It's a good weekend to catch up on your movie watching before Sunday's Academy Awards ceremony - starting with the odds-on (and deserved) favorite for the foreign-language Oscar.
That's "A Separation," Iranian writer-director Asghar Farhadi's brilliant and heartbreaking tale of how one decision leads to one tragic event after another. When Simin (Leila Hatami) seeks a divorce from her husband Nader (Peyman Maadi), so she can take their daughter Termeh out of Iran, Nader refuses - and he won't leave Tehran because he's responsible for his Alzheimer's-afflicted father. When Simin moves out, Nader hires a maid, Razieh (Sareh Bayat), to tend to his father. But she, being a strict Muslim, balks at having to tend to the old man's toilet problems. Things spiral downward from there, and the courts become involved as Farhadi's tense, precise and above all humane script plays out. The strictures of life in Iran are a part of the movie's message, but there's a deeper universal story of people trying to do the right thing but finding it's all gone wrong.
Another Oscar nominee in the foreign-language category is "Bullhead," a bleak Belgian drama that's part character study and part gangster thriller. Unfortunately, the gangster stuff is the less interesting part. What's more fascinating is the profile of Jacky (Matthias Schoenaerts), a brutish member of a cattle-raising family who injects himself with nearly as many illegal steroids as his family gives to the cows. The reasons behind Jacky's troubles go back to a childhood trauma, which surfaces when he encounters a boyhood friend (Jeroen Perceval) who's involved with some hormone suppliers.