When people rave about Iranian cinema, they tend to cite Abbas Kiarostami and the Makhmalbafs, Mohsen and Samira. Crimson Gold (12A), however, reminds us that Jafar Panahi is a consummate storyteller very much their equal.
A short, bitter retort at the way a society can turn against its own, this starts with a crime gone awry, the culprit killing himself when trapped in the Tehran jewellery shop he has tried to rob. Panahi then reels back the story to a period before the heist, to observe how its central character, Hussein - an overweight, broke, troubled war veteran, now working as a pizza delivery man - could reach such depths of desperation and despair.
Panahi's earlier The Circle showed Iranian women stifled and abused by the country's patriarchal society; Crimson Gold reveals a class system that also persecutes the men. Despite the extended flashback, the film (written by Panahi's mentor, Kiarostami) is simplicity itself, merely observing Hussein's humdrum existence and the indignities endured until his wry humour and stoicism finally desert him. Banned in Iran, presumably because it's too close to the bone, this is an understated film, absorbing, tense, and quietly heartbreaking.
If only Hollywood would look more at the ills within American society, instead of peddling an Uncle Sam heroism that feeds too often off the country's foreign interventionism. After the fact-based Black Hawk Down, we now have the only slightly less repellent Tears of the Sun (15), a fiction set in a similar context of African civil war.
Bruce Willis plays the purse-lipped Navy Seal ordered to take his team into war-torn Nigeria and rescue an American doctor (Monica Bellucci). Unfortunately, doc won't leave without her patients, forcing the soldier to take the long route home and risk running into a massive rebel force. This is Zulu with rocket launchers, in which Bellucci is never without her lip gloss and Willis gets to "emote" with lines like "God has left Africa". It's a well-made, maybe even well-intentioned film, but its narcissism is in appallingly bad taste.
Director Brian Helgeland had such fun with his cast on the medieval comedy A Knight's Tale, that he couldn't wait to reunite them. After The Sin Eater (15) they might choose to call it day. This is a mess - a horror film seeking capital in the identity crisis crippling the Catholic church, but with a plot so preposterous and poorly executed as to make The Exorcist seem like reportage.
Heath Ledger plays a priest who travels to Rome to investigate the death of his mentor and discovers the existence of a once-human deity, whose self-appointed task is to absolve those whom the church will not; in ascertaining whether the sin eater is benign or evil, the priest questions his own faith. That's all very well, but Ledger, Mark Addy and Shannyn Sossamon confront evil spirits and murderous clergy with such insouciance as to replace thrills and chills with unintended hilarity. "What were they?", Addy asks after a skirmish. "Demon spawn in the guise of children", comes the laid-back reply. Three Hail Marys just won't cover it.
Two of Australia's finest exports, Guy Pearce and Rachel Griffiths, have popped home to make The Hard Word (18). A lightweight but likeable caper movie, it features Pearce (pasty, hirsute and almost unrecognisable from the lean loner of Memento) as one of three brothers whose attempts to give up crime are obstructed by, of all people, their lawyer. Griffiths lends her customary sly zeal to the gangster's moll.
Citizen Verdict (15) stars that real-life peddler of television sleaze, Jerry Springer, as the producer of a reality TV programme that allows Americans to act as the jury in murder trials - while rigging the result. The conceit is almost believable and at times there is a glimmer of the kind of satire Paul Verhoeven gave us in Robocop. Overall, though, it's terrible, ruined by a soft centre, cheesy dialogue and wooden acting.
From the opening scene of Le Chignon D'Olga (15) - a beautiful young Frenchwoman works in a bookshop, secretly observed by a shy young man - we know exactly where we are. This is French coffee table cinema: yet another good-looking, literate, well-mannered yarn about love and relationships. As with most of the genre, it's pleasantly diverting, eminently disposable.
The Boy David Story (PG) is a documentary charting 20 years in the life of a young Peruvian horribly disfigured by disease (the hole in the centre of his face made him look barely human), whose life has been transformed by a Scottish plastic surgeon.Reuse content