Film Reviews by PD

Welcome to PD's film reviews page. PD has written 39 reviews and rated 127 films.

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Jojo Rabbit

Awful

(Edit) Updated 26/05/2020

Oh dear. It's difficult to put into words how bad this one is. The premise is certainly intriguing - Hitler as imaginary friend to little Hitler Youth member Jojo, but unfortunately Roman Griffin Davis as Jojo is rather one-dimensional throughout, and Waititi’s badly misjudged performance as Hitler underlines the fact that the film is (and I'm assuming it's trying to be both) neither a hard-hitting satire nor a heartwarming 'love conquers all' piece, but ultimately a bland work from which I was glad to be released.

I like the idea of ironic anti-Semitism, like the idea of treating horror with ridicule, like the idea of a film which wants to rub our faces in the horrible thing and making us confront it with an amusing tonic that helps the medicine go down, but this definitely ain't it, and after a few potential threads, Waititi ultimately just opts for the path of least resistance and you're left wondering what the point of it all was, frankly. For the film fails to attack, or even really notice, the evil before us, and the moments when people are shown hanged in the streets serve only to point up the sanitised, a-historical silliness of everything we're shown on-screen which means we are given precious little to think about en route. Awful.

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The Importance of Being Oscar

Watchable enough but rather superficial

(Edit) Updated 20/05/2020

One of those rather superficial BBC things which rapidly runs through the life and works of Wilde before his downfall without much in the way of depth. The format is quite a promising one, combining as it does acted scenes from some of the works with various bods commenting and making connections, but there's nothing new here, and some of the comments border on the trite. Nevertheless, it's watchable enough, and from time to time there's something to dwell on, notably the sections concerning the belief that Art doesn’t imitate life, but the other way round, as we learn from Wilde's lovely, lesser-known essay, 'The Decay of Lying', dramatised well here. “Where, if not from the impressionists, do we get those wonderful brown fogs that come creeping down our streets, blurring the gas lamps and changing the houses into monstrous shadows?” said one croquet-playing fop to another. “At present, people see fogs, not because they are fogs, but because poets and painters have taught them the mysterious loveliness of such effects.” Wilde’s grandson Merlin Holland sensibly tells us that, bewitched by his plays and stories, we have neglected Wilde’s essays. In 'The Critic as Artist', Wilde wrote: “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.”

However, most of the commentary is pretty juvenile, telling us how great Wilde was (no, never!?) and how perfect the 'Importance of Being Earnest' is (yawn), and only occasionally do we get something meaty to chew over, notably Gyles Brandreth reminding us that several of Wilde's rent-boys were 16 when they gave testimony (and so younger when Wilde had sex with them), but yet there’s no sign Wilde had any regrets - there's a telling quote from 'De Profundis' in which Wilde declared: 'People thought it dreadful of me to have entertained at dinner the evil things of life, and to have found pleasure in their company. But they … were delightful and stimulating. It was like feasting with panthers. The danger was half the excitement.' There's no comment on that, but for me that 'feasting with panthers' bit makes it sound as though Wilde considered himself willing prey when, arguably, he was the predator. All in all therefore, vaguely entertaining for an hour or so but all a bit fluffy.

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High Art

Impressive & sensitive

(Edit) 12/05/2020

Not the sort of thing I'd normally, watch tbh, but during the 'lockdown' etc ... and so pleased I took a punt on this. The strength is mainly Lisa Cholodenko’s script, which totally avoids the usual cliches with considerable sensitivity.

