Nostalgia for our recent past can be a complicated, addictive little bromide. As anyone surveying the post-Mad Men cultural landscape can attest, the radiant outfits and the sleek design are all the visual rage. Just as compelling is the dramatic irony that can be engendered by depictions of casual racism and other social ills - the sense of relief for at least some viewers that "things aren't like that any more."
Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami (right) with Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhangke (left) at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival. (Flickr/edumndyeo)
The options have never been pretty for Iranian filmmakers critical of their government. They can choose artistic death by the censor's thousand cuts, films flash-screened in one theater, or "distribution" through pirated DVDs on the streets of Tehran. Or they can stick to their creative vision and face exile or jail time.
Bahman Ghobadi chose exile -- although "chose" scarcely seems like the appropriate word. The Iranian authorities had suggested that the Kurdish-Iranian filmmaker leave the country numerous times over the years, and turned up the pressure two days before the June 2009 presidential elections that sparked the Green Revolution protest of the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Ah, Julia Child. The happy hooting, the knowing yet sloppy kitchen technique, the stevedore shoulders and ribald sense of humor -- Child is in the news again as the Julia half of Nora Ephron's latest film, Julie & Julia, and the subject of Michael Pollan's recent paean in The New York Times Magazine.
Why is Child in the spotlight again five years after her death? Child was a larger-than-life personality, in both her 6-foot-2-inch stature and in her influence -- she pioneered the TV cooking show and took the fear factor out of French food. But even more than this, as Pollan asserts, she's become a potent symbol of our nation's nostalgia for real cooking, which we both pine for and do precious little of in our lives.
Steven Soderbergh's The Girlfriend Experience opens with a coolly rendered illusion. An immaculately dressed man and woman chat in a taxi, then over dinner, later trading kisses and whispers in a hotel room before curling up in bed together. Their casual, familiar rapport extends into a bathrobe breakfast the next morning, and it isn't until the woman walks away with a fat envelope of cash that viewers grasp that the two aren't a couple in the usual sense. The man is a wealthy financial-services type, just one of many who avail themselves of the services of Chelsea, a high-priced Manhattan escort who offers the film's titular "girlfriend experience" -- emotional intimacies that go beyond sex.
Watching Steven Soderbergh's Che as Obama begins his presidency was a curious experience -- a chance to ponder both the power of personality and the seductive notion that change can be embodied in one individual. Ernest "Che" Guevara was of a different moment, of course -- the Argentine doctor-turned-revolutionary was an uncompromising man more interested in blowing up bridges than in building them, more interested in war-tinged rhetoric than in that of service.