Editor’s Notes: The following review is part of our coverage of the Transilvania International Film Festival. For more information visit http://tiff.ro/en and follow TIFF Romania on Twitter at @tiffromania.
Much as their primarily pre-release publication and abundant embrace of scaling systems may seem to suggest otherwise, reviews serve a purpose beyond just audience guidance: its adjectival associations might have earned it a negative name, but criticism is—or at least ought to be—about a great deal more than whether or not a given film is any good at all. Melbourne is, and at times very, but it’s also one of those rare movies for which the dual duties of evaluation and explication to which proper criticism speaks find themselves at an untenable position of mutual exclusivity. All of which is to say the film’s well worth seeing, and with minimal knowledge: to do its duty, a review must necessarily reveal that which is best shared by the story itself.
…Melbourne is the kind of slyly subtle social critique the country’s cinema censorship has unwittingly nestled.
Even the most conscientious pussy-footing around plot couldn’t spare spoiling the impact of the film’s central surprise; just so much as knowing there’s something significant to come is sufficient to upset the effect of any movie. And especially one as effective as this: the grand reveal of Melbourne carries that all-too rare uncomfortably visceral impact, as the Iranian couple packing up their apartment on their last day before emigrating to the titular city check on the infant neighbour they’ve agreed to watch for a while. It’s that calibre of realisation whose implications you come to consider only after they’ve passed through the gut first: that sinking stomach feeling is felt powerfully here, easily aligning our outlook with that of the panic-ridden pair as they despair as to what to do.
The extent of that impact is essential for a sustained suspension of disbelief as debut writer and director Nima Javidi stretches this story out to feature length; few won’t feel the gravity of the situation in all its humdrum horrors, but many might question the regularity with which this couple make matters decidedly worse for themselves. That’s chiefly because they’re working toward an end more allegory than actuality, and as much as Javidi and his capable cast strive to sell the structure of the piece, this is an oft-creaky conceit that seems eventually almost broadly comic in its belief-beggaring sequence of absurd escalations. Still, it mostly works well in the moment: Javidi may tend to try a little too hard, but the thematic intent of his effort shines through strong all the same.
It’s that even more than the presence of Peyman Moaadi that may make minds wander to A Separation, whose shared scenario of self-contained domestic drama and acute use of kids as representational entities speaks to the same uncertainties over the country’s future as Javidi does here. Indeed he’s relatively downbeat, by contrast: Farhadi’s film could hardly be called happy family fare, but there was at least an ambiguity there; Javidi, from the basic concept of expatriation to the decidedly dismal connotations of his jet-black climax, evidently isn’t at all unsure of how the future looks. That makes his a film more didactically decisive; albeit a little the weaker for it, it’s a movie whose maker impresses himself as precisely the kind of socially-minded talent the national cinema has served to foster so well.
…Javidi has crafted a delicate drama whose stark stakes speak less to narrative than national concerns.
There may well be a place waiting for him within it: strained as it is from time to time, Melbourne is the kind of slyly subtle social critique the country’s cinema censorship has unwittingly nestled. Efficiently aided by Moaadi and Negar Javaherian, who share the kind of compelling chemistry a concept like this demands, Javidi has crafted a delicate drama whose stark stakes speak less to narrative than national concerns. That it consistently overcomes its sillier twists and turns is indicative of its impressive effect in addressing these ideas. A great film it is not, but it stands at least the next-best thing a debut can be: ample evidence that, down the line, this is a director likely to make one.
A great film it is not, but it stands at least the next-best thing a debut can be: ample evidence that, down the line, this is a director likely to make one.