The film revolves around two women whose lives change as a result of a chance meeting in the building where both reside. Protagonist is Syd (superbly played by Rahda Mitchell), a young, idealistic and ambitious editor-in-training at 'Frame', an art photography magazine. Syd enters the flat of her neighbour, Lucy Berliner (Sheedy), as an outsider, suspiciously observing the latter’s friends as they go about their party routines with booze and drugs: (there's an an awful of lot of this - and perhaps the contrast between Syd’s clean and naive world and Lucy’s sophisticated, and, 'decadent' one is perhaps a tad overcooked). But the film's strength is the depiction of how the tentative friendship between Syd and Lucy evolves, and this is totally convincing, the younger Syd striving to achieve professional recognition in an industry driven by fashion and hype, battling with Lucy, the disaffected photographer prodigy who’s seen and done it all. The beauty of Cholodenko’s writing is that she etches the evolving friendship, and the transformation of the two women. I normally just fast forward through any 'sex scenes' on the screen, but here, with the heat and the awkward physicality, it's beautifully portrayed in such a way that we feel less like an awkward, intrusive 'voyeur' and more like a confidante. Similarly, the film also painstakingly dissects the culture of 'heroin chic' and its implications - one scene perfectly captures the ambivalence we feel when torn between self-interest and self-sacrifice, between protecting ourselves from trouble and throwing ourselves into dangerous situations to prove commitment to our longtime companions. Impressive stuff.

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The Truth

A subtle masterpiece

(Edit) 29/04/2020

This piece, the first film by Hirokazu Kore-eda outside his native Japan, is a beautifully written drama in which a larger-than-life film-star diva — in this case, Catherine Deneuve — portrays a larger-than-life film-star diva. And Deneuve is utterly splendid as Fabienne Dangeville, a legendary French actress, now in her 70s, who approaches every moment with an 'I’m-still-here' tenacity which is at once steely and borderline tyrannical. Deneuve makes Fabienne a proudly narcissistic and theatrical glamour puss who has no patience for the idea that she should pretend to be anything other than the devious, self-adoring prima donna she is, although Fabienne is such a sly manipulator, so droll about her own royal ego, that we can’t help but feel drawn to her in a funny way. Kore-eda’s seamless dialogue is pitch-perfect throughout, suffused with the comedy of experience, and totally congruent with the cosmopolitan air of its French movie-world setting,

At the heart of the film is the relationship between Fabienne and her daughter Lumir, superbly played by Juliette Binoche, whose low-key but flawless performance is a perfect match for Kore-eda's sophisticated, subtle script. The heart of the film unfolds in Fabienne’s rustic suburban country home, where Lumir grew up, but as seemingly idyllic as the setting is, the memories are distinctly uncomfortable. Yet when confronted with the lies contained in her memoir, Fabienne offers no apology. It’s not in her nature to admit flaws; she maintains a tone of self-justifying blitheness. Fabienne speaks her mind to a fault, but after a while we realise that she’s never not acting. As the tensions mount, most films of this ilk would end build up towards an eruption of pain and confrontation, or (worse) to a soul-wrenching resolution involving copious tears and hugs. And many might feel the film that the film is weaker for not having these, but for the film is all the better for it - more believable, and ultimately more truthful.

There's some really effective touches, motifs and sub-plots, effortlessly woven into the action, notably the periodic detours to the set of the film Fabienne is shooting - inevitably, a mother-daughter drama, which offers a running commentary on the story we’re watching. Fabienne is actually cast as the daughter; that’s because the film’s sci-fi premise is that her sick mother went off into space (where you don’t age). So in many scenes, Fabienne plays a spiritual version of her own daughter: desperate, abandoned, reaching out to the mother she loves. It’s through this subplot that Kore-eda exhumes one of his oldest preoccupations: the permanence of film versus the impermanence of memory. Everything that happens between mother and daughter in the present is filtered through that past, and nothing in “The Truth” is more uncomfortably honest than the notion that families are cast much like films are cast; once people settle into their roles, it can become impossible to imagine them being played differently, or by anyone else. The beauty of Kore-eda’s film, despite its apparently light touch, is in the rhetorical way it wonders if it’s possible for people to separate themselves from those performances. A subtle masterpiece from a great director.

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Long Day's Journey Into Night

Much to Admire

(Edit) Updated 29/04/2020

So, if you need anything like a 'plot' to keep you amused for two hours, you need to leave this one well alone, but if you're prepared to simply immerse yourself in artistic beauty, this one from Bi Gan has much to offer. It's one of those that's deliberately bewildering, plunging viewers into an extended dream - meets - subconscious - meets - unreliable memory world in the name of abstract motifs such as memory, time, and space, swimming in artsy references and ostentatious technical exercises.

