For Day two of the festival, I dragged myself out of bed after about five hours of sleep to watch Iranian film About Elly by Asghar Farhadi. I still haven’t quite recovered after the lack of sleep, so I am very tired as I write this. The comments will thus be brief.
While initially giving the impression of a feel-good drama about three couples – plus one in the offing – vacationing at the Iranian sea side, About Elly changes gears midway, becoming something closer to a crime film. While some of the characters’ dilemmas are related to cultural codes, they are so never to the extent that they feel unfathomable for a westerner. If anything, one of the joys of the film is seeing Iran from a very different perspective than the media normally will offer us. In a way, the film seems unifying in that it stresses common human frailties and our common capacity for making mistakes. Focusing on relationships that have the same kind of dynamic the world over, the film seems much more true than any well meaning documentary about the infamous axis of evil. Thus, eliminating any us versus them theme, the viewer can be free to follow the story and empathize without feeling that he does so through a cultural lens. The film treats well how small lies can build into something graver. None of the characters are evil, they just don’t realize the consequences of these small trespasses of honesty. In this, they are not alone.
Later in the day, after having slept an hour, I caught Dutch director Alex van Warmerdam’s latest quirky film, The Last Days of Emma Blank. This is very much a black comedy. I found myself thinking of the Coen brothers quite some times during the film. While having no moral centre – or indeed any wider meaning outside its strange little universe – there is a weird truthfulness in the way the film presents its characters and situations. I especially liked the director’s role of Theo, the man who is forced to play the role of dog in the freakish family dynamics. While the situations are exaggerated, the characters live them with straight faces, making the outlandish seem positively indispensable and logical. Everything makes perfect sense within the film’s universe, I’m just not sure the film offers more than the satisfaction of seeing a well executed plot and a good time at the movies. Granted, a very good time.
Later in the evening, I felt I deserved some Hollywood entertainment after considering the art house alternatives. Funny People, Judd Apatow’s third outing as a feature director, was surprisingly good. In fact, I liked it a lot. Lasting almost two and a half hours, this comedy-drama is rather longer than the genre normally allows. Luckily, the film easily supports the extra padding. Adam Sandler is the comedian who is told that he has a rare form of cancer and who, facing death, realizes the emptiness of his life – and perhaps of life in general. Sandler handles this role very well, bringing a bitter naturalness to the part. The film has more good jokes than ten normal comedies and has a heart and intelligence seldom seen in the genre. I liked Apatow’s first outing, The 40 Year Old Virgin, but was not quite won over by his sophomore film, Knocked Up. Funny People is an unequivocal improvement on both these films. If Apatow can continue to deliver films of this quality, he will be the most important comedy director of the last twenty years, and possibly of the next ten.