Iranian cinema may have its own domestic identity, but plenty of creative talents from the country have been nourished overseas, in exile (whether formal or self-imposed) from their home country. Women like Mania Akbari or Ana Lily Amirpour have become quite well-known in their respective areas (whether visual art or genre cinema), and there are several others who have had some success. I focus on two below who made films in 2017.
They (2017) [USA/Qatar]
This film is set in the Chicago suburbs about a teenager named J in the film (played by Rhys Fehrenbacher) going through a period of uncertainty about their gender identity. Appropriately for a film directed by an expatriate from Iran, it’s a film about liminal states, primarily J’s transition between boy and girl, but the film extends the metaphor to a side story about the Iranian photographer boyfriend (Koohyar Hosseini) of J’s sister (Nicole Coffineau), who is stuck in limbo, unable to return to visit his family in Iran without also losing his chance to stay in the States. The film is quiet and reflective, capturing a sense of the confusion and quiet determination of its central character in a gender-fluid state, waking each morning to enact their identity depending on how he/shey/they feels their gender identity to be, with the intention of making a decision that comes towards the end of the film. The social gathering with an Iranian family that propels the side-plot suggests the possibility that these notions of gender uncertainty might come into conflict with “traditional” patriarchal standards or performative masculine violence, but this is (perhaps thankfully) never developed. It’s a precarious balancing act, and the film can feel quite slow at times, but it certainly has its own sense of style, and the lead actor (himself transgender, and non-professional) is excellent at capturing the very internalised drama of the film.
Director/Writer Anahita Ghazvinizadeh آناهیتا قزوینیزاده; Cinematographer Carolina Costa; Starring Rhys Fehrenbacher, Koohyar Hosseini, Nicole Coffineau; Length 80 minutes.
Seen at BFI Southbank (NFT3), London, Saturday 24 March 2018.
Gholam (2017) [UK/Iran, certificate 15]
Like They, this film is about a liminal state between two different cultures, although it does more to bring out the implicit violence in the helplessness of that state. There’s still a really quiet stillness to a lot of it, as the lead actor of the title (Shahab Hosseini) moves around London, driving a taxi (Iranian films seem to love a taxi, or maybe those are just my favourites) or on foot between his dingy flat, corner shop and decrepit local pub. These times he spends with himself in the environment seem to be largely about avoiding the nagging phone calls from his mother, the pitiful looks given him by his aunt and uncle at their local restaurant, and the obscure attentions of a local Iranian man (possibly some kind of gangster) aroused due to Gholam’s mysterious past in the military. Perhaps this is how You Were Never Really Here would be if it weren’t for that film’s genre trappings, suggesting something bleak and sometimes dangerous, but also reflective and beautiful even so. His interactions with locals are a little stilted, but the film thrives in those silences in between.
Director Mitra Tabrizian میترا تبریزیان; Writers Tabrizian and Cyrus Massoudi سیروس مسعودی; Cinematographer Dewald Aukema; Starring Shahab Hosseini شهاب حسینی; Length 94 minutes.
Seen at Barbican Cinema, London, Saturday 24 March 2018.