Runaway (2001) — Where are the Wolfhounds?

Kim Longinotto and Ziba Mir-Hosseini’s documentary Runaway is best viewed as a companion piece to their 1998 collaboration Divorce Iranian Style. Fusing the intense humanism of cinéma vérité with the analytical powers of feminist anthropology, Divorce Iranian Style is a fundamentally optimistic film about a group of women who use the unfair and oppressive structures of Iranian divorce law to improve their lives. I call Runaway a ‘companion piece’ to Divorce Iranian Style as while the earlier film is all about working inside the system to improve your lot, Runaway is all about what happens when the system fails and women are forced to flee for the sake of their own security.

Like all of Kim Longinotto’s work, Runaway provides a fascinating and genuinely moving portrait of a group of women who are trying to protect themselves from the failings of their society. In this case, the failing that women are forced to contend with is a vision of gendered sexuality that is as old as the hills and twice as tricky to erode.

 

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Divorce Iranian Style (1998) — Some Semblance of Order in the Court

The title of Kim Longinotto’s documentary Divorce Iranian Style appears to be a tip of the hat to Pietro Germi’s Divorce Italian Style, an award-winning comedy from a time when being in a language other than English was no barrier to success at the Oscars. Germi’s film concerns an Italian nobleman who, despite having fallen out of love with his wife, is unable to get a divorce under the Italian legal system. Desperate for a way out, he concocts a plan to manipulate his wife into having an affair so that he can burst in on the lovers, kill his wife and then escape with a slap on the wrist after claiming that it was a crime of passion. While the outcome of the nobleman’s scheming is neither here nor there, the film suggests that people will always find a way to liberate themselves from an un-loved spouse… even when the legal system makes divorce a practical impossibility.

Longinotto’s Divorce Iranian Style is shot almost entirely inside one of Teheran’s family courts where Islamic judges known as Qadi preside over divorce proceedings that heavily favour the husband and the institution of marriage. However, despite the presence of horrendous structural inequalities, Longinotto’s subjects fight for their emancipation using any and all tactics at their disposal.

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The Past (2013) – No… You Can’t Have Fantasy Dad

The films of Asghar Farhadi form an interesting counterpoint to the films of Joanna Hogg, which I wrote about last week. While both directors are fascinated by the way that group dynamics can impact upon our emotional lives, Hogg’s career has seen her transition from the emotional opacity of formalism to the conceptual opacity of surrealism while Farhadi’s relentless pursuit of emotional truth frequently has him brushing up against melodrama as he did with the magnificent Oscar-winning family drama A Separation.

There can be no greater validation of cinematic art than two directors approaching the same subject matter in radically different ways and yet somehow managing to produce works that feel as natural as they are satisfying. It is easy (and exciting) to imagine Joanna Hogg dancing round the question of who was responsible for the miscarriage in A Separation while Asghar Farhadi would arrive on Archipelago’s Scilly isles and refuse to let go until everyone came clean about what it was that was making them unhappy.

There’s a wonderful moment in the British situation comedy Peep Show when the emotionally constipated Mark Corrigan is confronted by a sister who wants to discuss their traumatic childhood prompting Mark to lament that the people who want to talk always seem to win. Asghar Farhadi’s latest film The Past is sympathetic to both sides of Mark’s observation: Yes… the people wanting to talk usually get their way and No… this isn’t always for the best.

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