cultural difference.  (Sorry Britney, you were amazing in Crossroads.)

Directed by Myriam Aziza

2009. France. 96 min.

Saturday
May012010

No One Knows about Persian Cats*

BY NIMA NABAVINEJAD

Anyone trying to make it big in the music industry knows all about the obstacles they have to overcome just to get their name out there.  Now imagine a couple of these obstacles being an oppressive government and undercover police whose sole purpose is to terrorize you. These are exactly the conditions that underground musicians must endure in the film No One Knows about Persian Cats.

The film, based on actual events, revolves around Negar and Ashkan; two kids in there late teens with lofty aspirations. They want to start an indie rock band and escape from the fortress that is the Islamic Republic of Iran. The problem is the music they love to create and listen to is outlawed. As if that weren’t bad enough, anyone who performs this secular music is punished severely.

The film rings true in nearly every aspect. The reason being that a majority of the cast and crew are Iranian artists and outcasts in their own country. Director Bahman Ghobadi and the editor of the film Haydeh Safi-Yari, do a splendid job of piecing together a story about the essence of artistic freedom and the lengths that people will go to attain it. The images that they capture and piece together jump out at you and grab your attention with ease. The diverse music and the cast, especially Nader, Hamed Behdad’s character, keep the film afloat despite a mediocre ending.

*Persian with English subtitles.

Saturday
May012010

Handsome Harry

BY NIMA NABAVINEJAD

writer bio

Confronting the skeletons in our closet is a very scary and painful experience.   This is exactly the type of pain the characters in Handsome Harry are forced to cope with. Harry, a baby boomer and successful electrician, was a Navy man. His birthday has just passed and he senses that it is time for a change in his life. He contemplates selling his business. He contacts his son, and tries to spend quality time with him. Yet Harry’s plans are derailed when he unexpectedly receives a call from one of his closest Navy buddies, Tom Kelley. Kelley tells Harry that he is dying.

One of his dying wishes is to apologize to one of their fellow shipmates, David Kagan.  Kelley is convinced that he crushed Kagan’s hand while Kelley, Harry and three other shipmates were viciously beating Kagan in a drunken rage. Of course Kelley is bed ridden and pleas with Harry to assist him.  Harry reluctantly sets off on a journey to reconnect with his other shipmates hoping they can help him locate Kagan. Slowly the awful truth that Harry had subconsciously kept buried for so long starts to resurface.

Handsome Harry is not an entertaining film, but it is an engaging one. The cinematography is intoxicating. The natural lighting and the melodic soundtrack accentuate the overall somber tone of the film. However despite Bette Gordon’s focused direction, and the cast of veteran actors namely Steve Buscemi and Aidan Quinn, the films subject matter seems better suited for the theater.