By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly
Sadaf Foroughi spends some of her time in Canada, but she’s Iranian by birth and brings a fresh, winning perspective to the problems of women in Iranian society. Her new film (and first feature) follows a band of adolescent schoolgirls doing, for the most part, things adolescent schoolgirls do — gossiping, giggling, groaning about their lessons and their parents, stealing looks at boys, then gossiping about boys. But in this culture, men and women are not supposed to have any sexual contact before marriage. A misunderstanding leads to Ava (played by Mahour Jabbari) standing accused of something shameful.
And in a severely regimented society, one misunderstanding is enough to trip the sensors of that regimentation. A forced trip to the gynecologist shows that Ava is still technically a virgin (for all that counts for). But the mere appearance of impropriety sets in and sets in motion, step by painful step, the destruction of Ava’s life, her parents’ lives, and the lives of the friends bold enough to stand by her. One by one, they’re shamed. And one by one, the social heat of shaming brings out the worst in each person, until shouting, ranting, and total dismissals of everyone who doesn’t agree with a certain point of view, become the new norms.
Musical performances appear over and over again in “Ava,” and you can hear the young musicians falling short of technical perfection and emotional expression. The female music teacher, tough but fair, always urges them to practice and improve. But her exhortations mark the only positivity from an adult in the whole mess. The young people and the adults who are supposed to know better, just continue keeping up appearances, denying imperfection, until the weight of the situation collapses and smothers everyone of every age.
(director Sadaf Foroughi scheduled to attend both screenings)
May 23 — Lincoln Square, 6:30 p.m.
May 24 — SIFF Cinema Uptown, 3 p.m.
“Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda”
Ryuichi Sakamoto, renowned Japanese composer, keyboardist, writer, record producer, and activist (and a few other things), admits he doesn’t know how much time he has left. At age 66, he’s already beaten cancer once, and he tells the camera that treatment, and/or surgery, left dead bone in his skull, underneath his left cheek. He stopped making music for the first time as an adult, to seek treatment for his cancer. He admits that for the first time as an adult, he’s not quite sure where to start again, or how.
Sakamoto’s been to and done so many things over the decades that the film’s director, Stephen Nomura Schible, can’t possibly cover every aspect over 100 minutes. So the film sometimes seems rushed, and a bit shallow, as it covers everything from Sakamoto’s years in the Yellow Magic Orchestra group, pioneering electronic music, to soundtrack work (his themes from “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence” remain famous 35 years after the film), to the musician’s infatuation with sound in nature (wind, rain), to anti-nuclear power activism and a growing sense of both awe at nature, and horror at nature’s ruin courtesy of mankind. You won’t learn anything about Sakamoto’s wives, girlfriends, or children (one of whom, Miu Sakamoto, started a professional music career of her own), and you’ll get the impression that he lives only in New York City.
So the film proves frustrating for folks who already know the man. But if you don’t know the man, “Coda” furnishes a nifty overview. Leaning over his shoulder, getting close in as he ponders variations and changes to his newest piano piece, proves oddly illuminating. He admits that piano notes died away quickly, but he invites us to listen to a piano note as long as we possibly can. That’s impermanence. But with attention paid all the way down. Then he takes a violin bow to a cymbal, or a gong, and lets loose long drones. Not eternity. Not even close. But an affectionate gesture towards that infinite.
May 29 — AMC Pacific Place, 7 p.m.
May 30 — SIFF Cinema Uptown, 3:45 p.m.
June 8 — SIFF Cinema Uptown, 12:30 p.m.
“Shuttle Life,” the feature debut from Malaysia’s Tan Seng Kiat, will break your heart. But it will win your heart first. For 20 minutes, we follow a teenage boy and his 6-year-old sister, as they criss-cross Kuala Lumpur on a scooter —the little girl thoughtfully donning a helmet and riding pillion behind her big brother. They go everywhere together and they fend off together, everything that needs fending off. When the brother has to descend into a dangerous space to find water (the film unfolds against the drastic, frightening water shortages in Malaysia over recent years), he stops to appreciate a basso-singing bullfrog that’s somehow followed the water.
Their cramped apartment, shared with their mentally-ill mother, makes for little privacy, requiring honesty and matter-of-factness about their poverty, their bodily functions, and their struggle to keep Mom out of a hospital from which she’d probably never return.
And the siblings survive. They take pleasure in every little thing. Each new street is a new vista.
Any object lying around can become a toy, a vehicle for imagination, for fun, for affection.
Then something awful happens. And the brother struggles to find release, closure, and justice.
He finds none of these things. He finds only bureaucracy, standing in his way, demanding things he doesn’t have and can’t get. Bureaucracy finds him frustrated, sandbagged, and sliding towards the same sort of paranoia that’s consumed his mother.
Too many people live only one calamity away from total ruin, says the film. Ruin, not only in the financial sense (this family was broke to begin with), but in the destruction of happiness, transcendence, and in the end, hope. All hope. Then again, even one person, or one family living like this, is too much. The film focuses on three people who go over the edge. But it invites you to ponder the bigger picture, and to ponder what you might do in the fact of that. A broken heart might be an acceptable price to pay, for an opened heart.
May 29 — AMC Pacific Place, 9:30 p.m.
June 1 — AMC Pacific Place, 1:45 p.m.
Andrew can be reached at email@example.com.