Saturday, October 08, 2016

The Salesman

A couple of weeks ago I got to see a preview screening of The Salesman, Asghar Farhadi's taut new film about personal revenge. It plays at the Mill Valley Film Festival next week & then in Bay Area theaters in January. The story presents us with a cultured, well-educated husband & wife living in Tehran. They are about to star opposite each other in a production of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman. In the gripping opening scene, which is in one long take & appears to be an over-stated MacGuffin, they are forced to evacuate their apartment building. They move to another apartment, previously inhabited by an elusive woman who may be a prostitute. When the wife is alone in the apartment one evening, she is assaulted by an intruder. The specific details of attack are never made explicit, but the wife is too traumatized to talk to the police, & the husband, out of a chivalrous instinct, sets out to track down the assailant himself.

Though the plot is calculated & takes many contrived side trips, the movie has an immediacy & sense of urgency. I was never sure where scenes were headed, & I liked the way that things left unsaid or unseen loomed large. In the subplot involving Death of a Salesman, it's nice seeing realistic glimpses of the production, which appears quite faithful.

Farhadi often trails the characters with a hand-held camera, & always felt like I was right in the middle of the action. Shahab Hosseini as the husband Emad is a likable & charismatic actor. It is easy to keep identifying with Emad even as his behavior becomes increasingly disappointing. There's a stage-like quality to the tension underlying every scene, & the film is unsettling. Right through its last moments, I kept re-evaluating what I thought about its moral dilemmas.

§ Forushande (The Salesman) (2016)
Asghar Farhadi, dir.
Iran, France, 125 mins.

§ Mill Valley Film Festival 39
Rafael 1, Fri, Oct 7, 7:30 PM
Rafael 2, Wed, Oct 12, 12:00 PM

Friday, October 07, 2016

Dream of the Red Chamber at SF Opera

Back in the first week of the San Francisco Opera season, I attended the 2nd performance of Dream of the Red Chamber, the opera by Bright Sheng & David Henry Hwang receiving its world premiere here. I enjoyed the visual spectacle of the production. The opening chorus of beggars, emerging from a burning village, looks like a painting come to life. Dai Yu's boat trip at the beginning of the story & her climactic disappearance at the end are depicted simply but effectively using rippling blue fabrics. I liked the visual poetry of an interlude that illustrates the passing of the seasons with falling leaves of different colors.

Scene transitions had beautiful choreography. The grand hall of the Jia family is appropriately ostentatious, & as its multi-plane backdrop rose into place, I felt like I was floating above the landscape. The transformation of Granny Jia's deathbed into a funeral bier was efficient & clever. The costumes were opulent.

The cast was uniformly strong & ardent. Tenor Yijie Shi as Bao Yu sounded open & clarion & acted befittingly like a feckless teenager in act 1. Soprano Pureum Jo as his love interest Dai Yu sang with a consistent, solid sound & had nice soft notes. I liked mezzo Hyona Kim as the imperious Lady Wang. Her singing was expressive & emphatic. Soprano Irene Roberts was a pragmatic Bao Chai. Her sound was full, & she was impressively resolute in her act 2 monologue. Soprano Karen Chia-ling Ho was a rueful Princess Jia & sang confidently. The soloists are almost all high voices, so it was nice hearing the male voices of the chorus.

Mr. Sheng's music is atmospheric, with strong, irregular rhythms, chromatic harmonies, & shimmering orchestral colors. Chinese accents are provided by gongs at moments of urgency, & there is a prominent solo for the qin. The vocal lines often feel stretched, with long-held notes at the ends of phrases. The orchestra played alertly for conductor George Manahan, & the clarinet solos were especially lovely.

The choppy storyline includes elements of romance, domestic drama, politics & Buddhist philosophy. Mr. Hwang's English language libretto is prosaic & even bald, particularly in the erotic dream scene. Supertitles & program notes were accommodatingly provided in both English & Chinese, & there were definitely more Asian faces in the audience than I am used to seeing at the opera.

