Alex Sitaras: Like its two predecessors, Asghar Farhadi‘s A Hero has its US release in the first months of the year. The film is both a return to his native Iran as it is a return to form, Farhadi’s prior film Everybody Knows not rising to the heights of indie film standouts A Separation and The Salesman. But, A Hero looks to make a compelling case at being one of Farhadi’s best films thus far based on early reactions at Cannes. The film stars Amir Jadidi as Rahim, a man who is in prison for not paying a debt. He has a family who is loving and supportive, and during a two-day leave, he attempts to convince his creditor to relieve him of his debt. Instead, Rahim becomes the talk of the town and garners controversy through his actions. Like the majority of Farhadi’s films, A Hero explores contemporary Iran, this time with a lens on economic struggle, and, seemingly, masculinity and parenthood. I’m looking forward to seeing the film. Few filmmakers direct dramas with such tension and empathy. How about you Ian? I can’t recall if you’re familiar with Farhadi’s work or not.
Ian Floodgate: I have seen A Separation, which I enjoyed and I know is revered by many. I agree that few filmmakers make dramas as compelling as Farhadi. I think the fact that he focuses on the story and characters and does not allow any of the technical aspects to outweigh these are a standout area in his directorial style.
I know January is often seen as the dumping ground for films, and it would be disappointing for any of Farhadi’s films to be categorised this way. If they aren’t to find a different time of release than the early part of year I would encourage audiences to see his films, especially if they found nothing else inspiring to see at the time. I shall be checking out A Hero along with some other of Farhadi films I haven’t yet seen.
Alex: Most years, January can be seen as a letdown following the onslaught of films that are released in November and December; however, I think this month’s releases should stand up pretty well compared to January of years’ past. The second film I’d like to bring up is Joe Wright‘s upcoming film Cyrano. Like many of Wright’s films, Cyrano takes place in a period setting, this time 17th century France. It follows Cyrano de Bergerac (Peter Dinklage) as he falls in love with Roxanne (Haley Bennett), only for her to express her love for someone else, Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), to Cyrano himself. The film is a musical, a genre I always appreciate given there are relatively few released each year, which provides the perfect context for Cyrano and Roxanne to vocally writhe in the toils of love. What draws me to this film is its cast: Peter Dinklage appears at his best and his performance as Cyrano could be a sleeper pick for an Academy Award nomination or perhaps a win, and Kelvin Harrison Jr. has an opportunity to impress and add yet another solid film to his resume.
Ian: There have been many films about real-life French writer Cyrano de Bergerac, but this film is an entirely fictionalised account of his life. I have enjoyed some films that focus on a real-life personality that expands on their life and gives a fresh interpretation. Pablo Larrain‘s Spencer would be an example of one of the most recent films that does this. It chooses to focus on a specific time in Princess Diana’s life and give an account of what might have happened then. I think films can excel when there is a decision not to fundamentally follow or document a real person’s life and instead invent a story using that persona. It may be the case with Cyrano.
As you mentioned, the film is a musical that is also adapted from a stage production that both Dinklage and Bennett starred in. So, this sees them reprise their roles onscreen, and it’s perhaps understandable why the two give excellent performances because they have invested years of their lives in these characters. And as you say, many audiences find musicals highly entertaining, and it sounds like Cyrano has the perfect blend of biopic and musical to make it a highly entertaining watch.
There are some home media releases that have caught my attention being released this month, the first being Jane Campion‘s The Piano. It tells the story of mute woman sent to New Zealand in the mid-19th century along with her young daughter and prized piano for an arranged marriage to a wealthy landowner, but she is soon lusted after by a local worker on the plantation.
I actually watched the film for the first time last year and thoroughly enjoyed it. It has a great cast with Holly Hunter, Anna Paquin, Harvey Keitel and Sam Neill along with a wonderful score written by Michael Nyman. It seems like a good time to release a restoration of one of Campion’s earlier films with her potentially being the favourite to win the Best Director Oscar with her work on The Power of the Dog. Have you seen The Piano, Alex, and what are your thoughts on it?
Alex: Like yourself, I saw The Piano in the lead-up to The Power of Dog, in my case just a few months ago. I found The Piano (and The Power of the Dog for that matter) to be novelistic in the depths of its characters and within the subtext of scenes, letting the intensity of characters and their portrayal shine through and even overpower the dialogue, the usual vehicle of plot within many films. The Piano is a somewhat difficult introduction to Campion’s filmography, but the film’s final scene brings together the narrative so perfectly that one shouldn’t have any aversion exploring more of Campion’s films. And such, in The Power of the Dog there is also a similar payoff.
The Criterion Collection is releasing this 4K restoration of The Piano, and the film is stocked with commentary and interviews from Campion, the producer Jan Chapman, lead actress Holly Hunter, and more. As far as Criterion releases go, I’d recommend adding this one to your home media collection given the breadth of special features.
Also restored in 4K by The Criterion Collection this month is Richard Lester‘s A Hard Day’s Night (1964). The film is a precursor to the modern day music video and stars The Beatles as slapstick versions of themselves. It is the first of two such films, the second Help! released a year later. Admirers of Lester’s work, The Beatles set out to make this film with the director, and the rest is history. The Criterion restoration of the film comes with not one, but two documentaries on the making of the film, and also a number of programs on Lester’s filmmaking. I’ve actually not seen this film or any of Lester’s work, so this might be an apt time to start viewing. Have you seen this film before Ian, and if so, what did you make of it?
Ian: A Hard Day’s Night was another film I actually watched for the first time not that long ago. I had seen Help! and Yellow Submarine, two other films that feature The Beatles. I can see why A Hard Day’s Night is revered. Aside from The Beatles appearing in it and performing some of their music, the film does have a marvellous cinematic look. I’m a huge fan of black and white film, especially when it is used stylistically. I think a 4K restoration of this film will serve it well, and it will be worth purchasing for any cineaste or Beatles fan.
The final film for us to focus on this month is another restoration. Rebels of the Neon God (dir. Tsai Ming-liang) tells the story of four youths in Taipei that face alienation, loneliness, and moments of existential crisis amid a series of minor crimes. I have not actually seen this film. Alex, are you able to tell me more about it and why this film might be worth checking out?
Alex: Sure. I saw Rebels of the Neon God last year during our July Theme Month where we each had written on films from different countries. It is an excellent portrayal of youth, loneliness, and envy, and reminds me of the gritty films of the French New Wave with a touch of Jarmusch. Rebels of the Neon God is vivid in its use of color, and scenes and frames from the film stick in one’s memory long after viewing. The restoration is being released by Big World Pictures and includes audio commentary for certain scenes of the film as well as an essay written by Ariel Esteban Cayer. It’s not the most ‘juiced-up’ restoration, but I’m hoping it will put a few more eyes on the film.