A SEPARATION

2012 Academy Award winner for best foreign language picture, Iranian social drama A SEPARATION follows the legal struggle between apparently wealthy, middle class Nader (Peyman Moadi) and housekeeper Razieh (Sareh Bayat), after a dispute leads to tragic consequences. Recently separated from wife Simin (Leila Hatami), juggling a career and responsibility to his 11 year old daughter, and caring for his alzheimer’s stricken father, Nader is a man with a very full plate. Razieh is equally burdened by her pregnancy and the need to earn money following her husband’s redundancy, while her incredibly devout religious beliefs only seem to make things more difficult. Ultimately when their two lives clash, such a frustrating situation is born that the film is at times exhausting to watch, yet always completely compelling.

A SEPARATION is a glimpse into a world not often seen by foreign audiences, the day to day minutiae of life in relatively affluent Iranian society, where class and religious beliefs come into conflict in unexpected ways. There’s something so absurd and darkly humorous about so many of the realities these people must endure, particularly in regards to religion, yet never does the film feel phony or forced. As each character gets drawn into the dilemma more and more and the blame game spirals out of control, so too does the narrative style constantly circle back on itself while never nearing any kind of resolution. A SEPARATION is maddening by design, representative of what seems to be an incredibly intricate and baffling bureaucratic system, compounded by archaic religious doctrine and difficult social politics. It’s by no means an easy film, but for anyone willing to step outside their comfort zone, it’s a rewarding experience, with much to take in and no doubt discuss afterwards.

BATTLESHIP

Sitting in the theatre last night, a line from an old Tool song was rattling around in my brain. “One great big, festering, neon distraction” was used by the band to describe the state of California, but the description couldn’t be more apt for Peter Berg’s BATTLESHIP. A deafening, blue and orange military recruitment tool, the film can’t even sustain its laughably simple premise, and attempts to promote a message so unappealing to its target audience I was left questioning why it even exists.

Story is the least important element here, so lets just say that in between all the sweeping helicopter shots and blinding lens flare, an international Naval war games exercise is interrupted by alien invaders, and it’s up to reckless officer Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch) to save the day. Kitsch delivers solid character work early on, but soon gets lost in the cacophony of bangs and seizure-inducing editing which leaves little room for the human story. Inexplicably added to the mix are pop star Rihanna, seemingly here for no other reason than, well, she’s Rihanna, and Liam Neeson collecting his paycheck for around 10 minutes of screen time. But, as I said, we’re not here for the story, rather the spectacular action and special effects right? The bad news is that when the aliens finally show up, BATTLESHIP’s pace strangely slows to a crawl (no doubt due to the limited options offered by the source material), and all potential excitement and interest evaporates. Director Berg forces the idea of teamwork down the audience’s throats (Japan and the US fighting together in Hawaii? Wonders never cease), and doesn’t even try to disguise his recruitment agenda. Indeed, the film is little more than a hyperkinetic music video (oh, that’s why Rihanna is here) designed to lure impressionable youth into signing up so they too can fight the ‘alien invaders’.

Herein lies the problem however: young people today almost definitely don’t play Battleship. Basing a tentpole film on a board game seemed like a daft idea from the outset, but recent cinema history has seen a theme park ride turned into a critically and financially successful franchise, so precedent is there in a way. Unfortunately for Universal, even those of us who grew up in a pre-internet/Xbox Live world remember Battleship as a desperately boring endeavour, so how can it be expected to compete in today’s short attention-span culture? The strange metaphor that Berg attempts to craft in the film’s third act, suggesting that we need to remember and re-appraise the past, just won’t fly with 21st century teens bred in our disposable, constantly updating world of technological wonder. BATTLESHIP’s strange juxtaposition of bombastic special effects framing ancient board game mechanics simply doesn’t sit right, and it’s hard to imagine the teen audience, so crucial for success at the summer box-office, tearing themselves away from the latest CALL OF DUTY to embrace the turn-based ‘excitement’ of this ridiculous film. No amount of explosions can salvage a limp and underwritten movie, and BATTLESHIP, not entirely unexpectedly, is torpedoed by its own outdated inspiration.