29 April 2022.
DOWNTON ABBEY: A New Era ***1/2
All is well with the world when one sees such a wonderfully satisfying film. One that is both familiar and new, about decent people whom we’ve been following over the years on TV. Creator and scriptwriter Julian Fellowes and director Simon Curtis have outdone themselves this time, maybe to make up for the first Downton film (2019) made about our favorite characters. That was a disappointment, like the awful “Sex and the City” spin-offs.
This one though is an absolute joy. It starts off with a wedding, and it has it all – the same endearing group, matured a bit, with a few more children, both upstairs and downstairs. A still marvelous Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess doing her caustic but now gentler thing – she should get an award for it all. There is a feel of contentment, a sweetness in the air, everyone is getting along.
For some excitement, as they are going into a new era, there is a film company that wants to use Downton as the location for their movie, offering a hefty amount of money. An offer that the Crawleys cannot quite refuse, despite their fear of the massive intrusion.
And then comes a special surprise. The family has mysteriously inherited a dream of a villa in the south of France. So they escape to this sunny, elegant idyll by the sea, while the film crew invades their manor. Carson is especially amusing in his huffy reactions to the French way of life – he is just too precious! There are multiple side stories that are a delight and keep us wondering at their outcome, while we smile, laugh and then finally cry at the flawless ending. All is fine with their new era…and with our hearts.
(Showing at the Cine17)
HIT THE ROAD ***1/2 (vo Farsi)
A family on the road through the starkly beautiful Iranian countryside. A burly, bearded father (Hassan Madjooni, of “Pig” fame) with a huge cast on his leg, the kind of fellow with a crusty exterior but a soft heart. An attractive mother (Pantea Panahiha) with a young face but grey hair, maybe from the sorrows she’s been through. Two brothers, one pensive, in his twenties (Amin Simiar), the other an adorable, rambunctious kid (Rayan Sarlak) always squirrelling around the car. And a sweet dog that seems to be on his last legs.
The film starts off with a Schubert refrain playing to the notes that the kid is tracing on his father’s cast. It sets the tone somehow, both light and ponderous. It’s not quite clear where they’re going and it seems a secret, for the mother at one time tells them she thinks they’re being followed, though she is mistaken.
This is an odyssey of a family who love each other deeply but also get on each other’s nerves, especially with the trepidation of the destination hanging over them. They each have their own character, their own little rituals and there are dance moves and singing in the car (especially by the precocious 6-year-old with the huge eyes), as Iranians love to do. Much of the laughter and banter hides the tears that will come later. Their interplay is thoroughly real and natural, as is their brilliant acting. The film reveals minor clues throughout the trip – they seem to have mortgaged their home to pay for the end of this journey, and they’re lying to the little boy that his brother is going off to get married.
As they get to their destination and are camping out, there is a wonderfully surrealistic scene under the starry sky where the father and child somehow float up into the sky. It is magical, as is this amusing and moving film about the price of freedom and the length these people need to go to achieve it.
Written and directed by Panah Panahi, the son of the great Iranian director Jafar Panahi, who was for many years under house arrest for his bold films against the constraints imposed by the government, it shows the young man has inherited his father’s keen eye and flair for storytelling.
He spins this melancholic tale with a deft and charming touch, and there’s a breath of fresh air often lacking in much of Iran’s quality cinema.
(Showing at the Scala)
MY SUNNY MAAD (MA FAMILLE AFGHAN) *** (vo Czech, English, Dari)
This animated film by Michaela Pavlatova won top prize at the Festival d’Annecy for its story of a Czech woman who follows her Afghani husband to his home country, trying to become part of his large family. It’s through her eyes that we see the difficulties and contradictions in a land that cannot break away from its strict religious background and its rigid traditions.
From the wedding night where her virginity has to be proven and her husband manages to protect her honor, to their taking in a deformed orphan as she cannot bear children, we live with her ups and downs. Through her simple animated figures, Pavlatova tells this tale of the wife trying to balance a European outlook with the love she has for her new-found family. Tragedy strikes and hard decisions have to be made. It is both touching and illuminating as it shows another, more intimate vision of a torn land.
(Showing only at the Cinelux)
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Neptune Ravar Ingwersen reviews film extensively for publications in Switzerland. She views 4 to 8 films a week and her aim is to sort the wheat from the chaff for readers.