Political Film Review #332

IS DEATH THE THEME OF MIDSUMMER 2009? SEVERAL FILMS ARE REVIEWED, INCLUDING A POTBOILER
Offspring of a Seattle Chinese matriarch are informed by her housekeeper that their mother is dead in Dim Sum Funeral, directed by Anna Chi. None of the children and their spouses have good memories of her, and they dislike one another, but when they meet at her residence, they are unhappy to be informed that the traditional Chinese ceremony for the departed, as requested by the departed, takes several days. Instead of a Joy Luck Club (1993), dysfunctional members of the family are forced to interact. As they get better acquainted, it becomes obvious that their dislike is based on efforts to build their own personalities in reaction to a mother who was their constant critic. The only way for the film to proceed toward a climax is to heal the wounds, but a surprise ending is needed for that. MH

Departures (Okuribito), directed by Yôjirô Takita, features the traditional Japanese burial ceremony. In the beginning of the film, a symphony orchestra is shut down for lack of funds. Daigo Kobayashi (played by Masahiro Motoki), a cellist, takes his wife and two daughters to his family’s house in the north of Japan, where by chance he runs into an elderly undertaker and becomes his apprentice. Filmviewers then see the customary ritual of beautifying dead bodies in the presence of their families in preparation for burial and cremation. Throughout the film, the former cellist articulates his anger toward his father’s abandonment of his family at a very young age, so sagacious filmviewers will be correct in anticipating how the film ends, and they may not have dry eyes when they leave the cinema. MH

Dead Snow (Dod Sno), directed by Tommy Wirkola, is a Norwegian tongue-in-cheek comedy built around the premise that Nazis during World War II inhabited an Article Circle naval base at Oksfjord to harass shipping between England and Russia. The brutality of 300 Nazis toward the 3,000 townspeople ultimately resulted in a revengeful massacre, though some Nazis may have escaped or otherwise turned into ghosts, or so medical school students from the University of Oslo learn during their spring vacation at a mountain cabin. After a day of frolicking, that’s what an elderly curmudgeon tells them while drinking a cup of coffee with them before retreating to his tent just outside in the snow. In a permutation on Ten Little Indians (1965), one by one the students die at the hands of the ghastly Nazis, but one appears to reach safety at the end of the film. Does he? MH

By far, the best of the lot is The Stoning of Soraya M., directed by Cyrus Nowrasteh and based on an event in 1986. The venue is a small town in Iran, where Soraya (played by Mozhan Marnò) was stoned. When the film begins, a journalist’s car has broken down in that town. Freidoune Sahebjam (played by Jim Caviezel), an Iranian who lives in France (and writes up the event as a 1994 best seller now banned in Iran), pays a bundle to have an auto mechanic, Hashem (played by Parviz Sayyad), fix the car despite protesting that he is tired. Zahra (played by Shohreh Aghdashloo) insists on interacting with him, so he visits her house and listens to her story about her niece, who was stoned the previous day. The reason for the stoning is that the niece’s husband, Ali (played by Navid Negahban), was interested in marrying another woman but could not afford to pay for two households, so he arranges for her to be paid as housekeeper for Hashem, who recently lost his wife. Then the husband spreads rumors that more than housekeeping has been taking place, Hashem is intimidated into false testimony, and a secret trial is held. The stoning scene is brutal and lengthy so that filmviewers will know how evil the practice is. The ending provides a little suspense. Titles at the end indicate that the practice continues in Iran and elsewhere despite official denials. The Political Film Society, accordingly, has nominated The Stoning of Soraya M. as best film exposé and best film on human rights of 2009. MH