Narrative features from the Montclair Film Festival
The Holy Spider
In the holy city of Mashhad, Iran, the spider killer goes out on his motorbike and picks up a sex worker on the street. He brings her to his home, his wife and kids are visiting her family, and strangles his victim with her headscarf. He then dumps the body in roughly the same place each time and calls a local journalist to let him know that he has continued his holy crusade to rid the town of ‘corrupt’ women. He’s done this 16 times.
Rahimi is a very brave and single-minded woman journalist who comes from Teheran to cover this story. She even dons the makeup and poses as a streetwalker herself to find the killer.
This is not a mystery as in who is the murderer. We know that from the get go. The mystery is why the police claim to have no clue, whether he will actually be prosecuted when caught and whether he will be sentenced by a judge in this city. Perhaps the biggest mystery is why so many townsfolk consider the killer a hero.
While this is a crime story, it’s also very much about the timely topic of the treatment of women in Iran. When Rahimi goes to check in to the hotel where she has a reservation, the clerk whispers to his manager that an unmarried woman wants to check in by herself. That seems to prompt an error in the reservation system resulting in no room being available. And Rahimi’s reputation precedes her. Seems she was fired from a previous job because she refused and reported the sexual advances of her editor. For that she is labeled a slut.
This is a riveting can’t take your eyes off the screen movie. It is brilliantly acted by Zar Amir Ebrahimi (Rahimi) and Mehdi Bajestari (the spider killer). It has a couple of gruesome scenes and is overall disturbing. Even more so when you realize it is based on a true story. This is the best of the films reviewed here.
You may think you’ve seen just about everything in movies, but have you seen a serious adult film about a donkey? EO opens the movie as a donkey in a traveling circus. We see him showered with love and affection by his handler and co-star Cassandra. Due to some government edict we’re not clear about, he is repossessed by the government and shipped to a horse farm. EO sees the horses run free, get their pictures taken, get bathed, while all he gets is to pull a cart. When he rebels against that he gets shipped to another farm. Here there’s other donkeys and he’s treated better. But Cassandra finds him and visits. When she leaves, he knocks down a fence and heads out. Thus begins the donkey adventure which is the main focus of this movie.
EO wanders through forest and town. Along the way he encounters a soccer match, a beer hall, a skinhead attack and a couple dodgy rides in the back of a truck. Some good things and some bad things happen to him. For the odd collection of humans he encounters along the way, it’s mostly bad.
This is a movie of few words. The camera does most of the talking. The views of the Polish countryside are beautiful. There is one scene where EO is in the woods at night with wolves, owls, raptors and hunters. The darkly filmed scene breathes suspense. This is a film to be seen on a big screen. There are numerous shots of the soulful eyes of the donkey. Are those supposed to be tears? We’re led to believe that EO is dreaming of Cassandra. The movie imbues the donkey with dignity and will power.
The super-heavy eerie soundtrack is overdone in my opinion. On a positive note there is a graphic at the end assuring us that no animal was harmed in the making of this movie. It may be a story about a donkey, but don’t bring the kids.
Jack is a professor at the College on the Hill. Fourteen years ago he started the Hitler Studies program. He is looking forward to the Nazi education conference he is hosting. White Noise opens with one of his colleagues lecturing on the joys of American car crashes. I’m not sure if it’s the same class or a different one when we see him later making the case to his students that Elvis was a ‘mama’s boy.’
Meanwhile on a highway nearby a truck driver carrying a tanker full of some toxic substance is reaching for the bottle of Jack Daniels he keeps on the passenger seat. Losing concentration he barrels into a train causing it to derail and jackknife. The resulting explosion causes an ‘airborne toxic event.’ The town evacuates and holes up in a Girl Scout camp. All this blows over and folks head home, although Jack has to live with the thought that he’s going to die because he got out of the car to pump gas while evacuating.
That ends the outdoor part of the movie. Most of the rest of the movie is in Jack’s house with his wife and four kids. As with so many cinematic families, the kids are way smarter than the adults. The oldest, a teenage boy, can explain everything, explanations that are way over his parents’ heads. His sister is a junior detective who uses her skills to expose her parents’ secrets. There’s some mystery pharmaceuticals, some marital infidelity, some violence. Some of it is presented dramatically, but you can’t take it seriously.
There are a handful of things to chuckle at in this movie. Most of it is nonsense. If I appeared to be about to clap my hands when the first credits rolled, it was only because it was over.
(White Noise is scheduled to be released in theaters around Thanksgiving and to be streamed on Netflix at the end of the year.)