There was an open curtain during intermission, with director Stan Lai talking about the production & taking questions via Twitter. The audience seemed attentive. Mr. Sheng was present to take a curtain call at the end of the performance.

§ Dream of the Red Chamber
Music by Bright Sheng
Libretto by David Henry Hwang and Bright Sheng

San Francisco Opera
Conductor, George Manahan 
Director, Stan Lai
Production Designer, Tim Yip
Lighting Designer, Gary Marder
Choreographer, Fang-Yi Sheu
Chorus Director, Ian Robertson
Fight Director, Dave Maier

Flower/Dai Yu, Pureum Jo
Stone/Bao Yu, Yijie Shi
Lady Wang, Hyona Kim
Bao Chai, Irene Roberts
Granny Jia, Qiulin Zhang
Princess Jia, Karen Chia-ling Ho
Aunt Xue, Yanyu Guo
The Monk/Dreamer, Randall Nakano
Lady-in-Waiting/Flower, Toni Marie Palmertree, Amina Edris, Zanda Švēde
Eunuch/Stone, Pene Pati, Alex Boyer, Edward Nelson

Tuesday 09/13/16 7:30PM
War Memorial Opera House

SFMOMA Modern Cinema Schedule


6:00 pm - Rashomon (Akira Kurosawa, Japan, 1950, 88 min.) with an introduction by Philip Kaufman
8:30 pm - The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Germany, 1972, 125 min.)

1:00 pm - Agnès Varda in California: Documenteur / Black Panthers / Uncle Yanco (Agnès Varda, France, 112 min.)
3:45 pm - Mysterious Object at Noon (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand, 2000, 89 min.)
5:45 pm - The Seventh Seal (Ingmar Bergman, Sweden, 1957, 96 min.)
8:00 pm - L'Avventura (Michelangelo Antonioni, Italy, 1960, 143 min.)

2:00 pm - Sans Soleil with La Jetée (Chris Marker, France, 1983/1962, 132 min.)
5:00 pm - Black Girl with Borom Sarret (Ousmane Sembène, Senegal, 1966/1963, 85 min.)
7:15 pm - Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (Chantal Akerman, Belgium/France, 1975, 201 min.) with an introduction by Wayne Wang


7:00 pm - An Evening with Apichatpong Weerasthakul

6:00 pm - Mekong Hotel (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand, 2012, 61 min.)
8:00 pm - Viridiana (Luis Buñuel, Spain, 1961, 90 min.)

1:00 pm - The River (Jean Renoir, France, 1951, 99 min.)
3:30 pm - Shorts by Apichatpong Weerasthakul
6:00 pm - Syndromes and a Century (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand/France, 2006, 105 min.)
8:30 pm - Knife in the Water (Roman Polanski, Poland, 1962, 94 min.)

2:00 pm - Tropical Malady (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand/France, 2004, 118 min.)
4:30 pm - The Spirit of the Beehive (Victor Erice, Spain, 1973, 99 min.)
7:00 pm - Cemetery of Splendor (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand, 2015, 122 min.)


6:00 pm - Pitfall (Hiroshi Teshigahara, Japan, 1962 97 min.)
8:30 pm - Carnival of Souls (Herk Harvey, USA, 1962, 78 min.)

3:00 pm - Picnic at Hanging Rock (Peter Weir, Australia, 1975, 107 min.)
6:00 pm - Grey Gardens (Albert Maysles and David Maysles, USA, 1976, 94 min.)
8:00 pm - Ugetsu (Kenji Mizoguchi, Japan, 1953, 97 min.)

3:00 pm - Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, UK/Thailand/Germany/France/Spain, 2010, 113 min.)
6:00 pm - A Touch of Zen (King Hu, Taiwan, 1971, 180 min.)

Phyllis Wattis Theater at SFMOMA
Please use entrance at Minna Street, near Third Street.