Meryl Streep is a force of nature as Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady,” Phyllida Lloyd’s biopic of the former British prime minister.
It should come as no surprise that the actress, who is frequently cited as the best of her generation, disappears completely into the role and elevates the picture by a notch or two.
The film, much like Clint Eastwood’s superior “,” is less interested in following a standard bio formula than it is latching onto a specific theme and exploring its subject through that lens. Eastwood’s picture focused on the public persona of its titular G-man, while “The Iron Lady” explores the relationship between Thatcher and her husband, Denis (Jim Broadbent), as well as her struggle to get her voice heard in a male-dominated Parliament.
Lloyd not only skips over a number of Thatcher’s more controversial decisions, but also skims through her political career at a rapid clip.
It is Streep’s towering performance as Thatcher that carries the movie.
Two of the past year’s most thought provoking foreign films – Asghar Farhadi’s “A Separation” and Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia” – are currently playing in limited release.
Both movies are mysteries of a sort that explore the nature of truth, trust and the limitations of knowledge.
Farhadi’s film opens with an Iranian couple arguing their reasons for obtaining a separation before an unseen judge. Simin (Leila Hatami) wants to flee the country amid its current political climate, while her husband, Nader (Peyman Maadi), says he must stay to care for his father, who is afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease.
With Simin away from the household, Nader enlists the aid of a religious housemaid, Razieh (Sareh Bayat), to care for his father while he is at work.
Nader arrives home early one day to discover that Razieh is not in his apartment and that his father has fallen and injured himself after being tied to a bed.
Razieh returns home and Nader orders her to leave. A struggle ensues and Nader ends up being accused of a serious crime by Razieh and her violent tempered husband, Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini).
“A Separation” is a complex, engrossing picture that has the intensity of a thriller. Much of its second half is set within courtrooms or its characters’ apartments as they wrestle with the moral complexities in which they find themselves.
There are no easy answers and it is likely that viewers will find themselves switching allegiances to specific characters throughout the course of the picture.
The film explores modern life in Iran, but its themes are universal. “A Separation” is one of the year’s best cinematic imports.
“Once Upon a Time in Anatolia,” a two-hour and 40 minute police procedural from Turkey, is just as riveting but slightly more oblique.
This Chekhovian film might put off some viewers with its epic length, ambiguity and ponderous pacing. But patient moviegoers ready to do some heavy lifting will be duly rewarded.
At least half of the film is set within the course of one night, while its second part takes place the following day.
Night is falling on the Anatolian steppes when headlights appear in the dark. A car carrying a police inspector, his driver, a doctor, a prosecutor and a criminal drive through the countryside searching for a site where the accused claims to have buried the body of a man he murdered.
But the five men have difficulty finding the body and the criminal admits to having been drunk at the time of the incident.
As the night presses on, the men are frustrated by the futility of their quest and haunted by guilt for their pasts. At the picture’s halfway mark, they stop for a bite to eat at a local mukhtar’s home and are awed by the beauty of his daughter.
Night fades into day. The investigator, satisfied once the body has been located, passes the case on to the prosecutor, who proceeds to view the situation from a legal standpoint. The doctor is left to handle the autopsy and ponder the meaning of it all.
If the film has a stumbling block, it’s that the daytime scenes do not quite have the spellbinding aura of the nocturnal ones.
But “Anatolia” is a mesmerizing movie that suggests life’s “truths” are open to interpretation.
It will likely kick around in your head for hours – even days – after you’ve seen it.