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Mixed media: film reviews

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Brilliantly acted, A Quiet Passion is a hymn of praise and sorrow for the socially excluded.

A Quiet Passion

written and directed by Terence Davies. 125 minutes

The great Emily Dickinson published in her lifetime fewer than a dozen poems. She died unknown, unmarried, unfulfilled. Terence Davies is celebrated for his early autobiographical films, growing up gay and celibate in mid-20th century working-class Merseyside. This may seem a long way from respectable, prosperous, mid-19th century Massachusetts, but Davies’s theme – life denied and unlived – would be familiar to many. A Quiet Passion makes of the life of a recluse, a hymn of praise and sorrow for the socially excluded.

It’s deeply moving to see smart, funny, caring, young Emily, so full of life, buried by loneliness and the expectations of her time and place. Apart from the opening scene, we never see her travel further than the picket fence of her family home.

But it’s not grim, or a slog. The scenes where she, her sister and close friend Buff genteelly mock the pomposities and pieties of visiting relatives, neighbours and clergymen, are very funny. The younger Emily is principled, happy, close to her siblings, even scandalously rebellious – all within limits, though.

Time passes, nicely captured in family studio portraits as faces become heavier, sterner, more anxious. Her parents die; people move away. She gradually withdraws. To her room, to her cryptic poetry.

A Quiet Passion is not perfect – male roles are underwritten. And it’s difficult, at first viewing, to take in the short readings from her poetry. But it’s focused, brilliantly acted – and it cuts you up.

★★★★ ML

The Salesman

The Salesman – a subsiding Tehran flat is just the start of their problems…

written and directed by Asghar Farhadi. 125 minutes.

A married couple have to leave their Tehran flat because of subsidence caused by construction work. An actor colleague – they are appearing in an amateur production of Death of a Salesman as Willy and Linda Loman – offers them a flat until they are sorted. He doesn’t say that the previous tenant was a sex worker, receiving clients there. When the wife lets a man into the flat, thinking it’s her husband, she is attacked and injured. The husband, against his wife’s wishes, decides to trace the attacker who has left his phone, and, nearby, we find out, a van.

More arty and elusive than Farhadi’s Iran-set A Separation and About Elly, it’s again an absorbing, unhappy study in social roles and behaviour. The wife, with compassion and perception, comes out of it all better than the husband, encumbered as he is by pride and ego.

★★★ ML