The Past (Asghar Farhadi, 2013). Writing about Farhadi’s previous movie, A Separation, I wrote, “From this simple beginning, Farhadi constructs a terrific melodrama that is part family drama, part police procedural, part an examination of life in Iran, all with more than a touch of Rashomon. There are no bad characters in the movie, and everyone seems to be trying to live a good and moral life. But they don’t all agree on what is good and moral, and the realities of their lives make compromise almost inevitable. I can’t overstate how good this film is.” The Past takes place in France, and there are no police, and … well, it’s different from A Separation, perhaps I should have skipped the comparison. But as I was watching, I made a note to myself that the plot unfolded like in a procedural, and was interested that I’d said the same thing about the earlier movie. Farhadi takes his time … we meet the main characters, get a feeling for their interactions, see that things are irritable at best. And then we start learning more about the events we thought had been covered in the time the characters were introduced. Watching it unravel is fascinating (“unravel” is not quite the right word … at least one critic referred to the peeling of an onion, which is more accurate but I don’t want to steal their idea). The acting is excellent across the board, especially Bérénice Bejo, and the child actors, particularly the teenage Pauline Burlet and young Elyes Aguis. The manner in which the plot expands is a bit artificial, like a very good play. But Farhadi films everything in a realistic mode that covers up most of the artifice. 9/10. As for companion movies, obviously A Separation, if you haven’t seen it.
Make Way for Tomorrow (Leo McCarey, 1937). Said to have been an influence on Tokyo Story, which is only one of the best movies ever made. As with Tokyo Story, there is no uplifting ending. A group of characters, neither good nor bad, a family of aging parents and their grown offspring (and even a grandchild) acts largely in what they perceive is their own best interests, while trying to convince others (and themselves) that they are acting out of kindness to their family. The setup is that the parents lose their house because the father no longer works and they can’t make the mortgage payments. The solution offered by their kids is that they each move in with a different person … none of them have the room to take them both on. So Pa goes to live with a daughter, Ma goes to live with a son, and no one is happy. There is a lovely reprieve for the parents in the final third of the film, but as noted, the ending offers no solace. As the character asks in Tokyo Story, “Isn’t life disappointing?” The answer is that yes, it is disappointing. #307 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 9/10. Tokyo Story is the clear partner for further viewing.
13 Ghosts (William Castle, 1960). William Castle’s films were famous for their goofy gimmicks, and 13 Ghosts was no different. This time, it was “Illusion-O”, which involved wearing special viewers that filtered out the ghosts, or something like that. Nowadays, you can buy DVDs that include the Illusion-O version, but the truth is, Castle’s movies are remembered by many of us because they turned up on TV so often when we were kids. In other words, we never saw Illusion-O … the TV versions had that stuff fixed so the movie would play OK. Some of Castle’s movies were decent enough, but 13 Ghosts without Illusion-O isn’t one of them. I suspect even with Illusion-O, it wouldn’t be much good. Remade in 2001 … that version received a 30/100 rating on Metacritic. 5/10. Castle’s best is likely The Tingler.
Move Over, Darling (Michael Gordon, 1963). I wanted to watch a James Garner movie, and chose this, which I hadn’t seen. Garner was the iconic star of more than one TV series, and he is known as one of the television stars who moved easily into the movies. His deceptively casual style always worked well on the small screen, and his effortless work on the big screen was always welcome. But it often meant he wasn’t quite the lead in movies … Move Over, Darling, for instance, is more a Doris Day vehicle, although they work well as a team. The film had a bit of a complicated history … a remake of the Cary Grant/Irene Dunne movie My Favorite Wife, it was originally meant to star Marilyn Monroe and Dean Martin under the title Something’s Got to Give. That one was famously unfinished, with the remnants turned into Move Over, Darling. Day and Garner are good, but your response to the movie depends in part on your tolerance for the kind of unconsummated bedroom farce that Day made famous. It isn’t one of the better ones. 6/10. For a better Day/Garner pairing, check out The Thrill of It All.
Sunday Bloody Sunday (John Schlesinger, 1971). 9/10.