Modest Reception ★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

This is not a hoax.
A comedy of manners
Too many manners!
But with ciphers abound
That close instead of open.

Seen as recommended by Tina, who wrote a very nice piece about it here. Wish I could have a stronger enthusiasm for the film, which has one of those great opening scenes in which you have no idea where any of this is going, and a matching punchline. I didn't recognize either of the main actors, but was unsurprised to see both had worked with Asghar Farhadi (Haghighi, the male lead, is also the co-writer and director), as there is a similar repartee to the almost over-lapping dialogue.

The film obviously has no interest in explaining why these two figures have to give out these random bags of money to others, and I was totally fine with that. But if it is an investigation of "taarof," many of the scenes seemed to lack some sort of connective tissue. Mainly that, the various characters they meet along the way have a bit of a cipher-like quality and their changing methods didn't feel particularly motivated as much as trying to create new dynamics in order to avoid repetition. Victor Morton described the film as similar to Luis Buñuel, which is a perfect place to go (not only in the comic absurdism but the class articulations), but I think there was somewhat a lack of an emotional logic. ie. The first set up is very insane and clever, as well as the one with the old man, but it all sort of tended to drag together in the 2nd act, even with its diversity of scenes.

Finally, the last 30 minutes is kind of all out of loop for me. First of all, if they aren't going to explain why these characters have to do it, then its hard to understand/sympathize with their growing frustration except on an abstract level, so I never got into their plight or really how that all connected in the film's final moment. And then there's the extended sequence with the man burying his child, which worked for me until the main character decided he had to do it (as penance, I guess, but it didn't tie for me his absolute cruel motivation in the first part of that scene). The whole stealing all the money subplot felt ripped from another film as well—sort of a cap because there's no way else this film can reach a plot conclusion. And while a totally unfair but somewhat necessary comparison, as they both take place in dream-like landscapes, but the digital photography was somewhat of a nightmare, especially compared to ANATOLIA. This might be because I was sitting too close and they clearly made this film for pretty cheap, but it didn't look good, as compared to Jang's SLEEPLESS NIGHT, which knew how to balance its light levels more despite shooting on the worst possible camer. (In general, Haghighi has a plain visual style that seems more like a script-appropriate-delivery device more than Farhadi, who I think has an immensely talented visual language).

Still, I'm glad I saw this, and might throw up a number of my frustrations to cultural ignorance more than missteps in filmmaking/script writing. I hope to see more from all involved here.