The Encyclopedia of Film Criticism: Tina Hassannia

Tina Hassannia
Instead of using the earthy, colorful atmosphere of the museum as an antidote to the brightly lit and sterile hospital scenes, Cohen sticks steadfastly to his thesis and asks us to look more closely at the rhythmic heart monitor and the quiet sounds of IV fluids dropping into its container. Like everything else in the film, they too possess a beauty worth noting.

Contributed to: Slant Magazine, Little White Lies, Movie Mezzanine, Keyframe, Grolsch Film Works, Maisonneuve, The Globe and Mail, Reverse Shot, Guernica, cléo, In Review Online, Not Coming to a Theater Near You, Spectrum Culture, AV Club.

Noted champion of: You've Got Mail & Nora Ephron, Abbas Kiarostami, Sohrab Shahid Saless, the Coen Brothers, Errol Morris, Spring Breakers, Whit Stillman.

Influences: Jonathan Rosenbaum, David Foster Wallace, Siegfried Kracauer, Sasha Frere-Jones, Manohla Dargis, David Kehr, Pauline Kael, Hamid Naficy, Molly Haskell, Richard Brody, Fernando F. Croce, Adam Nayman. 

Born in Tehran and raised in Ottawa, Tina Hassannia (April 12, 1984-) has a unique perspective to say the least. Her first piece of criticism was a review of the Arcade Fire album Funeral in the Fulcrum, the student publication at the University of Ottawa. "I was interested in aesthetics in adolescence and attended an arts high school, but other than one savvy drama teacher my influences were mostly music magazines, Pitchfork and XPress, Ottawa's arts weekly. In university I decided to try writing for my campus newspaper and eventually worked my way up to Arts & Culture Editor. After university, I covered music, theatre and comedy for the XPress, but around this time I started to get bored of arts journalism, or as I liked to call it, fluff journalism. I found new cinephile friends who excelled at analyzing music and movies in an earnest, cerebral fashion that I found both intimidating and stimulating. With their suggestion, I took Film Studies at Carleton University. It's perhaps a tad strange that I turned to a medium that was less familiar to me (compared to music and theatre), but film academia was exactly the kind of critical foundation I needed to sharpen my writing skills. I started reviewing movies for In Review Online in 2011 and became more active the next year with my contributions to Spectrum Culture and Not Coming."

Hassannia's integration of technique and global context is stunning, treating films as more than merely works of art, bad or good. Hassannia has done a lot of incredible work on the films of the Iranian directors like Asghar Farhadi, on whom she's written a book, and Abbas Kiarostami and founding, a site dedicated to Iranian film. On top of being one of the most accomplished and deeply felt cinematic wellsprings, it's also among the most vital because each statement carries the weight of crisis and torment. From her review of Jafar Panahi's Closed CurtainJafar Panahi's harsh sentence from Iranian authorities—his house arrest, restrictions on filmmaking and travel, and communicating with media—have forced the filmmaker to contemplate not only the intellectual struggle that accompanies tyrannical artistic censorship, but its combined psychological and emotional manifestations. Which is a good way of looking at her criticism; a combination of intellectual/aesthetic concerns harmonizing with psychological and emotional ones. She places everything in sociopolitical context, knowing that surefooted ideology gives the purely cinematic merits of a film more weight. She never resorts to hyperbole or easy classification, keeping a respectful distance to preserve the film's achievement, rather than its 'importance.' A sense of history and the notion that we write it with every work of art runs through her work like a main circuit cable, to coin a phrase, and she reads as part essayist/historian in the most exciting fashion. Whether she's talking about Palme d'Or contenders or Ebirah, Horror of the Deep, she writes with formal assurance and accessibility, possessing a clear-eyed view of where art could take us not just as viewers, but as the people who shape the future. 

On The Past

For those Iranians living abroad, the fight for a unified identity remains just as fraught. In some places, like the popular independent media centers in Los Angeles (“Tehrangeles”), one can see a forged Iranian-American identity that has unified the secular, upper-middle-class Iranians who made a mass exodus from their homeland following the revolution. But otherwise, if one looks to the cinematic output as a source of confirmation, the Persian diaspora—based mostly in North America and Europe—suffers from a lack of cohesiveness. Although a handful of Iranian artists have established themselves outside of the country, to date, the creative output of arthouse filmmakers has not helped to forge a united voice or provide an alternative identity for diasporic Iranians. This is not to suggest that their role lies in pioneering such an identity. But their encompassing reach and personal experiences abroad, which many have internalized into their work, present them with opportunities and an audience to articulate the Persian diasporic experience that others don’t have.  To begin answering the question about the cultural identity of The Past, it’s helpful to consider Farhadi’s own goals in creating the film. The director spent two years abroad researching and working on the story. Though initially guided by the cultural differences between Iranians and Europeans in the beginning of his research, Farhadi became increasingly inspired by their similarities. The Past does not contribute to a collective voice for the Iranian community abroad—at least not directly. Though the film details the experience of an Iranian man who once lived in Europe, the story is not focused on his diasporic perspective like with other films in that vein, like Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis. Yet in a roundabout way, the film does seem to offer something unique and also entirely essential for the Persian diaspora: the normalization of an Iranian protagonist in a Western film.

On 12 Years A Slave
Using his signature visual composition and deafening sound design, McQueen portrays the harrowing realism of Northrup's experience and the complicated relationships between master and slave, master and master, slave and slave, and so on. The film's most fascinating scenes explore the phenomenon of favoritism and the use of language in defining the scarce rights and dignities of African-American slaves, like the black mistress who tries to sell a younger female slave on the benefits of being her master's concubine. With her nose looking down at the serfs around her, the mistress smugly tells the young woman she could easily come to "manage them all" if she got into her master's good graces. Such characters say and do horrendous things, but the film isn't trying to make some blanket criticism against the different strategies used by American slaves; instead it shows that a complete void and desperation for humane treatment changes people into justifying their actions.

On Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster
The independence and tenacity of Ghidorah’s female characters mark the film’s most fascinating elements, particularly noticeable in lead character Naoko, a journalist who beats her colleagues to the scoop in finding the Venusian, whose predictions are one by one coming true. Naoko is the series’ first real heroine, with a resilient independence that has her unbound by relationships to male characters (including her overprotective brother). In fact, she dismisses her family’s insistence that her friend, a professor studying the Ghidorah meteorite, is also her boyfriend. He is simply an acquaintance that can help her land a story, as she values her own career above else. Indeed, her open-mindedness leads her to ask the right questions to the Venusian and the Shobijin fairies that help to uncover the truth about Ghidorah. This particular scene, set in a hotel room – intended to establish exposition about the invincibility of the three-headed monster – is an integral, pivotal point in the narrative. It’s interesting that despite the convenient grouping of the female characters in these closed quarters, the Communist spies sent to assassinate the Princess and who have been stalking the hotel room, are treated like distractions in scenes such as this one (easily tricked by the Shobijin fairies) rather than operating like the James Bond-like villains they so clearly imitate.

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