Thursday, November 2, 2023

Bob's Cinema Diary: Nov. 3, 2023 -- 'The Persian Version' and 'Fingernails'

The Persian Version


Though light-hearted, The Persian Version deals with serious issues pertaining to fragmented cultural identity and generational disconnection. Say this: Director Maryam Keshavarz isn't afraid to extend her reach. Early on we learn that Leila (Layla Mohammadi) has arrived at a point of friction with her immigrant mother (Niousha Noor). A fully contemporary young woman,  Leila aspires to be a screen writer. After breaking up with her gay wife  (Mia Foo), Leila becomes pregnant from a one-night fling with an actor (Tom Byrne) who's working in a stage production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Keshavarz also tells the story of Leila's mother, a determined woman who willed herself to succeed in America, becoming a business success when her physician husband (Bijan Daneshmand) was sidelined with heart issues.  Mom, the movie's most interesting character, has a backstory. She married at 14 while still in Iran. More complex and demanding than you might expect from a film that strives to leave a feel-good aftertaste, Mom's story could have been its own film. A strong Kamand Shafieisabet plays Mom as a young woman. Scattered as it can be and perhaps with too much on its plate, the Persian Version breaks into enough enjoyable pieces to sustain a 107-minute entertainment.


   Christos Nikou, known for directing Apples, a 2020 festival favorite, has lots going for him in Fingernails, a movie that involves an unwieldy and alarming conceit. 
   In the near future, someone has invented a device that analyzes fingernails to determine whether two people are a love match. Billed as a kind of marriage insurance, the procedure requires ripping out fingernails, a torment Nikou may have seen as the basis for a meaningful metaphor. 
 Stay calm: Nikou suggests more than he shows.
 But let's get back to the movie's strengths, which are concentrated in three names: Jessie Buckley, Riz Ahmed, and Jeremy Allen White, familiar from the hit series Bear. 
  Buckley plays Anna, a vaguely unhappy woman who takes a job with a company that tries to teach people how to love one another before submitting to the test that will determine whether they belong together. 
  A teacher by trade, Anna yearns for something that's missing from her marriage to White's Ryan, a dependable guy who no longer lights the spark of romance in their relationship.
 Ahmed plays Amir, one of Anna's co-workers, a lonely guy who slowly falls for her. The two share experiences helping couples at the Love Institute, a firm presided over by Luke Wilson's Duncan. 
   The movie sets up a conflict between emotional allure and "scientific" verification with Buckley and Ahmed giving performances that ripple with attraction and intelligence. 
   Their chemistry almost covers the contrived nature of the central conceit,  presumably intended to satirize the ridiculous notion that matters of the heart can come with guarantees.
   But the whole fingernail business also can feel like a gimmick that challenges credibility, and perhaps even common sense. That’s how I lean.

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