Videophiled: Asghar Farhadi’s ‘The Past’ and Bruno Dumont’s ‘Camille Claudel 1915’

The Past (Sony, Blu-ray+DVD Combo, Digital, On Demand), Asghar Farhadi’s follow-up to his Oscar-winning A Separation, relocates from Iran to Paris to tell an equally nuanced story of the complications of marriage, romance, family, and communication. Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) has returned to Paris from Iran to finalize a divorce from Marie (Bérénice Bejo) and steps into a family drama involving his soon-to-be-ex-wife’s new man (Tahar Rahim), their angry and resentful kids, and a mystery that is really none of his business, which he investigates with a gentle remove that allows him to gloss over his own baggage until he, too, must confront his own issues and failings.

Like A Separation, The Past is a beautifully observed portrait of people who fail to communicate and the assumptions that accrue in the void of understanding, and a sympathetic presentation of flawed people who don’t always make the right decisions and aren’t even always honest with themselves, and he takes his time weaving defining details through the fabric of their lives. Bérénice Bejo, so bubbly and bright in The Artist, is remarkable as Marie, struggling to work through her own resentments after four years of separation with Ahmad.

In French and Farsi with English subtitles. The Blu-ray+DVD release features both formats in a single case plus commentary by director / writer Asghar Farhadi, a filmmaker Q&A from a screening at the Directors Guild of America and the featurette “Making The Past.”

Juliette Binoche stars in Camille Claudel 1915 (Kino Lorber, DVD, Digital HD, VOD), Bruno Dumont’s portrait of the artist during her imprisonment in an insane asylum and based on her correspondence with her brother Paul Claudel, a poet and Christian mystic whose compassion for his fellow man appears more theoretical than practiced. As Camille, famed sculptor and one-time lover of August Rodin, she is an anxious storm of anger and loss, racked with paranoia (she’s convinced that Rodin and his cronies are engineering her imprisonment and trying to poison her). But her greatest loss is not freedom but the ability to express her artistic drive and she is lucid compared to the other, seriously mentally challenged inmates. Her expression reveals an instinctive revulsion for these fellow patients, no doubt in part for the implicit suggestion that she is one of them, but also a compassion when she faces not the patient but the vulnerable human in need of help. The staff sees it in her too and they trust her to look after one or another of the patients at times. The savage duality of so many of Dumont’s characters and cultural collusions from previous films are seen here, but there’s also caring and compassion, at least until the film shifts to her brother Paul (Jean-Luc Vincent) and the insufferable piety that commits service to God at the expense of those on earth. French with English subtitles.

More new releases on disc and digital, including The Wolf of Wall Street, The Great Beauty, and The Punk Singer, are at Cinephiled

DVDs for 08/03/10 – Kick-Ass, A Prophet, Towards Zero

The best new release of the week is The Ghost Writer (Summit), which I review here for MSN, while the most enjoyable special release is a toss-up between the new DVD edition and the Blu-ray premiere of the original Roger Corman-produced Piranha, which I review on my blog here, and the box set Turner Classic Movies Spotlight: Errol Flynn Adventures (Warner). And there are more sets than I have time to cover as completely as they deserve: The First Films Of Akira Kurosawa (Eclipse Series 23) (Criterion), The Kim Novak Collection (Sony) and a massive Elvis 75th Anniversary DVD Collection (Warner) and more modest Elvis Blu-ray Collection (Warner). But given all that, the big release this week will surely be Kick-Ass (Lionsgate).

Chloë Grace Moretz takes aim at the comic book movie

Kick-Ass is a comic book movie with a killer premise: what if regular people in the real world became costume vigilantes like the superheroes in comic books? Based on the uber-violent comic by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr., this film tosses a high school teenager (Aaron Johnson) into a crime-fighting culture he isn’t the least bit prepared for, and then pairs him up with an adolescent schoolgirl (Chloë Grace Moretz) who has been trained by a mentally unbalanced (yet absolutely loving) father (Nicolas Cage) into becoming a ferocious filling machine. Yeah, it’s completely f*****d up, and that’s what is both right and wrong with the film. Your appreciation will depend in how much you can appreciate it’s utter wrongness as a twisted virtue. Or how much you appreciate Nicolas Cage’s impression of Adam West’s Batman. Matthew Vaughn directs with plenty of brutal black humor, but he can’t quite follow the real-world blowback all the way down the inevitable spiral of doom. For all the collision between adolescent fantasy and material world reality, it’s just another kind of superhero fantasy, but with more blood and expletives along the way.

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