Two recent films deserve movie lovers' attention and even admiration. The first is The Separation, an Iranian film from 2011 that won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film and was nominated for Best Original Screenplay, a rare honor for a foreign film. The writing, the acting, and especially the direction are far above most American movies. The plot is fairly simple. An Iranian woman doctor wants to emigrate with her teenaged daughter, and her husband refuses to join her because of his father's poor physical and mental health. The doctor leaves to be with relatives, while the daughter stays with her father who is also her tutor. A series of misunderstandings occur when the father hires a care taker for his father, leading to crisis after crisis. The film explores religious and class warfare in modern Iran, but on a personal, gutsy level. The acting is always natural, whether dramatic or humorous. These are ordinary families, like ours, but in extraordinary circumstances that don't get the typical Hollywood treatment.
Another film about the middle east is much lighter and more hopeful. Salmon Fishing in theYemen is a British film about a shiek who wants to build his own salmon stream in Yemen. The Brits, looking for a good news story about the Arabia, supply advisors and through great difficulty start the program. Emily Blunt plays an advisor to the shiek and Ewan McGregor is a fishing expert who is won over by the shiek's kindness and by Blunt. The great Kristin Scott Thomas is dead-on as the Prime Minister's press secretary, bawdy, brassy, and charming. There are, of course, many complications such as tribal terrorists who don't want western influence and romantic partners who show up at inopportune times. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is a warm, witty film with just the right amount of sentiment.