The first half is very challenging indeed, and I suspect that many will fall by the wayside as a result, but everything (literally and metaphorically) takes off in the second half, with a hugely impressive hour-long continuous take in 3d. There's a voiceover reciting the director’s own poetry, hints of a criminal past and some regret over an old love; the film deliberately, if perhaps rather too self-consciously, evoking film noir by weaving in some fragmented backstory about someone who was murdered, and a mystery related to a gun, but given the wilfully obscure timelines and elliptical dialogue, nothing clear emerges; instead, you just have to surrender to the film’s aesthetics - and some of the cinematography by “Mustang” DP David Chizallet is truly inspired. The sheer range and weirdness of activity, including a surreal ping-pong match and a long, slow plunge down a cliff via a cable-car foreground the difficult and elaborate camera setups.

Bi cites a truckload of artistic references and inspiration, from Chagall to Dante, from Billy Wilder to Modiano (whose short story “Last Evenings on Earth” is chosen as the Chinese title - don't expect anything to do with Eugene O'Neil), although the connections are a tad tenuous, whilst, by contrast, the influence of Wong Kar-wai on the visual style, nostalgic songs, femmes fatales with retro haircuts, the theme of transience invoked by broken-clock motifs, and the staged poses of lovers in a permanent state of aroused but unrequited desire, is clear if perhaps a little too obvious in places; meanwhile, the largely unprofessional cast largely gives us range of standalone emotive facial expressions rather than anything resembling 'character'. Liu Qiang’s production design evokes the recesses of the mind through dark, underground sets like a coalmine shaft, a basement pool hall, and flooded chambers with leaking roofs and dripping walls reminiscent of Tsai Ming-liang locales, whilst, with its ethereal electronic touches, the wonderful score by Lim Giong and Point Hsu contributes most of the dreamlike tone intended. Much to admire here, but definitely hard work at times!

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Judy and Punch

Packs a Punch

(Edit) 07/04/2020

This highly original, deliberately disturbing, piece is a tale of domestic-violence revenge with a fairy-tale like quality. The plot's rather basic and the feminist message isn't very subtle, whilst some of the comedic touches are a tad clumsy, but Mirrah Foulkes' script and direction are largely excellent, and there's so many wonderful, ingenious touches that overall it's a highly enjoyable watch (if not for the squeamish or easily offended). The whole cast play their respective parts with great gusto (I suspect they really enjoyed themselves), but Mia Wasikowska is particularly good as Judy, who perfectly combines her vulnerability and inner strength, and Damon Herriman's Punch neatly displays the toxic combination of the demon drink and the need for applause. The design is simply spellbinding, whilst Francois Tetaz's wacky, sinister score which includes pretty much everything from light orchestra to retro prog-rock, is a perfect accompaniment to the incongruous matching of the brutality and absurdity being played out on screen. Terrific stuff.

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.

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So Long, My Son

Powerful, understated drama

(Edit) 24/03/2020

In a nutshell, this long (over 3 hour) film examines the lasting damage done by China’s one-child policy and the Cultural Revolution. The story is an intimate one, yet it embraces a large cast of characters who reflect the immense changes that have swept China over the last 50 years, and shows the resilience of those Chinese who lived through it all who were later able to recover their faith in life.

The entire film is cleverly constructed out of flashbacks to the 1970s and '80s that tell the characters’ backstories a little at a time. It can be a tad confusing at times (you feel the need to turn back the pages as it were) but, particularly the first half, in which we get to know the characters, is thoroughly engrossing, and the script can be forgiven for sometimes withholding crucial information until it's ready to divulge it. Whereas other films have revealed the horrors of the death camps and whatnnot, here the scenes set during the Cultural Revolution are relatively restrained - the film being more interested in showing the steep personal price individuals paid, which affected the rest of their lives. A powerful, understated piece.

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Official Secrets

watchable but simplistic

(Edit) Updated 13/03/2020

This piece deals with some very important themes (conscience vs career/life and the 'legality' of war to name but two) but rather eschews any depth or difficulty in favour of a rather run-of-the-mill tv style drama which unfortunately simply has the effect of dissipating the impact it should have.

