A United Kingdom (2017) starring David Oyelowo & Rosamund Pike

NOTE: This review contains MILD SPOILERS for the film.

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A poster for the film.

The personal IS political in this (based on a true story) film now playing widely in the US.  I went to a  screening last MON night (thanks to free passes via a movie Meetup).  The director is Amma Asante; she previously made a big splash w/ Belle.  This film has some of the same themes, BUT is set on a much broader/grander stage.  The setting is 1947 in London, a place and time when interracial relationships were legal, yet NOT widely viewed positively.  You’ll see old-school racism in some scenes, which could be uncomfortable for a modern audience. 

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Ruth (Rosamund Pike) and Seretse (David Oyelowo) walk and talk the night away in foggy London.

Seretse Khama (Oyelowo), the crown prince of Bechunaland (modern-day Botswana), has recently finished his law studies at Oxford.  He is articulate, cultured, and a good boxer (which comes in handy in one scene).  One night, Seretse meets Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike), a clerk for an insurance company.  She wasn’t expecting to meet anyone special when she tagged along w/ her little sister, Muriel (Laura Carmichael- Lady Edith in Downton Abbey), to a dance at a missionary hall. Ruth is a former WAAF ambulance driver and has a curious mind. They bond first over their idealistic views and love of jazz.

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Ruth and Seretse after their civil (city hall) wedding.

No man is free who is not master of himself.Seretse Khama says to his tribe (when he returns home from England)

At that time, Bechunaland (a small, peaceful, yet poor nation) was a protectorate of England. The British government (incl. its reps, like Alistair Canning, played by Jack Davenport) was against the union of the Khamas, which went against the wishes of Seretse’s uncle (the prince regent) and South Africa (which had recently put apartheid into law). Seretse and his African friends consider apartheid as a “disease” which should NOT be allowed to spread.

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Alistair Canning (Jack Davenport) and his wife (Jessica Oyelowe, real-life wife of David).

There is exposition woven into the film; that can be clunky, BUT is needed to give the audience pertinent info.  Anton Lesser’s Labour Party minister does a GREAT job w/ it in his (brief) scene, thanks to his deft way of conveying the words.  I wanted to see a BIT more of the British minor characters, such as the journalist (Mr. Nash) and the liberal Labour Party members.  As for the African actors, the woman playing Seretse’s sister did an especially good job.  

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A picture of the real Seretse and Ruth Khama in what is now modern-day Botswana.

As with Belle, the film is beautiful to look at visually. In the first section of the film (set-up/courtship), we see fog, clouds, and less saturation (b/c of the filter used).  This is quite different from what we see when we go to Africa; the colors are much more vibrant and the sun (of course) shines brightly. 

In my mind, this is NOT only a story of love, BUT one of commitment, which is becoming more and more rare in today’s world (no matter what race/national origin of a couple).  In Seretse’s life, his marriage w/ Ruth was what propelled him into a fight with the British government, securing mineral rights for his people, and eventually- forming a democracy. Wow, this is SO much cooler than what went down w/ Edward and Wallis Simpson, right?     

 

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Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)

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Photo from the poster of the film

Hannah (Mia Farrow), Holly (Dianne Wiest), and Lee (Barbara Hershey) are sisters (somewhere in their 30s) from a show business family in Manhattan. Their parents, Norma (Maureen O’Sullivan- Farrow’s real mother) and Evan (Lloyd Nolan) are still together, though can be combative and cranky towards each other.

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Thanksgiving at Hannah and Elliot’s Upper West Side Manhattan apartment

Hannah has been married to Elliot (Michael Caine) for four years. He is a British financial advisor, but has a penchant for poetry. Unbeknownst to Hannah, he has developed feelings for Lee (revealed via his internal monologue at the opening of the film). 

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Elliot (Michael Caine)

However, Lee has been living for several years w/ an older European painter, Frederick (Max Von Sydow). He isn’t a people person, but is a boyfriend, mentor, and financial support for Lee.  

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A view of Central Park

Hannah is the success of the sibling trio, but taking a break from acting to raise her children. Her first husband, Mickey (Woody Allen), is a comedy show writer and hypochondriac. Mickey goes on a (rather funny) quest for religion, fearing he might die soon.  

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A flashback scene: Mickey (Woody Allen) and Holly (Dianne Wiest) at a concert

Holly is the insecure single sister who is a struggling actress; she recently started a catering business with her actress friend (or perhaps frenemy), April (Carrie Fisher). One time, Hannah even set up Holly w/ Mickey. (Wow, looks like even 30 yrs ago, there was a lack of eligible single men in NYC- LOL!)

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April (Carrie Fisher)

On a catering job, Holly and April meet an architect, Michael (Sam Waterston in an uncredited role). Michael was bored at the party, thought they were pretty, and ended up showing them around Manhattan, pointing out his favorite buildings. (That sounds like a cool date, or in this case- quasi-date!)

