53rd London Film Festival (October, 14-29, 2009)
Let's Talk…
by Hamidreza Sadr

"Iranian Cinema: Post-New Wave, Post-Election…Where Now?" This was the title of a roundtable discussion held alongside one of the various sections of London Film Festival. The discussion was chaired by Sight & Sound journalist, Ali Jafaar, who is also an advisor to the festival's Middle East section. I did not take part in the discussion for one simple reason: There was no Iran-based filmmaker, screenwriter, producer or actor involved in it. Those present looked at the Iranian cinema from an outsider's point of view.  What I do here is just pointing out some of the films that lingered in my mind more than others.

About Elli
This film was generously welcomed in every screening as the main representative of Iran's contemporary cinema. Asghar Farhadi was not in London. Michael Hayden, who had visited Fajr Film Festival a few years ago, wrote about this film in the festival's catalogue: “About Elli focuses on the country's middle class, illustrating how convention, conformity and tradition can be restrictive, even among those who fool themselves into thinking they are not guided by such things.”
The same catalogue includes the following statements from Farhadi about his own film: “Somewhere in the film, the characters vote, but democracy does not work within the family or in the society when everyone is right.”

Fantastic Mr. Fox
The animation by Wes Anderson opened the festival and it probably was not the right choice as it was to go on public screens immediately at the end of the festival and many people would have asked why such a movie should open the festival.
Ronald Dahl's novel, which was published in 1970, was based on the idea of intrinsic evil nature. Mr. Fox is running a calm life with his kind wife and children. However, as he is a fox, he resorts to his animal instincts and steals from village landlords' stores. It is highly questionable that it is a film for children. The underground chase scene has an outstanding visual effect thanks to the presence of Tim Burton's old time colleague Henry Selick. His animators are the same people who made Corpse Bride with Tim Burton. George Clooney's voice for Mr. Fox is extraordinary. Mrs. Fox has Meryl Streep’s voice. I still remember Clooney's sentence: “Honey, I am a seven-year-old fox. My father died at seven and a half. I don't want to die in this hole.”

The Men Who Stare at Goats
The story of this film is based on a funny book by Jon Robson about the US Army's experiments on using metaphysical powers. But Grant Heslov's film never flourishes in spite of the presence of so many stars including George Clooney (who stood in front of his fans at Leicester Square for two consecutive days), Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey and Ewan McGregor. The film follows three decades of a US Army effort to try to make goats fall by staring at them and finally reaches the war in Iraq. At the same time, this is also a road movie. McGregor plays a reporter who meets Clooney and accompanies him in a dangerous mission in Iraq in order to find out the secret of men and goats and those who compare this mental power with Jedi’s power in Star Wars. The funniest joke is on the film's poster; you see the profiles of Clooney, Bridges, Spacey and McGregor next to one of a goat with a caption that reads: "No Goats, No Glory."


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