A selection of films from the 2011 American Film Institute Festival
A Separation (Iran):
When Simin files for divorce from her husband Nader, neither of them imagines that her action will lead to a domestic incident that will force each member of the family to conceal the truth in a desperate attempt to protect each other. Director Asghar Farhadi deftly builds mounting suspense with smart narrative twists and turns. He also elicits haunting performances from his cast, notably from his own daughter Sarina Farhadi as Termeh, the 11-year-old child who is forced to take sides in her family's domestic dispute. Winner of the Golden Bear in Berlin, A SEPARATION is a clear-eyed and complex portrait of a modern middle-class Iranian family that is drawn into an ever-escalating feud. Farhadi's previous film, ABOUT ELLY, screened at AFI FEST in 2009.
This is not a Film (Iran):
"If one could tell a film, why would one make a film?
In 2006, Jafar Panahi was able to attend AFI FEST and share his film OFFSIDE with our audience. At this year's festival, Panahi's absence is strongly felt. Forbidden by the Iranian government from leaving the country, threatened with imprisonment and, most unthinkably, banned from filmmaking for 20 years, Panahi has made this short document of his life at this inconceivable crossroads. Essential viewing for fans of any cinema, not just Iranian, this is one of the most unique portraits of an artist under constraint ever filmed. Made with his co-director Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, the film was shot over the course of one day as Panahi battles his conviction and seeks to overturn his sentence. On his way to the Toronto Film Festival, Mirtahmasb was also detained, stripped of his passport, and told he could not leave Iran to present this film. Mirtahmasb has since also been formally arrested and charged by the Iranian government.
Three and a Half (Iran):
THREE AND A HALF is the story of Hanieh, Homa and Banafsheh, three Iranian convicts who, while on temporary leave from prison, hatch a scheme to escape the country by crossing the northern border. Telling jokes and pulling pranks on each other, the young women may appear playful on the surface, but their risky gambit is deadly serious. Moving cautiously through streets, the three are denied stay by the shadiest hotels and are forced to rely on friends and suspicious characters for aid. As they get closer to the border, the stressful conditions and the secrets they hide raise tensions between the women. Despite all their obstacles, they remain quietly determined and even optimistic, buoyed by the revelation that one of them is pregnant. In his sophomore film, Naghi Nemati spins a universal tale about oppressed but resilient allies who risk it all to pursue personal freedom and a better life.
FOOTNOTE is the story of a complex and competitive relationship between a father and son, both of whom are equally eccentric and dedicated Talmudic scholars. Eliezer, the father, is a meticulous researcher who has never received the recognition he deserves, while his son, Uriel, is a rising young star in the field, on whom praise and accolades are being showered by academia and the media alike. Eliezer responds by never failing to publicly criticize his son's scholarship, and yet he loves his son, a truth of which his wife must repeatedly remind their son. Academic research rarely makes for a riveting subject in cinema, however the film's incisive dialogue and razor-sharp characterizations of cutthroat professors embroiled in backdoor negotiations over academic prizes is enthralling. In FOOTNOTE, director Joseph Cedar crafts a tale of an intense intellectual rivalry that is told with bold wit and true compassion.
Once upon a time in Anatolia (Turkey):
A suspect has confessed to murder. All that remains is for him to take the police to the victim's body. This journey begins a long odyssey across the rolling countryside as it becomes clear that the confessed killer can't remember where he left the dead body. As we watch the detectives unravel this seemingly simple case, small clues come into focus, hinting at widespread corruption in the police force and possibly something much more sinister. The latest film from Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan, ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA is a slow-burning and far from routine police procedural. Ceylan uses expansive cinematic space to draw the audience into the film's tightly focused thesis. For cinephiles who love piecing together difficult puzzle films, this labyrinthine tale will prove one of the most challenging delights of the year.
Cost: See AFI website for ticket information
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