Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Feb 13, 2018 7:40 pm 
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Cruel cityscape

Tehran Taboo begins with a little boy in the back of a cab. His name is Elias (Bilal Yasar) . His mother Pari (Elmira Rafizadeh) is in the front seat turning a trick. For what the driver will pay she'll only give him a blow job. But he can't get it up. Anyway, he nearly wrecks the car in a rage when he sees his daughter on the sidewalk - holding hands with a young man. Having pocketed the money in advance, Pari grabs Elias and they rush off.

And so we are introduced to the brutality, hypocrisy, and cynicism of a contemporary Iran so starkly depicted the filmmaker, now a German citizen, has shot it in Germany with computer animation. Rotoscoped figures shot against green screens are inserted in a drawn, highly linear depiction of the added-in drab but teeming city in subtle, varied colors (with sand and yellows dominant) that winds up being rather handsome - and the people are handsome too.

Haven't most of the dodges and violations of the country's morally rigid social structure and fear-inducing bureaucracy already been shown in movies actually shot in Iran? Yes, but not all together, as if ticking off points. This is a vision that's so pessimistic and grim it's breathtaking. But sometimes it's funny, and sometimes the characters are having fun, too.

Pari is trapped in marriage to a drug addict who's in prison. To divorce him she must bargain herself with a magistrate of the Islamic Revolutionary Court (Hasan Ali Mete), entering into a concubine arrangement - with a highrise apartment for herself and Elias - in exchange for his signature. This is't all bad. It's a nice apartment, to Pari anyway. Elias makes balloon bombs with condoms to drop on people below. Pari meets Sara (Zara Amir Ebrahimi), a pregnant neighbor. They have a happy, fun relationship, a respite for Sara from her banker husband Mohsen (Alireza Bayram), who won't agree to let her get a job after the child is born to escape from the life of a housewife and her suffocating in-laws. However, Pari plays a game with Sara that gets her in serious trouble. Sara has to care for her overweight, diabetic father-in-law, who sneaks bonbons (which Elias fetches down for him) and slips on a porn channel on the TV. When anybody comes, he clicks back on political news.

The film pulsartes with a string of establishing background threads, the voices and music of the city, ads for a burger place, TV news. A recurrent theme shows people having ID photos done for school, marriage, work - anything but the passports they may really need, since many say they want to leave the country. The photographer changes the background color to suit the stated purpose of the shot. This semi-static visual ritual, with its ironic little variations, helps ground for us the otherwise constantly shifting, rather centerless, action.

But there is a center, and that is little Elias, with his pretty, malleable face, his silence, his observant eye.

A third main plot strand concerns Babak (Arash Marandi), a handsome young musician whose job one night at a pill-popping all-night party gets him into trouble . Babak winds up getting high himself at this gig, with a pretty girl called Donya (Negar Mona Alizadeh), and they have sex in the bathroom. Next day he discovers she was a virgin and is about to get married. She must have surgery to restore her hymen or there will be big trouble, and he must pay for it, but he's only a student. He and his brother Moshen (Alireza Bayram) go looking for solutions, hoping for a cut-rate one to avoid the fee of surgery that will be at a higher premium because it's clandestine.

But what isn't clandestine here, and who isn't winking and looking the other way and seeking or giving out dodges? Ali Soozandeh depicts a world of people constantly making trouble for each other or helping each other avoid it. It's a world where the threat of religious infringement strikes fear, where the murder of a cat (that Elias has befriended) and her kittens is followed by a triple pubic hanging.

The director's angry, fervent list-making has a kind of vérité energy. But it dwells too much on sex and drugs, and leaves too little room for the novelist's or humanistic filmmaker's deeper exploration of personal relationships - the kind of complexities Iran's best directors provide.

Tehran Taboo تهران تابو , ninety mins. debuted at Cannes Critics Fortnight May 2017 and was included in over a dozen other subsequent international festivals. It opened 4 Oct. 2017 in France (AlloCiné press rating 3.5). It opens in US theaters (Film Forum, NYC) 14 Feb. 2018.

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