Knightley is very engaging as our heroine, and despite being rather incongruously glamourously beautiful she does pretty well with a basic script; she's particularly good at conveying the character's sheer vulnerability. Unfortunately, much of the rest of the (strong on paper) cast are reduced to stereotypes with the result that it's difficult to take it seriously at times. And whilst there are some good moments (notably, some chilling original footage of Blair, in full tv evangelist mode, telling us that 'war is not inevitable' (a classic case of 'never believe it until it has been officially denied'!) and a stoney-eyed Bush casually informing us of the 'links' between Saadam and Al Qaeda) there's way too many cliche-ridden and melodramatic scenes for the thing to be believable (you get the feeling that the 'reality' was much more interesting). Moreover, whilst I get that making the intricacies of the law / political context are extremely tricky to make 'entertaining', much of the script is based on the premise that the audience is simply too stupid to grasp the complexities of the subject - there's that BBC news-style of constantly repeating things to make sure we've 'got it' for one thing, and some of the writing could, sadly, been lifted straight from Wikipedia.

So all in all a watchable enough piece but not one that we'll ever come back to, I fear. All the Presidents Men it ain't, I'm afraid.

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Roma

Compelling viewing

(Edit) Updated 05/03/2020

In this superb film, Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón uses a large canvas to tell the story of 'ordinary' lives that are, of course, extraordinary. Shot in black and white, the film is set in Mexico City in the early 1970s (apparently a re-creation of Cuarón’s home as a child), and centres on a young indigenous woman who works as a maid for a middle-class white family that’s in danger of falling apart. Cuarón uses one household on one street as a synecdoche of the city (the country?), working on an epic scale but with a distinctly personal sensibility with the effect that the film is less of a drama than a meditation on the past or a dream.

The film is set for the most part in a neighbourhood where families live behind locked gates, and where a myriad of servants busily keep homes running. In one such house, Cleo (the quite wonderful Yalitza Aparicio) lives with and works for a multi-generational family that seems incapable of doing the slightest thing for itself. A series of events slowly upends the stability of this world, and the film includes an earthquake, an unexpected pregnancy, death and betrayal, but carries you through with the sheer power of its humanism. In one of the most astonishing sequences, Cleo and the family’s grandmother, Señora Teresa (Verónica García), watch a student demonstration turn into a police riot through the window of a furniture showroom. Cuarón doesn’t identify the incident — apparently known as the Corpus Christi Massacre of 1971 — but gives us harrowing flashes of chaotic violence and human suffering.

Like Cleo, the camera is often mobile, anticipating and following her movements like a faithful companion, whilst the family’s four children tend to blur into a cacophonous but rather charming little mob. The constantly-on-edge mother, Sofía (Marina De Tavira) is unfairly berated by her husband and she, in turn, occasionally rebukes Cleo, a chain of exploitation that Cuarón represents coolly, occasionally letting a camera movement comment for him. There's a minimal plot, and this, together with its length, might put off some, but for those with patience, there's much to admire in Cuarón's vision of a woman and a world shaped by a colonialist past that inexorably weighs down the present without being at all heavy-handed - the director's, and Cleo's, viewpoints are instead created via visual choices, staging and camerawork. There are many scenes that can be truly called 'great', perhaps particularly two stunning sequences, one involving childbirth, and one towards the end involving dangerous waters, that are viscerally terrifying and emotionally overwhelming.

Few of the male characters come out of this tale very well, and of course the film is dedicated to Liboria Rodríguez (“for Libo”), the woman who raised him, who is beautifully depicted as something of a stoic, loving, heroic figure that is totally compelling.

3 out of 3 members found this review helpful.

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Honeyland

Powerful and intriguing

(Edit) 05/03/2020

Directed by Ljubomir Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska, this film is a documentary about the life and labours of one Hatidze Muratova. Originally commissioned to make a video about conservation efforts in Macedonia, the filmmakers apparently spent three years with Hatidze, and as a result, the film is great at recording the rhythms and textures of rural life, the directors shaping their observations into a neorealist fable; an impossibly stirring tale of struggle, persistence and change.

