DON’T let the title of Melbourne (****) mislead you. The Australian city is very much an abstract concept in this Iranian domestic drama from first time writer/director Nima Javidi.
Bearing the very clear influence of Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation, but boasting a more melodramatic – albeit masterfully exploited – twist, the film stars A Separation’s Peyman Moaadi as Amir, the stressed-out husband of the equally distracted Sara (Negar Javaherian). They’re in the process of packing up their middle-class Tehran apartment ahead of flying to Melbourne to begin a new life together in Australia. Amidst the commotion – the farewells to various friends and relatives, the pawnbrokers removing their sellable goods, the landlord arriving to do his final inspection – sleeps their neighbour’s newborn baby, whom Sara has unthinkingly agreed to watch while little Tina’s nanny runs an errand. For much of the first act, Javidi does a masterful job of cranking up the everyday stress of this situation in relatable fashion. But he really starts turning the screws by introducing a horrifying event that transforms the remainder of the film into a moral crisis for the couple: their irrational first instincts catalysing a series of bad decisions that threaten to derail their relationship, their lives and their futures in quick succession. If the ensuing drama – which mostly unfurls in real time – can seem a little implausible in retrospect, the cast ground Javidi’s tightly constructed premise, making their characters’ actions feel all-too-tragically human.
That human element is sadly absent from Bereave (**), a turgid and somewhat baffling marital drama starring Malcolm McDowell as a terminally ill man who has kept his sickness from his wife (Jane Seymour). Set over the course of their 40th wedding anniversary, the LA-based film uses what should be a celebratory occasion to bring a lifetime of petty squabbles and emotional cruelties to a head as Garvey (McDowell) – suicidal and given to casual insults (“You almost look beautiful,” he tells his wife) – starts to properly unravel in a way that drives Evelyn (Seymour) to her own dark places. Which almost sounds like an intriguing idea, but the Kickstarter-backed film suffers from reams of pretentious dialogue, needlessly quirky supporting characters (Keith Carradine as Garvey’s Barnet-obsessed brother), and a bizarre final-act-descent into over-cooked melodrama involving gangsters and guns that only further detracts from the more interesting ideas at its core.
• Melbourne, tonight, Cineworld & 27 June, Filmhouse; Bereave, tonight, Dominion & 27 June, Filmhouse.