Mini-reviews of two films, both enjoyable, and one which is at the top of my list of best films for 2011:

A Separation *****

You’re going to have to hunt around to find this film, which has been at various film festivals (and won numerous awards) but has not yet been released widely here.

If you find it, you’re in for a treat.

I hesitate to say too much about the film, both because I don’t want to spoil it, oversell it, and for fear that folks will be turned off by the fact that it’s an Iranian film with subtitles and a bit long.

I’ve always felt that Pirandello’s play Six Characters in Search of an Author is my ideal of good theatre/writing, where each character wants you to see the world/the conflict being portrayed from his/her point of view. And that’s what’s so good about A Separation. Each of the four main characters, five if you include the 11 year old daughter, want you to understand their point of view. And writer/director Ashgar Farhadi is quite successful in not taking sides. At various times, I found myself identifying and/or ‘rooting’ for each of the various characters to emerge ‘the hero.’

The film is set in present day Iran and gives a very different view of that country than the one we get from the current media.  It is basically a drama that unfolds as the individuals portrayed struggle to cope with issues of family relationships, class, gender, age, religion, and the unintended consequences of their own actions.

Tho set in Iran and with aspects that are particular to that setting, the issues the characters struggle with are in many ways universal. It is a contemporary tragedy that has much to teach us.

Maybe the best film I’ve seen all year.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy  ****

Wonderful acting by Gary Oldman who plays the role of George Smiley, the retired (forced) British spy who is called back into service to find the Soviet mole in the British Intelligence Service..

I can’t say as I could always follow the ins and outs of Smiley’s thinking and approach to accomplishing his task. But eventually, I just sort of sat back and let the film do all the ‘work.’

John le Carrie’s 1974 novel was made into a seven-part televison series starring Alec Guinness, and I think I saw it. But I can’t imagine any better portrayal of Smiley than the one done here by Oldman. And there are other good performances too.

The film doesn’t hurry you along, but it keeps you engaged all the way through.