Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves

Asghar Farhadi’s new film, Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, continues the Iranian auteur’s deep thematic fascination with the intersection of class and morality; again, it challenges our ethical assumptions by forcing us to consider the seemingly unreasonable actions of someone against their own penurious circumstances.

Like Rahim in Farhadi’s 2021 Oscar-nominated film A Hero, who found himself continuing an ongoing deceit when faced with the possibility of finding release from debtor’s prison, Chris Pine’s Edgin in the new film finds himself having to compromise his own deeply held beliefs when presented with the opportunity to steal a chest full of gold coins. Around this simple premise Farhadi spins his trademark web of ever-deepening complications, with multiple characters from all walks of society consistently adding to the complicated moral terrain.

Farhadi, as we all know by now, faces his own complicated ethical landscape, as he stands accused of plagiarism, not only for the plot of A Hero, but also for those of some of his earlier celebrated films such as The Past and his 2011 masterpiece A Separation. His bold move in Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, which some will find bracing and others may find solipsistic and egocentric, is to reset the film’s parameters radically in the astonishing third act, placing Edgin on trial in an Iranian ‘Art Prison’ and having him answer, essentially, for the charges facing Farhadi himself. This long sequence, seen entirely from the point of view of locked-off B&W security cameras placed high in the corners of the courtroom and in Persian (which Pine seems to have mastered well), is tense, rigorous, and teeming with big ideas, much like Farhadi’s entire body of work. Whatever you think about his methods, his results are always plain to see.


I pretty much took six months off Film Mafia. Lecturing, reviewing, and other pursuits – I was a voter on the Golden Globes this year, for example – took up my work time. But a slate of sweet French films has brought me back. Bonjour, mes amis. Let’s preview this year’s…

Alliance Française French Film Festival!

As usual, 2023’s French Film Festival is vast and varied, reflecting the diversity of French cinema tastes. Highly commercial fare jostles for your attention with films based on real-life tough subject matter and extremely artful work.

A true highlight is Saint Omer, from writer-director Alice Diop, who redefines the courtroom drama by distilling it down to its essence. Almost an autobiographical story, the film follows a writer (Kayije Kagame, standing in for Diop) who attends the trial of a young mother (Guslagie Malanda, in a powerful performance) who stands accused, in the Northern city of Saint Omer, of one of those crimes that are unimaginable to most people. The trial is shown simply, methodically, organically, yet delivers human drama of the most intimately devastating kind, building to a stunningly thought-provoking climax. The film reeks of integrity and authenticity, with pitch-perfect naturalistic performances and compelling, if simple, mise-en-scene. It represents a true highlight of the festival.

Mia Hansen-Løve’s new movie, One Fine Morning, features Léa Seydoux as a young Parisienne struggling with the emotional complexities of caring for her degenerating father by adding to her own complex emotional landscape as the French do best: by having an affair with a married man. This oh-so-French set-up yields quiet rewards and an outstanding performance from Seydoux, who now sits amongst the top tier of French actresses.

Everybody Loves Jeanne mines similar emotional, tonal and narrative terrain, though not as successfully, as Jeanne (Blanche Gardin, who sits somewhat below the top tier) wrestles with her mother’s estate as she re-encounters a high-school friend. Although the film is French and everybody speaks French, it’s mainly set in Lisbon, and has sunny highlights peeking through its generally melancholic mists.

But the knockout surprise of the films I’ve been able to preview has been Michel Hazanavicius’ Final Cut, a wild satirical ride that also manages to pack a nice emotional punch. Romain Duris plays a film director planning a one-take, live zombie movie for broadcast on a Japanese website. The kicker is that we get to see the finished product first, and then go back and see how it was put together, which is both fascinating and frankly hilarious. I loved this crazy and warm look at the temporary families that are forged when film cast and crew are bound in pursuit of that one great shot.

The Alliance Française French Film Festival runs across Australia starting 7 March.

