From the high seas in the '60s to the Iranian underground to the search for a higher power, this week's home viewing offerings mix old and new with several notable specialty releases. Following a trend with many of their new releases, IFC is releasing 2009 Cannes Un Certain Regard Special Jury Prize winner, Bahman Ghobadi's "No One Knows About Persian Cats" (criticWIRE rating: C+) on VOD platforms tomorrow, April 14, two days before it gets a limited U.S. theatrical release. The film, which explores contemporary Iranian life through the country's underground rock scene was a hit at both Cannes and SXSW.
Highlighting the film's cultural import, Deborah Young of The Hollywood Reporter says, "Roxana Saberi, who was arrested in Iran under accusation of being an American spy, is credited as executive producer and co-scriptwriter; she was released from jail shortly before the film's Cannes premiere in Un Certain Regard. So there is much at stake when Iranian filmmakers, artists and musicians speak out." Jonathan Romney in the UK's The Independent adds, "a welcome reminder – in our blasé download era – that in some cultures, music can still be not only hard to find but also, as the phrase goes, as serious as your life."
Janus Film's Criterion-published Essential Art House DVD Series will release its fifth volume today. The series, which releases film-only discs of the collection's films, has staggered out smaller box sets of its greater Essential Art House collection. David Lean's 1946 complicated love narrative "Brief Encounter," Fellini's masterpiece "8 1/2," Ozu's sound remake of one of his early-career silents "Floating Weeds," Truffaut's classic "Jules and Jim," Pontecorvo's Italian-French 1959 Holocaust co-production "Kapò," and Miloš Forman's "Loves of a Blonde" will all be available individually and as a box set.
Focus Features' "Pirate Radio" (criticWIRE rating: C), a box office disappointment for the company, split the critics. Today, the film, originally titled "The Boat that Rocked" docks on DVD. Cynthia Fuchs on PopMatters sums up the film in a sentence: "Radio Rock (inspired by the real-life Radio Caroline) is a boat afloat international waters, playing music 24 hours a day in direct resistance to the prohibition of broadcasts from within England." She concludes, "The film’s insistence on the good times to had by listening to rock and roll evacuates the history of costs and efforts, of oppression and violence. Cut into cute montages and cleaned up, this version of rock and roll is monotonous and unmoored." Manohla Dargis, in a measured but mostly positive review, says, director Richard "Curtis isn’t concerned with exploring why gatekeepers might want to maintain the divide between high and popular culture. He wants to party. So he piles on the comic high jinks, lobs the jokes and cranks the splendid tunes, which is fine even if he tends to cue many of these for the hard of thinking."
Bryce Renninger, an indieWIRE contributor in the New York office, is also the shorts programmer for Newfest and is pursuing a Ph.D. in Media Studies at Rutgers University. He can be reached via Twitter.