Movies: 20th Century Women and The Salesman


20th Century Women

Annette Benning in 20th Century Women is fantastic and I am surprised she was shut out of an Oscar nomination.   The other actors, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup and Lucas Jade Zumann do a fine job as well.  Benning plays a single mother to 15-year-old Jamie (Zumann) and lives in an old Victorian house in 1979 Santa Barbara.  She has an eclectic array of boarders including Abbie (Gerwig) a young woman battling cervical cancer and William (Billy Crudup), a handyman who is working on restoring the dilapidated mansion.  Fanning plays Julie, a young woman who is Jamie’s best friend and the object of his affection.

Dorthea feels the once close relationship with her son slipping away so enlists the help of the others to help Jamie grow up and become a good man.  This only stresses the various relationships but in the end, this group of people is a family and they all take care of each other.  20th Century Women is a slow burn.  It consists primarily of dialogue and you may feel like you are in the theater for more than the 2 hours running time.   The acting is nuanced and the story very real and it will really appeal to those of us who love revisiting the 1970s.  This is a movie about family and relationships and the performances are raw and perfect.  20th Century Women is a very good film and well worth seeing.

The Salesman

Perhaps you have heard about this Iranian film nominated for this year’s Best Foreign Film and its Director Asghar Farhadi who would have been unable to attend the Oscars due to the Immigration Ban.   He has subsequently said he won’t come even if he receives an exemption.  Aside from the political controversy, this is an excellent film by Farhadi who received the 2012 Best Foreign Film Oscar for the movie “The Separation”.  Unfortunately, we will not be able to see another powerful acceptance speech by this Director due to the political issues.

To fully appreciate this film, it is helpful (but certainly not necessary) to have knowledge of Arthur Miller’s play “Death of a Salesman” as there are parallels in this story of an Iranian couple, Emad and Rana, (Shahab Hosseini and Taraneh Alidoosti) who have the lead roles in the play.  Some of the play’s themes are subtly  interwoven throughout the movie. Emad is a high school teacher and he and Rana are forced to find a new apartment when the building where they live collapses.  The former tenet of their new apartment was a hooker who had to leave under unknown circumstances.  One of her former clients comes to the apartment and attacks Rana who then struggles with how to keep on living.

Like in the movie “Elle”, the brutal attack is not reported to the police (again, for reasons unknown) but Emad goes on a mission to find the perpetrator.  The final third of the movie is as intense as anything you will see as he uncovers who was the attacker is and works through what should be done to avenge the violent act.  I won’t give away the ending but suffice it to say the suspenseful conclusion is brilliantly played out.  This film could well win the Oscar and I am totally on board with that happening! I will also go and check out “The Separation” which is supposed to be even more intense.


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