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Michael (Sam Waterston) meets Holly (Dianne Weist)

Michael takes Holly to the opera (which he loves); she gets excited about the potential for a relationship. April tells her that Michael also asked her to the opera when they meet after a rehearsal. (Uh oh, not a good sign!) 

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View of a bookstore in Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan

Elliot hangs around Lee’s neighborhood, then runs into her one afternoon. They browse through an old bookstore together. He doesn’t reveal his feelings, but insists on buying her a volume of e.e. cummings poetry. 

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Lee (Barbara Hershey) looks through a book of poetry with Elliot (Michael Caine)

I’d never seen this film before, though I’d heard about it many times. Both Caine and Wiest won Oscars for their roles. The dialogue is great, but you shouldn’t expect less from Allen (who wrote and directed). Though the themes are quite serious, there are some funny moments. I also enjoyed seeing the scenery of ’80s NYC- it was quite different from when I lived there (2005-2009). Check out this film for yourself!  

The Salesman (2016) directed by Asghar Farhadi

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Actress Taraneh Alidoosti and director Asghar Farhadi

For years on both sides of the ocean, groups of hardliners have tried to present to their people unrealistic and fearful images of various nations and cultures in order to turn their differences into disagreements, their disagreements into enmities and their enmities into fears. Instilling fear in the people is an important tool used to justify extremist and fanatic behavior by narrow-minded individuals.

However, I believe that the similarities among the human beings on this earth and its various lands, and among its cultures and its faiths, far outweigh their differences.

-Excerpt from Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s official statement re: not attending the 2017 Oscars (where this film has been nominated Best Foreign Language Film of the Year)

NOTE: This review contains SPOILERS for the film.

The film is openly an allegory about social, urban and marital decay. But way beyond it, it is about the costs of masculine pride. …this is a superb statement about the unbearable consequences of trying to live up to codes of honour that centre on the female body.

-Excerpt from IMDB review

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Shahab Hosseini in A Separation

This is the new film from the famed/respected Iranian director who brought us A Separation. I went to see it two weeks ago (it was a sold-out screening) at AFI in Silver Spring, MD. This movie is NOT as interesting as A Separation (which also co-stars Shahab Hosseini), BUT it’s worth a look (esp. if you like naturalistic cinema). It would’ve been more effective if had been shorter; the running time is a BIT over 2 hrs. There is a much left unsaid (b/c of censors); the limits put on artists are referred to also in the play (A Death of A Salesman) w/in the film.

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Raana (Taraneh Alidoosti) and Emad (Shahab Hosseini) in The Salesman

A married couple in Tehran, Emad (Hosseini- an engineer turned actor) and Raana (Taraneh Alidoosti), recently moved into a new apt (thanks to their older friend, Babak). They are irritated to discover that one room is locked b/c the previous tenant (“a woman who had many male visitors”) hasn’t come to get her stuff. Babak’s calls go unanswered by the former tenant, so Emad’s friends pry open the door and empty out her stuff. We learn that this woman (no one ever mentions the word “prostitute”) had a young son; his drawings are in one corner of the room.

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Shahab Hosseini at the Cannes Film Festival

WHAT exactly happened to Raana the night she was mistaken for this prostitute and assaulted? It’s left up to the audience to decide, b/c we don’t hear SVU-style details. Hosseini (winner of the Best Actor award at Cannes Film Festival) is in almost every scene; he characterizes an Everyman who slowly breaks down. He can’t communicate well w/ Raana, get help from the law (she wants to forget about it), so gets obsessed w/ finding the attacker (revenge).

…words of truth are spoken not in the real life, but on a theater stage while playing roles.

-Excerpt from IMDB review

Now, this is NOT the type of man you’d expect to act irrationally, being a mild-mannered teacher at a boy’s high school (day job) and actor (in the theater after work). Raana is also acting alongside him and their friends. One of the actresses in the troupe is a divorced single mom w/ an adorable young son. Though Raana and Emad don’t have kids, they are good w/ this boy when they babysit him one evening.

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Emad (Shahab Hosseini) gets his makeup done before the play.

How does Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman relate to their lives? Sorry, I can’t answer that, b/c I haven’t read/seen that play yet. Farhadi said in an interview that the play is VERY popular in Iran, where modern audiences have embraced it.

The last twenty minutes of film are really breathtaking and the spectators associate with Emad more than anytime and I think they regularly ask themselves “if I were him, what would I do?”

-Excerpt from IMDB review

If you’re looking for suspense and tension, then wait until the last quarter of this film. There are intense moments, for sure! By then, Emad is VERY on edge, and getting close to becoming the villain in his own story. Maybe he’s NOT that far from the domineering, volatile, working-class man he played in A Separation? Raana, who has been in a fog of depression, is shocked when she sees his behavior. We wonder: What will happen w/ their marriage?