A troubled marriage in a bleak, repressive regime
Western cinema is a liberal place, where pretty much anything goes. But in less liberal surroundings, the film maker's lot is not so fortunate.
Take Iran. There, film directors are jailed by the authorities. But when a worthwhile film emerges from such a background, we should sit up and take notice.
"A Separation", which opens Film Society's 60th anniversary year, is such a film. It's the story of a couple – Simin and Nader – whose marriage is in trouble.
Simin wants the family to leave Iran (we never learn why though it is surely to do with the regime's repressive nature). But her husband Nader won't go, for the very real reason that he feels obliged to stay and care for his father who has Alzheimer's disease.
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As the film opens, they are in court and we, the audience, are cast as judge – though we hear him speak, we see nothing except the two main characters making their respective cases.
But though what they have to say seems familiar and everyday, this is no mundane story; this is Iran and the social and political context are the reasons why this film grips so completely.
The rights of women (in any society, let alone a male dominated theocracy); who is right (all the characters engage our sympathies); how to care for the elderly (very much being debated here); and questions of honour make the characters and their plight much more subtle and add layers of riveting detail to the plot.
The acting and screenplay are exceptional, while Asghar Farhadi's direction switches from one character to another, keeping us engaged without taking sides and leaving us wondering at the end.
It is no surprise to learn that this film has won plaudits around the world, including the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film in 2012, and it's an absolutely fabulous New Year start for us.
A Separation (PG); showing at The Venue, Friday January 4th 2013 at 7.30pm. Also showing at The Venue: January 5th: Rust and Bone – at 7.30pm
I don't often complain about going to the cinema, but I'm going to make an exception. Last week, my wife and I went to The Odeon to see The Hobbit.
If you read this column regularly, you'll know it's a film I've been looking forward to seeing a good deal.
I'm pleased to say that I enjoyed it and though I thought it over-long, it stuck pretty faithfully to the story. There was plenty of action and excitement and the film looked a treat.
However the spectacle on the screen was all but ruined by the spectacle of four young boys intent on disturbing the enjoyment of the rest of the audience.
They constantly looked at mobile phones (I'm pretty sure they took some still photos in spite of the warning about using a camera phone that's regularly shown before screenings) chatted to each other loudly, commented on scenes and characters and, at the end of the film, thought it appropriate to climb up on the stage as the credits rolled, where they jumped about and drew attention to themselves even more.
Some members of the audience remonstrated with them at this point and reported their behaviour to staff.
As we left the theatre, a police car was arriving and it would be nice to think the youngsters in question were being held to account.
My complaint however is not just to do with their behaviour but the fact that there were no staff on duty in the screen.
Those children should have been thrown out of the building at the first interruption, not allowed to spend their time annoying the rest of us.
A member of staff might also have prevented the disgraceful mess made by other members of the audience with spilled popcorn and abandoned food and drink containers.
The Odeon claims to be fanatical about film. Really? Not my experience, I have to say. Perhaps its management needs to recognise that going to the cinema is about a good deal more than high frame rate, 3D, visual spectacle and nail-biting thrills.
The new year brings a crop of film releases, some timed to coincide with the start of the awards season. Here's a selection for audiences to look forward to in coming weeks:
January 4: Chinatown (15) and Repulsion (15) – classic cinema treats for film buffs.
January 11: Les Misérables (12a) – Tom Hooper's film version of the West End musical.
January 18: Django Unchained (18) – Quentin Tarantino's latest blood fest. Everyday – Michael Winterbottom's new film, recently shown on TV. Monsters Inc 3D (U)
January 25: Lincoln (12a) – Spielberg's biopic of Abraham Lincoln, starring Daniel Day Lewis. Zero Dark Thirty (15) – Kathryn Bigelow's much anticipated follow up to The Hurt Locker.