Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Ali Soozandeh
Screenwriter: Ali Soozandeh
Cast: Elmira Rafizadeh, Zara Amir Ebrahimi, Arash Marandi, Bilal Yasar, Negal Mona Alizadeh, Payam Madjilessi
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 2/26/18
Opens: February 14, 2018
Naturam expelles furca, tamen usque recurret. The Roman poet Horace said this. Translated: You can drive nature out with a pitchfork, but it keeps coming back. When human beings have their natural implications aborted with repressive laws, you can expect blowback. We learned this with our own horrendous experience with prohibition. Our attorney general still has not learned this as he tries to override California’s legal acceptance of recreational marijuana. Add sex to the package: think of the absurd and hopefully dead U.S. laws against same-sex cohabitation, against the use of birth control, even against same-sex marriage. Ultimately our natural inclinations will win.
Iran is still back in the 19th century with its rigid legislation against unrelated people holding hands; against the use of any drug; against disco-type parties. The young people are smarting. Some desire nothing more than to leave the country for the U.S. or Germany, while others protest in the streets as we’ve seen in the recent demonstrations. To get a solid look at the ways the religious government in Iran punishes people for what we in the U.S. consider wholly inoffensive, watch Ali Soozandeh’s animated story “Tehran Taboo,” which uses rotoscope to avoid the need to film in a place like Jordan and Morocco since surely Iran is outside of what’s possible.
Rotoscoping involves tracing the movement of live actors to convert their story to animation, a technique now done with computers. (See the Wikipedia article https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rotoscoping). While the technology is mind-boggling, of course what is important is the story unfolded under Ali Soozandeh’s direction. The writer-director was born in Iran and lived there to the age of 25. He was alarmed that after the Islamic revolution, boys and girls were separated in school. Now living as a citizen in Germany, he sought to break the silence and protest restrictions, opining that the Iranian people are adept with working around the restrictions. For this film, he was motivated by a conversation between two Iranian men in the subway who noted that a prostitute would take her child along on the job. What may bother him most now is that individuals and their entire families can lose honor for an extramarital relationship.
Though you may root for some people in “Tehran Taboos,” all the individuals are flawed, even the small mute boy who observes everything like a Greek chorus and gets his fun from dropping water balloons from a roof onto the people below. It would not be spoiling the movie to tell you that the taboos that are broken include restrictions against watching porn, getting married when you are no longer a virgin, judges who tilt the balance scales in a petitioner’s favor if she gives her favor to the bench, disco parties, all illegal drugs including weed, and possession of girlie magazines. The most amusing albeit sad problem faces a woman who is deflowered at a party shortly before her wedding and must find a way to become a virgin once again.
Soozandeh opens with a bang, or more accurately a shot of Pari (Elmira Rafizadeh) giving a blow job to a man inside his car. Before you cast blame on her, note that she is desperate to split from a drug addict who is in prison and must ply her trade with a judge to get his signature on a divorce document. In fact she becomes his concubine, living in his apartment together with her son Elias (Bilal Yasar). Even middle-class people have needs: Sara (Zara Amir Ebrahimi), married to Mohsen (Alireza Bayram), a banker, wants to get a job, “not about the money,” she advises the husband who says he can support both, but to get out of the house of his parents.
The men don’t have it so bad, or do they? After a party in which Babak (Arash Marandi) shares a pill and then sex with Donya (Negar Mona Alizadeh), he must raise the money to get her…not an abortion…but a fake hymen! He is threatened with repercussions from her tough fiancé if he discovers what’s missing, and the musician cannot raise the money for the operation. The doctor who is to perform this illegal procedure is pictured as seedy as a doctor can get. (Oops, I forgot about Dr. Larry Nassar, who “harassed” some 150 Olympic gymnasts.)
We get a brief glimpse of people hanging on poles right in the heart of the city, nor does the cat fare much better. It is put into a trash bag, banged against a wall three times, and popped into a dumpster.
There’s nothing unpredictable here if you know anything at all about repressed societies, but at least we can leave the movie feeling good that we live in a progressive country cared for by a genial congress and a sophisticated philosopher-king for a president.
Unrated. 96 minutes. © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B
Acting – B
Technical – B+
Overall – B