Hatidze lives with her mother Nazife, who is bedridden and partly blind, a dog named Jackie, a few cats, and ... quite a few industrious bees. Hatidze’s methods are intimate and humane; she’s endowed with a loving touch that, seemingly, the bees and the other animals recognise. She speaks to them and sings to them, but, above all, she nurtures and nourishes them, telling the bees, “half for you, half for me”, treating the hives that she sustains on another rock wall, alongside her home, with familial care. And Hatidze isn’t entirely isolated from the rest of the world. Skopje is only a little more than 12 miles away, and she travels there, on foot and by train, to sell her honey. Because of its superior quality and her shrewdness, it fetches a good price. But just as we are settling into Hatidze’s company, appreciating the edges and contours of her personality and savouring the deep pleasure of her work, the pastoral calm is shattered by a family rumbling into the village in a noisy trailer that turns out to be the quietest thing about it. At first, Hatidze welcomes these neighbours - Turkish speakers like her, but the the sheer chaos that surrounds them conspire to disrupt Hatidze’s routines. From this point the film unfolds with a novelistic intricacy and tightly sprung dramatic mechanism, and we get caught up in its destructive power, its brewing enmities, and its overarching, tragic sense of the disturbance of cosmic order.

Films of this kind inevitably raise questions - I found myself wondering what she thought of the filmmakers who were following her on this perilous mission—how she and they arranged the shooting, and what effect the filmmakers’ presence had on her. Solitude is one of the film’s prime subjects and also its dramatic mainspring, and its details and practicalities are merely hinted at, and rather unexplored. Much of the movie is filmed in the Muratova home; Hatidze displays the daily details of her domestic life and her labours to the filmmakers, who must have virtually lived with her for the time while they were filming. But the terms of their complicity, the relationship that they and Hatidze share, remain a somewhat frustrating blank. However, for all of this, this is powerful, intriguing work.

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.

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Mr. Jones

missed opportunity?

(Edit) 21/02/2020

As the blurb states, in this piece Agnieszka Holland tells the important story of Welsh journalist Gareth Jones who uncovered Stalin's genocidal famine in Ukraine in the early 30s. And it is the extended section of Jones' journey to Ukraine which is easily the strongest part of the film, with the post-apocalyptic nightmare depicted with minimal dialogue and including some powerful, soul-stirring touches shown without sentiment.

Unfortunately, much of the rest of the film is rather plodding and pretty obvious, and there are some pretty awkward touches such as an ill-judged attempt to shoe-horn George Orwell into proceedings; even during the Ukraine section there's rather one too many unnecessary melodramatic elements which of course only serve to undermine the full of horror of what is taking place. The film as a whole also plays fast and loose with the historical record, and whilst I've no problem in principle with this, it is a bit odd given the wonderful source material at hand - there's so many details in Jones' real-life diaries and newspaper reports which you would have thought would have worked well on screen. So all in all a well-intentioned piece but something of a missed opportunity, I fear.

4 out of 5 members found this review helpful.

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Phoenix

social drama meets gothic horror

(Edit) 13/02/2020

The first half of this debut film by Norwegian writer-director Camilla Strøm Henriksen is a really gripping social drama-meets-southern gothic horror. It centres on the travails of a teenage girl, Jill (a really good debut performance by Ylva Bjørkaas Thedin), who has been forced into early adulthood by the collapse of her parents’ marriage and the subsequent depression that has sent her mother Astrid (Maria Bonnevie) into a drunken torpor. Much of the early action is really effective since it takes place solely inside the dark family apartment, where Jill looks after and protects her (amazingly stoical given what he has to put up with) younger brother Bo from her mother’s destructive urges. The sheer suffocating claustrophobia of the family 'space' is very well done, with some psychological depth to some scenes, whilst the impending visit of their dad, Nils (Sverrir Gudnason), who is due to play a gig on Jill’s birthday, offers Jill hope of relief and release.

