Local cinemas this week

An Iranian drama that soars, and hokum high in the sky

No Date, No Signature

Outside of the Film Festival, very few Iranian films ever manage to find arthouse screens in Sydney. In the last decade I can only think of three, and they all seem to be a certain type – blisteringly raw kitchen sink dramas with realistically-drawn people facing tough situations and seemingly impossible dilemmas. They also tend to cast a highly critical eye over Iranian society (Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation and The Salesman). Which certainly isn’t a bad thing of course, not for those who appreciate confronting and honest cinema with enough meat on the bone to chew on for hours if not days afterwards.

Writer/director Vahid Jalilvand’s No Date, No Signature, which screened at the recent Sydney Film Festival, fits that mould perfectly. Driving home one night, doctor Kaveh ­Nariman (Amir Aghaee) collides with a motorbike ridden by Moosa (Navid Mohammadzadeh), his wife Leila (Zakiyeh Behbahani) and their two children. No one is seriously injured and eight year-old Amir seems to be suffering only mild concussion, so no accident report is made. Dr Nariman urges the boy’s father to take him to hospital though, offering him money both as compensation for the accident and enough to cover any fees. (Later we learn that although the doctor is a respected and rigorous professional, his third-party insurance was in arrears). Then two days later the boy turns up dead at the morgue Nariman works in. A colleague (Hediyeh Tehrani) does the autopsy and pronounces natural causes. The conscience-stricken doctor is convinced otherwise, however he says nothing.

This all happens in first act and at first it seems we’re in for a simple run-of-mill moral drama. Will he stay silent? Surely the truth will come out and his reputation ruined, especially as Moosa spots Dr Nariman at his workplace… But Jalilvand has a far more ambitious film in mind than that – one that spirals us deeper into the doctor’s state of mind as well as examining the sharp class divisions in Iran and the way its justice system works. As the story broadens out and the more we learn about the circumstances surrounding Amir’s death, the worse the situation becomes for everyone. The result is a satisfying and knotty psychological drama – the sort we don’t see nearly enough of in this country. If this is the sort of sensitive and intelligent cinema routinely made in Iran, then please can we have some more? M from July 12 at Dendy Newtown (limited season – be quick). ★★★★1/2


Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s latest action-blockbuster takes place in a Chinese gazillionaire’s (Chin Han) brand new Hong Kong tower, one so tall it makes James Packer’s planned Barrangaroo one look puny. At 3500 ft, “The Pearl” easily pips the Burj Kualifa as the world highest “supertall.” But what a pity that it doesn’t actually exist… And a shame too that the action is at night, denying us tall building fans (ahem, blush) a chance to fully take in its architectural wonders. Early too-brief establishing scenes do show us some of its gee-whizz features though, like the internal 30 storey waterfall in the lobby and its “transparent” walkway on the 244th floor (below), wow… And are at pains to point out its “carbon-negative” green cred. Even CGI mirages need to be environmentally responsible, it seems.

But take note Barrangaroo Authority, amazing tall buildings attract terrorists like flies to a steaming pile of poo. Fortunately, The Rock has been hired as security consultant. His wife (Neve Campbell) and family are resident guests too, though precariously lodged way up there and in harm’s way when the explosions go off. Which is pretty early on, writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber wastes little time before giving the millions around the world (particularly in China) who will flock to this what they came for – something they’ve probably already seen in the trailers. That’s Dwayne’s gravity-and-logic-defying leap from a crane at 96 floors up, followed by a satisfying number of heart-pumping, vertigo-inducing scenes – like the ones where he’s scrambling round the outside of the tower relying on only the adhesive qualities of reverse duct tape. “This is stupid,” he mutters as he steps out the window in his gaffa-taped boots. Yes of course it is, and the audience whoops in furious agreement.

The whole movie is stupid – good-natured, goofy, bat-shit crazy and also, happily, good rollicking fun. That’s Dwayne’s brand, its what made him Hollywood’s most bankable star, and only crusty critics who’ve grumpily sat through too many similar films (this is Dwayne’s third this year – and its only July) will yawn and use words like “derivative”. Not me, (why bother and who cares anyway), I just had a great time, and so did my partner – not someone who usually accompanies me to similar popcorn product. Unfortunately she nicked out to the bathroom just as the reason for the terrorist plot was being explained. Later I tried to outline the insanely convoluted rationale of the bad guys (one of whom was our own Noah Taylor). But she cut me off and said “Does it matter?” No, of course it doesn’t. M from July 12. Inner west venues include Palace Norton St, Palace Central and just about everywhere else ★★★1/2

Also opening this week

The Gospel According to André  at Dendy Newtown (unpreviewed)

Reviews – Russell Edwards