Mania Akbari’s brisk and graceful “20 Fingers” brings a fresh twist to a major theme in Iranian cinema: the status of women in an Islamic theocracy.
The film, on the bill for the final weekend of AFI Fest, is composed of seven vignettes. The attractive and skilled Akbari and Bijan Daneshmand (who is also the film’s producer) play different couples in the vignettes. Their conversations and disagreements, most of which take place in moving vehicles, present various perspectives on the married state in contemporary Iran.
As previous films have made clear, Iranian women have precious few rights. In one sequence a wife mentions to her husband that a close friend visited while he was away, bringing along her new boyfriend. The husband is outraged: To him, it is imperative that he be present the first time his wife’s friend brings along her beau.
The couple’s argument, like others in the film, reveals a paradox: In resisting oppression, Iranian women can discover how to be free within themselves, while Iranian men, given all their control over women, have little impetus to explore how they too may be imprisoned by stifling traditions.
Hong Kong thriller
Andrew Lau Wai-Keung and Alan Mak Siu-Fai’s “Infernal Affairs” leaves a lot to be desired, yet it’s obvious why this Hong Kong thriller has been such a box office sensation and led to two sequels (which the AFI Fest will also screen).
Although complicated, to say the least, the fast-moving film has a simple and clever premise: The Hong Kong police have had a mole (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) inside a criminal triad for 10 years, but the criminals have their own mole (Andy Lau Tak-Wah) inside the police force. A routine drug bust sets in motion the action-filled plot, in which the two men mirror each other’s predicaments.
Not neat, tidy
Quentin Lee’s “Ethan Mao” is a notably complex and suspenseful hostage drama that is set in motion when a nasty stepmother (Julia Nickson) discovers a gay magazine in her stepson’s bedroom.
She quickly tells her husband (Raymond Ma) who throws 18-year-old son Ethan (Jun Hee Lee) out of their expensive suburban tract home. Ethan already has plenty of reasons to be embittered toward his workaholic father and shallow, pampered stepmother.
Ethan, like countless other gay kids driven from their homes, hits the streets to hustle but is given refuge by Remigio (Jerry Hernandez), only a year older but plenty streetwise. When Ethan learns from his younger brother Noel (David Tran) that the family will be away for Thanksgiving, he breaks in to retrieve some of his possessions. When the family returns home so the stepmother can retrieve something she’d forgotten, everything goes wrong.
To its credit, “Ethan Mao” is not neat and tidy with everyone coming to his or her senses; it has moments both tender and harsh. Lee reveals how homophobia can dangerously warp an already dysfunctional family, and he guides an ensemble cast with assurance. “Ethan Mao” is the strongest film to date from the director of the distinctive “Shopping for Fangs” and “Drift.”
* “20 Fingers,” 4 p.m. Friday
* “Infernal Affairs,” 4:45 p.m. Saturday and 1:30 p.m. Sunday, followed both days by “Infernal Affairs 2" and “Infernal Affairs 3"
* “Ethan Mao,” 12:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: ArcLight Cinemas, 6360 W. Sunset Blvd., Hollywood
Info: (866) AFI-FEST or www.afifest.com