Film Reviews: A Separation and We Need to Talk About Kevin

From Iran, with sadness.... and Bad seed, bad mother?

Tilda Swinton stars in We Need to Talk about Kevin.

Tilda Swinton stars in We Need to Talk about Kevin.

Bad Seed, Bad Mother?

 

For a dark film experience check out We Need to Talk About Kevin, a provocative look at the relationship between a mother and her son, an angry child destined to commit a terrible act of violence. The great Tilda Swinton (Orlando, Chronicles of Narnia) stars as Eva, a travel agent who very gradually begins to fear that her first-born, Kevin, is a bit strange. As a toddler he is late to talk, and is challenging and defiant. The hearty and oblivious father (John C. Reilly) thinks Eva is imagining things. As Kevin gets older he becomes moodier and displays acts of cruelty that alarm Eva. By the time the teenaged Kevin has gotten a professional bow and arrow set from his dad for his birthday, it’s clear that this latter-day “Bad Seed” is heading towards a bad end.

Swinton gives an award-winning performance here, and lets us inside her psyche as she worries to what extent she may have shaped or encouraged Kevin’s continued slide into malevolent darkness. She is the best thing in a film that tries too hard to be “arty,” complete with jagged visual rhythms and a needlessly complex sequence of flashbacks. And there is more use of the colour red than on Valentine’s Day. Ultimately, Kevin – like Elephant and other films – fails to explain the actions of a psychopath.   M

We Need to Talk about Kevin ★ ★ ★

Directed by Lynne Ramsay

Starring Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly

NR – 112 minutes

Continues at the Capitol

 

 

 

From Iran, With Sadness

 

One of the highlights of the recent Academy Awards was the acceptance speech of Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, whose domestic drama A Separation won gold for best foreign language film. At a time of increasing tension and hostility, the dignified Farhadi made an eloquent plea for the world to see the humanity of ordinary Iranians.

His film is similarly eloquent in its depiction of a bitter marital dispute and the widening series of unexpected consequences stemming from it. Separation begins with a married couple seeking guidance from a judge. Both parents love their 12-year-old daughter, Termeh, but the mother, Simin, wants the family to move to another country where she can have a better life. The father, Nader, refuses to leave because that would mean abandoning his Alzheimer’s-afflicted father. Simin moves back to her mother’s house and Nader is forced to hire someone to supervise his father while he is at work. That arrangement goes disastrously awry and results in a complex lawsuit that could send Nader to prison. The underlying truth of the matter is hidden by a bewildering series of claims and counterclaims, and as the misunderstandings and lies pile up the well-meaning couple at the centre of the film see their marriage splinter ever further.

Despite the seeming ordinariness of the middle-class lives depicted in Separation, the film has an extraordinary impact. The humanity of these flawed characters is conveyed with  marvelous naturalism, while the mixture of the familiar with the slightly exotic – the strong religious aspect to their lives, and the deeply-ingrained sense of formal politeness even while angrily disputing life-and-death issues with strangers – adds a further layer of fascination. Well acted and emotionally compelling, Separation is, quite simply, a great film. M

 

 

A Separation ★v★★

Directed by Asghar Farhadi

Starring Leila Hatami

PG-13 – 123 minutes

Opens at the Odeon on Friday

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