Oscar-winning writer/director Farhadi (A Separation, The Past, The Salesman) continues to explore complex moral dilemmas in modern Iran with this drama focusing on a man named Rahim (Amir Jadidi) who, while on a furlough from debtor’s prison, returns a bag of gold coins to the woman who lost them. The human-interest story catches fire, bringing goodwill and charity his way… but when it emerges that Rahim may have had ulterior motives for his good deed, his life becomes a sea of doubt and denouncements.
Farhadi finds new angles on the story like a jeweller considering the facets of an expertly cut gem: every scene offers a sliver of information that repositions Rahim on a moral scale. Is he a decent person, or a schemer who did a good deed for opportunistic reasons? What if he’s neither? Should someone’s motivations even matter if they actually do the right thing? A Hero mulls that question for its entire running time, and Jadidi carries its tensions on his back with a mercurial smile and the darting eyes of someone who’s convinced his run of luck is too good to be true—or knows it wasn’t true in the first place. 127 min. Subtitled. Now available to stream on Prime Video Canada.
Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn
When a graphic video of her and her husband having sex leaks online, Bucharest history teacher Emi (Katia Pascarlu) finds herself facing a tribunal of outraged parents. The notion of a community refusing to distinguish between public and private life after decades under a Communist dictatorship is one of the sharper satirical points of writer/director Jude’s film, which fires shots at performative politics, hypocrisy, and COVID-19 like a scattergun and still finds room for a half-hour semiotics presentation on the means by which authoritarians twist language to their own purposes. Mostly, though, it’s about a woman doing her damnedest to maintain her dignity while being slut-shamed from every corner, as Emi’s misfortune brings out the worst in everyone around her.
In the first movement, Jude establishes the casual hostility that’s the state of play in today’s Romania; in the third, that hostility explodes in all directions, descending from moralizing to xenophobic conspiracy theories in no time at all. Funny and infuriating in equal portions—and sometimes both at once—Bad Luck Banging captures the global moment and is horrified by what it finds itself holding. 106 min. Subtitled. Now available to stream at digital TIFF Bell Lightbox.
Zeros and Ones
A world away from Bad Luck Banging, writer/director Ferrara’s own pandemic project fails as narrative while succeeding as an atmospheric meditation, following Ethan Hawke around a deserted Rome in a murky, paranoid story. It's about an American soldier JJ (Hawke) searching for his missing brother Justin (also Hawke), a missing “revolutionary” who may or may not be involved with a planned attack on the Vatican. Or maybe the soldier is part of the attack, rather than his brother. Maybe the soldier isn’t a soldier at all; it’s all pretty vague.
Ferrara throws a bunch of stuff at the camera, including an interlude where someone is forced to impregnate a stranger at gunpoint, a subplot about Asian sex workers, and a weird joke about Norman Mailer; eventually, I gave up trying to connect the dots and just drifted along with Hawke through the Italian night. He’s a fascinating actor, and he’s totally in the moment here, his dual performance giving Zeros And Ones whatever emotional weight it has. If you liked what Ferrara did with free-floating dread and Willem Dafoe in 4:44 Last Day On Earth and Siberia, this hits that same, very specific note. 86 min. Some subtitles. Available on VOD platforms.
Available on VOD
Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn
Katia Pascarlu, Claudia Ieremia, Olimpia Mălai; directed by Radu Jude
The Carmilla Movie
Elise Bauman, Natasha Negovanlis, Annie Briggs; directed by Spencer Maybee
Jorge Antonio Guerrero, Hélène Florent, Marine Johnson; directed by Ivan Grbovic
Vanessa Kirby, David Ajala, Annika Wahlsten; directed by Adam Leon
Zeros and Ones
Ethan Hawke, Valerio Mastandrea, Babak Karimi; directed by Abel Ferrara
Everything on streaming platforms this month:
Disc of the week
A Hard Day’s Night (Criterion, 4K)
“If you’ve seen Richard Lester’s triumphant rockumentary, you know it’s the joyous, slyly witty movie that codified the Beatles and more or less invented the music video. If you’ve never seen it—well, you know that vague, gnawing sense that we’re all alone in the universe and something profound is missing from your personal experience of life? That goes away while you’re watching A Hard Day’s Night.”
I wrote that in 2014, and it’s even more accurate now: John, Paul, George, and Ringo’s triumphant big-screen debut is an invaluable tonic for our pandemic present.
Lester only seems to be flying by the seat of his pants, the filmmaker’s chaotic instincts synching up perfectly with the Beatles’ willingness to take the piss out of themselves as well as everyone around them. And Lester’s documentary aesthetic makes the whole thing feel miraculous. The dialogue is scripted, but A Hard Day’s Night presents the Beatles as though just fooling around while waiting for someone to call action. Almost 60 years on, it’s still one of the most miraculous things I’ve ever seen.
Criterion’s 4K release is built around a new digital restoration—approved by Lester himself, who turned 90 earlier this week—that finds new detail and texture in an already meticulously restored film. Underlit interiors, like the train-car performance of "I Should Have Known Better", are sharper and less murky; it’s also easier to see the slightly blown-out look of the daytime exteriors, as though a cameraman misjudged the exposure while trying to keep up with the frenzied Fab Four. Details I’ve only noticed in theatrical screenings are now visible on my projector; that’s nice. The 4K disc also has three audio options—original mono, remastered stereo and DTS-HD 5.1 surround—and the cast-and-crew audio commentary recorded for a 2002 DVD release.
An accompanying Blu-ray disc includes the feature in 1080p and all the extras from Criterion’s 2014 release, including the hour-long 1994 documentary You Can’t Do That: The Making Of A Hard Day’s Night, the shorter 2002 doc "Things They Said Today and In Their Own Voices", a collage of audio clips from the Beatles’ 1964 U.S. tour. Lester’s 1959 short T"he Running, Jumping & Standing Still Film" is here as well, along with David Cairns’s "Picturewise", a half-hour video essay about Lester and his approach narrated by '60s icon Rita Tushingham. There’s also a half-hour interview with author Mark Lewisohn about the band’s significance, a featurette breaking down the film’s key musical sequences, and two re-release trailers that lay on the Beatlery pretty thick. Can’t really blame them, can you.