Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Jun 18, 2022 1:38 pm 
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REZA AKHLAGHIRAD IN A MAN OF INTEGRITY (only still I could find in the actual aspect ratio of the film)


Beautiful oppressiveness

With Jafar Panahi, Mohammad Rasoulof is the other leading Iranian dissident filmmaker who works under standing arrest in his own country and whose films cannot be shown there and must sometimes be made abroad with Iranian actors. Of Rasoulof's nine features I've seen and reviewed two of his poetic early films, Iron Island (2005) and The White Meadows (2009) and then what I called his "grimly claustrophobic" and "cold" study of bureaucratic repression Goodbye . I recently got to review the latest (feature), the 2020 There Is No Evil, certainly my favorite of the more explicit ones; but I hadn't seen the two before it, Manuscripts Don't Burn (2013) and A Man of Integrity (2017). Now that's partially corrected with this review of A Man of Integrity, which won the main prize in the A Certain Regard section at Cannes in 2017 and is now coming out in New York and Los Angeles.

In A Man of Integrity Mohammad Rasoulof highlights rural, but really pervasive, corruption in Iran by focusing on a stubbornly honest man, Reza (the ruggedly, severely handsome Reza Akhlaghirad) who keeps refusing to buckle under to pressure. The widescreen images in relentless pale blue-grays by the skillful dp Ashkan Ashkani are almost beautiful, though the relentlessness of the downbeat trajectory of the protagonist requires viewer stamina. Reza and his wife Hadis (the severely beautiful and formidable Soudabeh Beizaee), who is the local head schoolteacher, have left Teheran to escape the urban quagmire with their little boy and moved to the country where, away from the hurly-burly, he runs a goldfish farm - an ambiguous symbol since goldfish in Iran are expendable Nowruz (Iranian New Year) good luck gifts. The country has provided no freedom and no escape from the long arm of national corruption. A man called Abbas (Misagh Zare Zeinab), boss of the local "company," an arm of the government so evil he is known to have killed his own daughter and gotten away with it, gives orders to have Reza's source of river water cut off and his fish all die. They are attacked by a mob of Hitchcockian crows, one of the spectacular brief moments along with an onrush of menacing night motorcyclists and a two-storey house spectacularly ablaze.

Reza is supposed to capitulate, to pay bribes, but he keeps refusing. He gets into more and more trouble, beginning with a physical clash with Abbas that he goes to jail for and that it's claimed caused Abbas a broken arm (it didn't). Hadis keeps telling him he's crazy, to start cooperating - though she admires him and the two actors have a warm chemistry and their characters, it's hinted, have good sex. But he will have nothing of her pleas to give in, because he senses the unspoken, that the "company" is just waiting for him to become, like all the local small farmers, merely a link in a national network of corruption.

Like so many Iranian films there is a kind of beauty, as in the even, pale, gray-green images I mentioned, and in the quiet, as it were, gray-green monotony of Reza's Jobian torments, and in his patient refusal to give in. Even though events seem a bit over-the-top, the specificity of the chronological unreeling of small details and the conviction of the actors, led by Akhlaghirad and Belzaee, make the action feel surprisingly real. (I learned to appreciate this relentless unreeling method through rewatching Asghar Farhadi's A Separation until I eventually came to appreciate its drab intricacy.)

Those who have lived in third world countries, as I have if only briefly, may understand how the bureaucracies of a "baksheesh"-based system can relentlessly wear you down day after day and can appreciate the nobility and stamina embodied in the character of Reza. "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." He does not accept that. His only escape is the fanciful one of retreating periodically alone to a hidden grotto, where he soaks and smokes. Everybody drinks endless glasses of tea; and women smoke too. These amenities are the only signs of sociability. Even Reza's frequent hot showers, and the almost punishingly rigorous one he imposes on his little boy, are more acts of symbolic moral cleansing than relaxation. But what sustains the viewer is the protagonist's undercurrent of seething anger.

One admires, but one can hardly enjoy, this kind of filmmaking (and it hasn't the variety of character and incident and you get in A Separation). Wendy Ide in Screen Daily finds it surprising, given the harsh plot-line and lack of a score or even much of a sound design, that Reza is held to a blank, almost shell-shocked impassivity and the action overall "feels a little baggy" despite recovering with "a brisk, bittersweet final act." It's noirish thriller flavor may stand out too much (Jessica Kiang in Playlist thinks it "ill-advised") but some fun is welcome.

Indeed the over-and-overing of fine detail of Iranian social commentary films impresses at the cost of seeming humorless and thereby lacking humanity. And we now have a corrective in young Panah Panahi's brilliant debut, Hit the Road, which entertainingly blends political commentary with humane wit, so now we know it can be done, even with a film set in modern Iran. One reason why I clearly prefer There Is No Evil is the relief provided by the division into numerous small stories.

A Man of Integrity لرد ("Lerd" or "Lord," original title), 113 mins., debuted in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes May 19, 2017, winning the Prix Un Certain Regard; IMDb lists 38 additional international festivals including Karlovy Vary, Stockholm, Rotterdam, and San Francisco. It opened in France Dec. 6, 2017; AlloCiné press rating 4.1 (82%).Metacritic rating: 78%. The film will open at at IFC Center and New Plaza Cinema @ The West End Theatre in New York Jun. 17, 2022, and Jun. 24, 2022 at Laemmle Royal Santa Monica and Encino, CA Jun. 24. Other select cities will follow.


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