Crimes of the Future and Nope



David Cronenberg’s first feature since 2014’s Maps to the Stars is, depending on your outlook, a return to his roots, a return to his classic period, a return to form, or a step backward. Either way, you would not say it implies a bold new direction: if you’re a Cronenberg fan, this is very, very familiar territory. Indeed, it felt to me like a retread of his own Crash (1996) combined with eXistenZ (1999); those two films followed each other, and this is their perverse, belated baby. Like Crash, the characters here are so consumed with consummating their fetishistic sexual drives that they’re willing to sacrifice their bodies to their desires; like eXistenZ, grim fleshy imagery prevails. Cronenberg’s dialogue here is typically ludicrous but once you get lulled into it, the film becomes a little like a perverse warm bath, sweeping you into its bonkers world, aided by perfectly cast Cronenbergian regular Viggo Mortensen, Léa Seydoux and, especially, Kristen Stewart, who completely understands the lurid universe she’s in. Unfortunately, it’s all a bit cartoony – out-of-kilter from this most adult of auteurs – and ultimately unsatisfying.



Jordan Peele’s third feature is my biggest disappointment of 2022 so far, which is not to say it’s bad; perhaps my expectations were far too high. The best part – the sitcom ape – is far more interesting than the rest. There’s obviously a lot of ideas going on, references, all that jazz, but it’s a frustrating experience, a film of diminishing interest as it plods along.

The Conference, Emergency, What Josiah Saw


Cinemas from 11 August

* * * *

Compelling – indeed, riveting – staging of the Wannsee Conference, the Berlin lakeside gathering on 20 January 1942 where leading members of the Nazi regime including SS, Reich Chancellery, ministries, police and administration met to discuss the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question”. The screenplay is derived from the minutes of this meeting as recorded by Adolf Eichmann.

The film’s success lies in the fact that it never forgets that it’s the soberest, darkest of history lessons, while being just cinematic enough to be, for want of a better word, an ‘entertainment.’ It’s never dry, but it’s completely sober, and while the subject matter is of the world’s greatest abomination, the telling is tasteful, respectful and suffused with artistic integrity. Wrongly handled, this could have been exploitative or downright abominable in its own right; instead, it’s vital, important and true.



* * * 1/2

Solid direction, strong performances and excellent writing in a college comedy thriller about the dangers young Black American men face from police officers. The central conceit – which I won’t spoil here – is treated matter-of-factly, which is itself the shocking thing, especially to those who live outside the United States. I read a lot about these issues and hope I have some understanding of them; this film certainly contributed to that, viscerally.


Shudder from 4 August

* * * 1/2

In Texas, adult children of a charismatic God-fearing patriarch must deal with his traumatic impact on their lives.

Pure, raw, undiluted American Gothic with all the trimmings. Here is a vibe, a voice, a style and a mood, all of a piece, managing to wear its influences proudly yet roll them into something original and fresh. Watch it late at night, in the dark, and get into its strange, strange vibe.

You can listen to CJ interview the writer of What Josiah Saw, Robert Alan Dilts, on CJ’s Movieland podcast:


Compartment No. 6

Juho Kuosmanen’s COMPARTMENT NO. 6 is up there with Petite Maman as the best film thus far of 2022. I originally chose it at the Sydney Film Festival 2021 as armchair travel: when am I gonna take a train in the Arctic circle? As such it doesn’t disappoint: this is a film that really takes you places; the milieu is astonishing. But the characters are so richly drawn, and the performances so winning, I got a lot more than I bargained for. It’s rich, moving, funny and charming. It’s the kind of film cinemas are made for: watching it at home alone simply would not be the same. The visuals demand the big screen, the sound demands the big audio, and the story demands an audience: one falls for these characters collectively, incrementally, tangibly, audibly. It’s an experience. Don’t miss it.

My friend and colleague Octavia Barron Martin loved it too. Listen to us rave about it, and be a little more critical about episode 5 of HBO’s IRMA VEP, here on the Movieland podcast:

IRMA VEP (Movieland Podcast Episode with Octavia Barron Martin).

The HBO / Foxtel / Binge 8 episode film industry satire IRMA VEP is a funhouse of mirrors. It is a remake, by Olivier Assayas, of his own 1996 film, which was in itself a meta-take on the famous 1915 French silent film serial Les Vampires. CJ and Octavia gleefully go down the rabbit hole after viewing the first four episodes of the new show and the 1996 original film.