+ "Offside": Jafar Panahi may be Iranian cinema’s most accessible filmmaker, and "Offside," a comedy about a group of girls who are caught attempting to disguise themselves and sneak in to a Bahrain-Iran World Cup qualifier match (women are banned from the stadium) is both entertaining and politically acrid (our New York Film Festival review of the film is here). At indieWIRE, Michael Koresky compares the film to another dealing with Iran (well, Persia) that’s currently in theaters:
[N]ot only does "Offside"’s very contemporary look at Iranian youth culture act as a nuanced corrective to Zack Snyder‘s conveniently "unintentional" Iran invasion propaganda (known before the mid-Thirties as, you guessed it, Persia) but also both films are literal calls to action — "Offside" for young women to assert their independence in a hideously patriarchal society that’s ever so slowly evolving due to burgeoning youth activism; "300" for Americans to stomp, slice, and hack their way through anything, or anybody, of a different color.
Meanwhile, Andrew O’Hehir at Salon notes that while Panahi’s films have almost all been banned from theaters in Iran, he had trouble getting a visa to come the US to promote the film either: "I am shocked, shocked, to report that when it comes to genuine questions of liberty, the Bush administration and the Iranian mullahs are on the same side."
Of the film itself, "Offside confounds expectations regarding genre as well as gender," writes J. Hoberman at the Village Voice. "Panahi has things both waysâ€”his movie is critical and utopian, cinema veritÃ© and political allegory." Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly considers the film "a light counterweight to [Panahi’s] sadder 2000 feminist drama The Circle," a film that A.O. Scott at the New York Times declares "one of the best works of cinema to come out of Iran in the past decade." He praises "Offside"’s "rich, pointed comedy," while noting that "the lightheartedness is often shadowed by the threat of real trouble, since even the lighthearted breaking of a silly rule can have serious consequences."
Keith Uhlich at Slant writes that while "Offside" "doesn’t lack for striking images," "Panahi is so concerned with a particular social problem (a law that forbids women to enter Iran’s spectator-sporting facilities) that he fatally neglects the cinemaâ€”the handheld DV camerawork flattens the argument as much as the visual texture." Noel Murray at the Onion AV Club likes the camerawork, writing that "What might’ve come off as stage-bound, like a didactic one-act play, instead contains the energy and tension of a major sporting event, as Panahi moves the camera between the women and their jailers, as though following a series of scoring rallies."
+ "The Page Turner": Revenge, lesbian lustings and chamber-music trios abound in Denis Dercourt‘s thriller, which stars DÃ©borah FranÃ§ois of "L’Enfant" as a thwarted piano prodigy who inveigles herself into the life of the woman who disrupted an audition of her years before. Nick Schager at Slant is one of many to see echoes of the films of Claude Chabrol, but sighs that it’s no "Merci Pour Le Chocolat"; it’s "a French thriller without a single thrill (but plenty of chuckles)." Manohla Dargis at the New York Times similarly declares that the film "is finally ersatz Chabrol, absent the masterâ€™s perverse wit, complex psychology, social sensitivities and visual flair." She does allow that while the film’s "parts donâ€™t really fit together…individually they are just fine," calling out Julie Richalet in particular as the younger incarnation of the character FranÃ§ois plays as an adult.
Jeff Reichert at indieWIRE praises FranÃ§ois’ performance, but cautions that "It may be subtitled, but don’t be fooled: ‘The Page Turner’ isn’t a great deal more sophisticated than ‘The Hand That Rocks the Cradle.’" Jim Ridley at the Village Voice muses that "Dercourt’s overbright visual scheme aims for a Michael Hanekeâ€“esque bourgeois chill that comes off instead as curiously bloodless," but likes the classical score and FranÃ§ois, "effective as an opaque dose of pretty poison." Andrew O’Hehir at Salon is a fan, writing that "it’s a fine example of the excellence of French genre film right now: A dark tale of revenge with an inscrutable heart, ice in its veins and an electric undercurrent of eroticism, it also might be the best-photographed picture I’ve seen so far this year."
+ "First Snow": Guy Pearce stars as New Mexico salesman who’s death is predicted by a fortuneteller in the directorial debut of Mark Fergus, one of the screenwriters behind "Children of Men." Stephen Holden at the New York Times is fond, calling it a "pointed little thriller with metaphysical pretensions" and "a mind-teaser that speaks the flat, evasive language of its seedy characters." Ella Taylor at LA Weekly salutes the films "great acting and pretty good writing," but finds that while it "has a fine sense of place and a small but terrific turn by veteran actress Jackie Burroughs… other than some instant messaging about living well as the best revenge on the certainty of death, it doesnâ€™t have much on its mind." Kristi Mitsuda at indieWIRE sums that film up as "an alternately witty and dull psychological thriller intriguingly lacking in suspense. Simplistic and yet not unintelligent, it only spottily achieves its canny aspiration: to produce tension despite having already divulged its end point."
At Slant, Eric Henderson is generally unimpressed by film’s determination to remain "resolutely low-key," but writes hilariously in praise of its star:
Pearce, whose jaw muscles increasingly look like vaginal lips even as his choice of parts continue to serve penance for playing cinema’s all-time hottest drag queen in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, unravels marvelously, even as his character alternately believes and disbelieves in his mortal interruption at the worst possible moments.
Jim Ridley at the Village Voice dismisses the film as a "moody, tedious anti-thriller about ineluctable fate"; Nathan Rabin at the Onion AV Club is scornful, observing that "First Snow echoes Pearce’s signature film Memento just closely enough to suffer by comparison."