Unfortunately in the second half, when we move outside the home, the tension of the first half is dissipated somewhat, and the surreal horror elements don't work nearly as well in the bright and superficially beautiful flats and 'posh' restaurants, with the result that the suggestion that the emotional wall that Jill has had to build up to handle the whims of her mother may also be stamping on her own mental development doesn't hit home nearly as much as it should. Meanwhile, the film is left with nowhere to go somewhat with the consequence that the ending is convenient rather than satisfactory. Nevertheless, it's a strong debut from Henriksen in which the understated performances are very well-handled.

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.

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Pain and Glory

underwhelming

(Edit) 05/02/2020

Largely agree with TE's review. In the film there's a poster on a wall advertising Fellini’s 8 1/2, and this is one of those type of films which pretty much all directors of a certain age feel the need to make - that self-disclosing semi-autobiographical drama in which they look back on their youth, career, trials and tribulations & so on. It works to a degree - not least because of a superb, nuanced performance by Antonio Banderas as an ageing, gay, Madrid-based auteur; and there are some lovely touches, especially in the flashback scenes to his childhood and his relationship with his mother. But the film is a little self-indulgent, as these sort of films tend to be, and it tends to be much heavier on the 'pain' than the 'glory' (I find people snorting heroin impossible to watch, and there's an awful lot of this - agree with TE that 'Addiction' would have been a more apt title), although the last half hour certainly leaves us on much a much more uplifting note. Rather than having a plot as such, the film slips from one short story to the next, and whilst I've not a problem with this at all in principle, I must admit I was left a little underwhelmed by it all somehow. This leads me to suspect that unless you're die-hard fan of Almodóvar, you'll most likely see it as not one of his best.

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Animals

Plenty to admire, but ...

(Edit) 25/01/2020

Plenty to admire here - but for me the many strong component parts of the film don't coalesce effectively enough for it to be (unlike Emma Jane Unsworth's novel) nearly hard-hitting enough. It's basically a comedy but with some dark edges about an underexamined subject (in film anyway) of female friendship, touted by some critics (not entirely without merit) as a 'Withnail & I' with women. Holliday Grainger and Alia Shawkat are pretty good as hard-partying, cocaine-snorting millennials, and many will be able to relate to the decrying of the conventionality of marriage and monogamy often declaimed by Shawkat's character Tyler. It's often insightful about the complexity of female friendships, and the interplay between Laura and Tyler is a very plausible mix of co-dependence, platonic desire and sisterly intimacy.

But .... despite the feisty amusement with which Shawkat dishes out her lines, with Grainger bantering back at equal pace, the dialogue often falls rather flat, and sometimes sounds surprisingly (given Unsworth's involvement) amateurish. Tyler is also too often Laura's foil, and although Grainger nails the Dublin accent and various local performers fill out the cast, these young folk don't sound much like Dubliners to me, and the 'sense of place' as it were feels weirdly artificial, like a very studious reproduction of Dublin youth culture made by someone who's never actually been there. Meanwhile, there are some truly awkward touches, such as some shots of urban foxes (to underscore the characters' supposedly animal natures?) which border on the trite. So all in all for me watchable enough but not one I'll be particularly recommending, especially to those who enjoyed the book.

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3 Faces

Impressive and brave

(Edit) 17/01/2020

This latest offering from Iranian director Jafar Panahi is another not-so subtle political allegory, with the director taking twinned roles of director and driver, as in 'Taxi Tehran'. He again plays himself (or at least a version of himself) and spends a large part of the film behind the wheel motoring through the Iranian countryside to help an actress (Behnaz Jafari, also playing herself) find a missing woman. In so doing they also find other women, including one who remains invisible to the camera, and thus is raised the theme of gender division that runs through the film. The division between fiction and documentary, performance and 'real life', and the intimate claustrophobia of the car, becomes an emblem of the larger interior-exterior divide faced by all the characters, particularly the women; the question of a woman’s proper role — onscreen and off — is raised time and time again. There's also some quirky touches and gentle humour, particularly in scenes involving the villagers, although perhaps the humour isn't quite as cutting as it was in 'Taxi Tehran'.

Quite a few of the plot twists are perhaps a tad contrived, and the defiant ending seems rather implausible to me, but this is still an impressive and brave piece of work.

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