I’ve been down lately about my Netflix movies, because everything I’ve picked has been bo-ring. I’ve been working on the AFI Top 100 list, and many of the movies have failed to catpture my attention. Often the plot is dated, and while the film technology may have been cutting edge at the time of the release, it is also long since dated. My enthusiasm about the list, however, was rekindled with Network.
Network is the dawn of trash television. As an aging nightly news anchorman has a total mental breakdown on air, ratings-starved network execs exploit his insanity as television takes its turn from dignified to sensationalistic. Decrying the erosion of morality in popular culture is a beloved topic for letters to the editor and message boards, but Network confirmed my inkling that there never was any “golden age” when everyone was polite and classy. Sesationalism, violence, sex, betrayal all of that make entertainment. It always has (for goodness sakes, go pick up the Canterbury Tales!) Culture isn’t devolving, there was never any “high” culture to begin with.
Network was skillfully acted, and brings to mind how drastically acting styles and appearances have changed since, say, the early 1990s. In the 1970s, actors still had imperfections. Sure, Faye Dunaway is rail thin and beautiful, but her teeth are yellowed and her hair kind of frizzy. Those imperfections make the actors feel more real. Nowadays, those teeth would have been bleached and her hair treated, homogenized and purified. And boring. Films in the 1970s are also not afraid of awkward silences. They pop up here and there in such films, just like they do in real life. I feel like films today iron out all the awkwardness of real life, to streamline the content for impatient audiences, but it no longer feels as human.
A Separation is also an intense drama, but a totally different kind of film than Network. Since the Oscars, I’ve been waiting for A Separation to hit DVD.
A Separation is an Iranian film that won the 2011 Academy Award for Best Foreign Feature Film. That award was well deserved. A Separation portrays family struggles, love and loss, tensions between economic classes. It follows a husband and wife, with a 12 year old daughter, who are trying to find their way after separating. After 18 months of bureaucratic red tape, the wife obtained visas for her family to leave the country. But the husband won’t leave, because he needs to care for his father, who is suffering the late stages of Alzheimers. The husband hires a woman as a caretaker for his father. She leaves his father unattended one afternoon to run an errand. The husband and the caretaker get into a fight, and he kicks her out. Later that evening, he is informed that she was tragically injured. The caretaker and her husband decide to press charges. The film then follows the ensuing court battle, and attempts to figure out the facts of what exactly happened.
It’s obvious this film is hard to adequately summarize, because the film is amazing and my summary was really really boring. I loved seeing everyday life in Iran. Little things like seeing what Iranian kitchen appliances look like, or what a typical drive down the street is like are fascinating to me. Films about the American court system usually bore me to tears (I don’t want to spend my entertainment time re-living my workday), but I was fascinated to see how legal proceedings work in Iran. If this film is at all accurate (I know American films often botch law related stuff), Iranian courts are much more informally structured, and a proceeding is determined by one judge, who has great leeway in ordering testimony and examining evidence in order to get to the bottom of the issue. Although in American law, all the formalistic evidence rules are designed to narrow the evidence to that which is central to the issues. However, I feel like the Iranian approach, with one person who is educated in the law making all the calls and given broad investigative leeway, is more focused with getting to the bottom of the facts.
A Separation is available now on DVD. It is well worth a bump-up on your Netflix queue or a trip to the Redbox.