Asghar Farhadi, Mary Pickford, Socialist Realism and More: My Films of the Week #20

As a lifelong cinephile, I have always consumed a copious amount of films. In this new feature, I keep track of the films I watch during the week. (Also, Click here to buy my book of thoughts on film, Eye of the Beholder, on Amazon!)

 

About Elly
dir. Asghar Farhadi
2009, Iran/France

Sudden tragedy shakes an extended family’s get together when one of the guests disappears. Asghar Farhadi once again reflects on social norms in this gripping thriller drama that unravels with the urgency of a direct cinema documentary. While it gets a little wordy towards the end, About Elly is supported by terrific performances from the cast ensemble.

 

The Man with One Red Show
dir. Stan Dragoti
1985, USA

An espionage comedy about an everyman framed to be chased by the CIA and eventually killed. Lacking pace and energy, and refusing to give in to its absurdity, this is a rather dull comedy and certainly a misstep in Tom Hanks’ early career as a leading man.

 

A Little Princess
dir. Marshall Neilan
1917, USA

This early adaptation of the famous novel of the same name sees a Mary Pickford in her mid-20s playing the leading 10-year-old, with the filmmakers surrounding her with giants and aptly proportionate props to make the casting work. This gives the movie a strangely surreal aura. In doing so, they certainly paid less attention to story and structure, as shown by the long and unnecessary “Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves” sequence.

 

Decoy
dir. Jack Bernhard
1946, USA

Decoy is a film produced by fabled American B-movie company Monogram and there’s a reason why these films were so highly regarded by such alternative filmmakers as Jean-Luc Godard. Aside from its shameless cheese, the best of these movies are less polished and more characteristically stylized than their mainstream counterparts from the same period. And as far as their output goes, this has to be among their best.

 

The Childhood of Maxim Gorky
dir. Mark Donskoy
1938, Soviet Union

The first part in a trilogy of movies based on the memoirs of the title author. While Socialist Realism is often maligned, particularly in reference to alternative cinemas like the New Waves and Surrealism, it had some golden moments. And The Childhood of Maxim Gorky shows that it could be edgier and even more interesting than similar counterparts that were being made in Hollywood at the same time, and that are inevitably far better known and discussed.

 

Looking for Venera
dir. Norika Sefa
2021, Kosovo/Macedonia

One of the gems of the 2021 International Film Festival Rotterdam for sure, as well as one heck of a feature debut by Norika Sefa. This coming of age drama about a young Kosovar girl longing for freedom from her family and conventions at large in a seemingly god-forsaken town is as gritty, yet humanist as it gets. Particular stylistic choices regarding camera angles and the film’s soundscape are also uniquely engaging.

 

18th & Grand: The Olympic Auditorium Story
dir. Stephen DeBro
2020, USA

A documentary on the legendary Los Angeles boxing and combat sports venue, The Olympic, and its trailblazing female promoter. I’m usually not the biggest fan of this type of standardized, historical documentary. However, I must admit that aside from the story being interesting and fast-paced, the music curation and mix of archive material, interviews and animation is particularly great here.

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