The Flowers of St. Francis (Rossellini, 1950, 6.8/10)
A powerful — if very, very slow — deliberation on Christianity that is at once critical of and awe-struck by the powers of religion. Rossellini alternates between devout adherence and sharp inquisition within the space of a few scenes.
Black Narcissus (Powell/Pressburger, 1947, 8.0/10)
A sensational film about the small margin between belief and doubt. Stylish, superbly performed and increasingly intense, this is one of Powell and Pressburger’s best productions.
Sperm Whale (Moghaddam, 2015, 6.2/10)
A consistently hilarious pastiche, with references to a complicated time in the late 80s/early 90s in Iran that lends itself comfortably to the film’s brand of comedy. Reza Attaran’s golden streak with the audiences continues.
Under the Shadow (Anvari, 2016, 7.5/10)
Some of the usual gripes with Iranian films made in the diaspora remain, but otherwise this is an effective, bone-chilling thriller. The use of the Iranian war with Iraq as the background adds to the tension and it is particularly impressive how the film visualizes the abstract religious concept of djinn. One only wishes we could see this film with smoother dialogue, and actors whose familiarity with Persian allowed more comfortable performances.
Stories We Tell (Polley, 2012, 9.4/10)
Polley’s energetic, funny and heartfelt investigation into her mother’s personal history is one of the best documentary films ever made. Alternately stylized in different forms — radio plays, re-enacted reality, talking head interviews, etc. — this medley is a fascinating approach to, and study of, the art of storytelling itself.
It Happened One Night (Capra, 1934, 7.6/10)
Something about Capra’s canonical films has always left me a bit cold, but the zappy dialogue and the tenderly stylized love story remain resonant to this day.
Avalanche (Farshbaf, 2015, 6.5/10)
Farshbaf’s story of a nurse whose entire existence is plunged into turmoil when she agrees to take on a temporary night shift is closely inspired by Bergman’s Persona, but the comparison is unflattering. Although sleekly produced, Avalanche’s rather unadventurous narrative arc, and the uncharacteristically monotonous performance from Fatemeh Motamed-Aria at its centre, make the film rather sluggish.
The Brick and the Mirror (Golestan, 1965, 8.7/10)
Golestan’s seminal film is one of the earliest works of the Iranian New Wave and its influence looms large over much of the country’s arthouse cinema to this day. Structured in lengthy, dialogue-heavy episodes that move between Tehran’s dark underbelly to the living room of an unmarried couple to the Kafkaesque buildings of federal organizations, The Brick and the Mirror remains one of the most resonant, provocative and stylish Iranian films ever made.
Niloufar (El-Gemayel, 2007, 4.8/10)
Niloufar has gained notoriety because of the number of years it has spent in the dark rooms of Iranian censors — the film deals with the controversial subject of forced marriage for underage girls — but is otherwise a completely disposable film. The story line mirrors that of an earlier film that explored similar themes with more ambition and bite — Khosrow Sinayi’s The Bride of Fire — and its handling of ethnic divisions is troubling and archaic.
Yahya Didn’t Keep Quiet (Kaveh Ebrahimpour, 2015, 7.4/10)
An impressive debut feature from Ebrahimpour. Probing but cautious in navigating difficult themes — dealing with loss as a child, living as a single woman in the lower-class rungs of Iranian society, abortion — Yahya is a politically charged, progressive film that never imposes a moral agenda.
Spotlight (McCarthy, 2015, 8.5/10)
On a second screening, Tom McCarthy’s Oscar winning film is even more impressive. Empathetic, patient and intelligently attentive, Spotlight is directed with grace and subtlety and performed with astonishing uniformity across the entire ensemble. It’s a film that understands and conveys the human toll of an atrocious, centuries-long crime without hysterics or politicization.