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The Berlinale Blog: The best laid plans…

Directors Reza Dormishian and Rebecca Miller return to the Berlinale with two very different beasts, highlighting the variety of this year’s Panorama selection. Lantouri and Maggie’s Plan are reviewed.

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Maggie’s Plan

Who doesn’t love a good emotional rollercoaster? We kick off day five with the nail-biter…

Following I’m Not Angry, presented during Panorama 2014, Iranian film director Reza Dormishian returns and offers a radical, multi-layered look at the violent injustices suffered in Iran.

Lantouri doesn’t get off to the greatest of starts. The first 20 minutes of the film play out as if a novice filmmaker on a sugar high has joined forces with an epileptic editor and proceeded to keenly assault your eyes. Their hyperactive filmmaking makes you wonder whether Dormishian feared he would run out of celluloid. Interviewees are rapidly introduced to the repetitive sound of camera clicks and the bombardment of information is relentless. However, if you can resist the urge to leave and get past the 20 minute hump, the rewards are numerous.

We follow the story of ‘Lantouri’, a gang – they prefer “team” – that robs people in the streets of Tehran. They target the rich and feel little remorse for their actions. As one member eloquently puts it: “Show me an honest way to make so much money!” Team leader Pasha falls for ambitious journalist Maryam and their passionate relationship creates tension within Lantouri. However, a revelation sends Pasha into a jealous rage and he scars his lover for life. His attack is commented upon by intellectuals and even jailed gang members in a faux-documentary form.

At least that’s the story until Dormishian executes an effective rug-pull. The narrative becomes a harrowing account of interpretation versus fact; it ushers in a hard-hitting commentary on Iran’s patriarchal values and how violence begets violence.

And man alive, is there violence… Some of the scenes are genuinely upsetting and the tension will make even the most hardened moviegoers wince and shift uncomfortably in their seats.

From gang story to love affair to social commentary, Lantouri is not a relaxing watch and not without flaws. The sheer number of themes it addresses is often overwhelming. However, once the film reaches its climax, it all fits into place. The unyieldingly frenetic editing no longer seems shambolic, as it becomes clear that it mirrors the rage of a younger generation; the camera snaps foreshadow that a picture can tell a thousand lies; the narrative framing of interviewees reveals a well calibrated critique aimed at those who intellectualize a debate, who blindly pontificate instead of feel it.

If you’re looking for a gut punch, this one packs a stomach-churning wallop that will leave you shattered. As intended.

From the visceral to the comedic…

Maggie’s Plan centres on Maggie (no surprises there), played by Greta Gerwig. She plans to have a baby via artificial insemination with her old classmate, who is now a “pickle entrepreneur”; however, a not-at-all predictable complication comes when she falls for John (Ethan Hawke). He is a married professor of ficto-critical anthropology whose affair leads to him divorcing his intellectually-brilliant-but-impossible-to-live-with wife, played by the show-stealing Julianne Moore. A happy ending for Maggie? Not if her flip-flopping and desire to “manipulate us all into some sort of happy ending” have anything to do with it.

Written and directed by Rebecca Miller, who returns to the director’s chair after 2009’s The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, this New York indie takes the polar-opposite route to Lantouri: it starts off well, promising a send-up of the overeducated urbanites in a well-crafted comedy, but slowly descends into shrug-worthy territory.

To be fair, it’s not all bad. There are enjoyable moments, including a Regan MacNeil spider walk to the front door, but were it not for Julianne Moore’s Danish lilt and Bill Hader’s underused dry wit, the nicest thing you could say about it is that it’s sweet. Innocuously so.

Its attempts to deviate from the rom-com formula end up falling flat and as for Gerwig, she tones down the hipster vibe here but remains stuck with these knowingly self-absorbed characters who are variations on her Frances Ha days. In fact, some moments of dialogue are so arch and self-aware, you’ll wonder if Miller didn’t rope in Noah Baumbach to give the screenplay a once over. The director wants to reveal something profound about relationships in a comedic way but unless the thought of privileged urbane couples making their babies wear “I imagine there’s no fracking” badges and dolls with removable organs tickles your funny bone, feel free to avoid Maggie’s Plan. Re-watch Husbands And Wives instead.

The lesson here: don’t try to out-Allen Woody.

Lantouri | Feb 16, 20:15, Cubix 7+8; Feb 20, 12:00, Zoo Palast 2

Maggie’s Plan | Feb 16, 12:45, CinemaxX7; Feb 17, 17:00, Cubix9; Feb 21, 21:30, Zoo Palast 1