John Seven | Viewer's Discretion: Series, film focus on family relationships affected by crime
'THE SALESMAN' (AMAZON, GOOGLE PLAY, VUDU, YOUTUBE)
This slow-burning suspense tale from Iran takes place against the backdrop of a small Iranian production of Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman." In "The Salesman," scenes from Miller's play appear as accentuating points to a quiet, paranoid tale that mixes personal terror with cultural oppression and political paranoia as the unspoken undertones.
Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) are the lead actors in the production and also husband and wife. One terrifying night, they are forced to evacuate their apartment building, which has begun to collapse, and in desperation for a roof over their heads, ends up taking a new apartment with the help of a friend. But the woman who formerly lived in the space leaves her belongings, which sit around like the ghosts of a life the couple never lived, but which becomes horrifyingly real when Rana is attacked in the shower by a mysterious person that the couple believes is somehow involved with the former tenant.
What comes into play, though, is only partially a whodunit. With a refusal to involve the police, for numerous reasons all boiling down to the police being untrustworthy, Emad searches for the culprit himself, but in doing so commandeers Rana's story. It seems to be the cultural expectation, though — even to an enlightened man like Emad, a wife is a belonging and it is his job to handle the situation despite her own feelings about him doing so. And eventually, the crime itself is revealed to be a muddled, confused action born from secret areas of people's lives that fall below the radar of what is considered the proper cultural norm for men, even as it is weighed against the public judgment of the woman who previously lived in the apartment.
Director Asghar Farhadi won an Oscar for this film and previously for "A Separation," and it's a deserved reward for a piercing presentation of low-key foreboding.
'SEE NO EVIL: THE MOORS MURDERS' (AMAZON)
Moors murderer Myra Hindley is as well-known for her iconic mug shot as the gruesomeness of her actual crimes, but this obscure, compelling British mini-series from 2006 refuses to treat her as a star by casting her as a supporting player in her own story and focusing on the damage she did to her family.
"See No Evil: The Moors Murders" starts after the murders have begun and pays them no mind, instead offering a tension-filled drama focusing on her sister Maureen (Joanne Froggatt) and her hapless husband, David (Matthew McNulty), following the death of their baby as they get to know Ian (Sean Harris), Myra's new boyfriend. Myra (Maxine Peake) is strong-willed, but also passive, a watcher who stands back and waits for her moment to steer events.
While there's something unsettling about Ian, it's passed off as intellectual weirdness, especially in the first episode, that plays out more like a family drama about an uncomfortable new addition. It's a curious choice and then an effective one, as the crimes and the allegations come to light and the show splits its time between the investigation and the sudden shock of having family members implicated with the most horrible crimes imaginable.
"See No Evil" makes no effort to get inside the brains of the murderers, which separates it from the standard serial killer fare that too often presents the killers as transgressive uber-humans and wallows in the grotesque details of their crimes. Instead, the series shows the effect the behavior has on a family, how the cold cruelty works like a fissure in a familial edifice, cracking it slowly and then breaking it in permanence. It's a more nuanced approach, but also a damning, non-celebratory one that gets to the real point.
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