The best movie of 2011 is a look at the complex dynamics of a single lie and how it affects the lives of everyone.
And the best picture of the year 2011 comes from Iran. You would probably always assume if it has been approved by a scary little monster Iran is perceived and presented to be, then it will all be about medieval traditions, Islamic terrorist propaganda and all that bullshit. Well, it isn’t.
It’s a story of how one decision leads to other decisions, which lead to big consequences, which lead to even bigger consequences. Happily married couple Nader (Peyman Maadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami) are in the court trying to get divorce. She wants for the family to move out of Iran, they have only 40 days to do so. He doesn’t want to leave because of his father with Alzheimer’s disease. Pivot point is their 11 year old daughter, who currently stays with Nader, in hopes that family reconciles. As a result of separation agreement, Simin leaves their home to stay with her mother. Nader is forced to hire a housekeeper Razieh to look after his father while he is out of the house. She needs money, so even though she hasn’t asked for permission from her strict religious husband about working in another man’s house (approval of which is required according to tradition), she agrees to do the job. Next day Nader walks in the house to find his father is left alone in the house tied to the bed, with Razieh apparently out running her personal errands. He throws her out, when she comes back. Next morning he learns Razieh is in hospital and he is being called to the court. You can’t stop this snowball anymore.
I was very surprised by the ability of the cast to remain as natural and realistic as possible. As a matter of fact, I never saw any fake reaction or motion by any of the actors, including young 5 year old girl. There’s not a single overacting or underacting that I did notice. The film is done on the fraction of the budget of regular Hollywood movie (estimated budget of $500,000), but acting can kick ass of any random high profile Hollywood production.
I guess it all comes to directing abilities this time. Asghar Farhadi lets the actors proceed on the topic without interrupting the dialogues with meaningless shots of random stuff or trying to make the framing cinematic. He gives you pretty much basic idea of a cut where camera just follows what the actors say or do, without trying to be present. In return, you have some scenes with the ingenuity of a good theatrical presentation. And I bet, this movie would have make a great theater drama. The natural appeal of the dialogues and reactions adds a big value for the film. There’s only other film I can compare the acting to – “Glengarry Glen Ross” by James Foley. But that movie had the likenesses of Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Kevin Spacey, Ed Harris and so on. This one can match it, if not overshadow, by using local Iranian actors.
The main topic of the film is pride, lies, and honor. At some point of the film you know that the conflict could have been solved and that route of snowball going downhill could have been stopped if any of the characters would have really tried to swallow pride and act correctly. But no, you have an interesting moment where there’s not a single likable character in the film. And everyone has some part in the ensuing madness. Some are doing it on purpose, someone are forced to do it. You don’t see this much on film. Here I’d like to give another example – “Crash” by Paul Haggis, which follows similar pattern of random people connected and acting through a snowball effect. But there the main topic was racism and prejudice.
There’s a good reason this film would have never worked if it was filmed in Hollywood. I’m sure they would have included a big deal of racial discrimination issue into the story. And sure there would be tons of establishing shots, trying to show how the people lived before, how they struggled. But no! You have totally different mentality. Totally different approach for the viewer. Viewer is respected. He is not considered a dumb being that needs to be thrown a bone of explanation and clarification. All you need is on the screen, everything else you can deduce on your own.
Film manages to create certain uneasiness by plot progression. And although at times I felt like it was pushing me apart, it manages to keep me connected, up until the end you can’t just walk out of it. The end, which made me actually smile, was a really good touch by director. Film got nominated for 2 Oscars (Screenplay and Best Foreign Feature), but I’m sure it should have been nominated for another 3 at least (Best Picture, Editing, and Directing). Unfortunately, the Academy did decide to stick with other films. I’m sure this film will get its truly deserved recognition by the cinema lovers as soon as they see it.
This is a must-watch film.