Film Movement
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Massoud Bakhshi
Writer: Massoud Bakhshi
Cast: Sadaf Asgari, Behnaz Jafari, Fereshteh Sadre Orafaiy, Babak Karimi, Faghiheh Soltani, Arman Darvish
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/6/20
Opens: December 11, 2020

Yalda, a Night for Forgivness Poster

If you think that the United States has gone through bizarre times during the last four years—which it has—wait till you see what’s going on in Iran. I don’t mean the general way that religious fanatics have taken over, determined to lash out at = the U.S. The Great Satan, pointing their fingers at us for our promiscuity, our consumerism, our spending more money on the military than the next ten nations, and breaking solid treaties not only with the Islamic Republic but as well with scientific bodies. Consider their system of allowing the families of murder victims to forgive the perpetrators of crime thereby saving them from a hanging, which to their culture involves both following the religious precept “an eye for an eye,” and allowing the felon to give “blood money” to the families of the deceased instead of paying for the crimes with their lives.

This concept of forgiveness is on trial in “Yalda, A Night for Foregiveness,” which (and this is really what’s bizarre) bringing the immediate family of the victim face to face with the felon on a TV reality show, by which the audience of millions at home, at the conclusion of the give and take between victimized and felon, can text their idea of a just verdict to the show’s producer and decide whether to allow the TV station itself to pay the blood money to the family. The ultimate decision, though, is in the hands of the victim’s immediate relative, though there appears to be a conflict of interest. The relative can refuse to forgive and send the offender to the gallows, then windiung up with nothing but satisfaction. Instead, the family can forgive and add quite of number of rials to their account at the Bank of Iran.

As written and directed by Massoud Bakhshi—whose “A Respectable Family” deals with a professor who returns to Iran after two decades abroad—Maryam (Sadaf Asgari) has been convicted of killing her husband, a man several decades older, the alleged motive being that she is after his money. But then, here’s even more bizarro. Iran may not be as bound to puritanical religious ideology as you may think. For reasons that include the fact that many young Iranians have put off marriage for financial and other reasons but still have sexual needs, the country’s law allow for temporary marriages. This might be considered to us a form of legalized prostitution, but it’s a way that the Muslim state puts the cloak of legitimacy on a union—something like what we in the U.S. consider a partnership but with the right of inheritance.

Did she kill her husband for his money, as his daughter Mona (Behnaz Jafari) believes, or was it an accident as Maryam insists? The two are brought face to face in a reality show moderated by Omid (Arman Darvish), after an opening of the story with a stunning view of the Milad Tower in Tehran. The producer is Ayat (Babak Karimi), and, coaching her daughter, her mother (Feresteh Sadre Orafaly) advises her to show humility, to apologize, virtually to kiss Mona’s butt. The daughter, who is about 17 years of age and not yet imbued with the need to compromise, holds that the killing was an accident, so why apologize? Nonetheless, at the appropriate time, she begs Mona to spare her life while Mona, despite being a woman with class and education, is conflicted between wanting the blood money and wanting revenge in the name of her dad.

Everyone but Mona hopes for forgiveness. Even the prosecutor urges Mona to relent, to commute the sentence to no more than six years, provided that enough viewers sympathize with the teen and vote thumbs up through their cell phones.

Though at times you could swear that the whole business is a parody of our own reality shows, junk productions like “The Assistant,” you could forgiven if you are drawn into the emotions of the program, wanting to talk to the screen and tell Mona to spare a life, take the money and run. A further complication centers on Maryam’s mother’s manipulation involving a baby, adding to the melodrama that were it not developed with honesty and authenticity could have landed “Yalda” into soapy territory.

The title of the movie involves a night of celebration (something like our own glorious November 7th, 2020), during the winter solstice when families and friends get together to drink and to eat pomegranates and nuts, a holdover from the ancient Zoroastrian religion. This film won the Sundance Festival Grand Jury prize, doubtless considering the performances of the two female leads—Sadaf Asgari, tight-lipped, confused, virtually shuddering with fear of imminent death, and Behnaz Jafari as a woman of a higher class who had gotten Maryam a job with her father and now regrets ever laying her eyes on her. Up to the final minutes, you will be convinced that she will pardon the offender, but no, maybe she would not, given her contempt for the person of a lowly class who allegedly seduced Mona’s dad but is told that the opposite is true: that the victim, already married, begged the young woman to agree to a temporary marriage provided that no pregnancy take place.

In Farsi with English subtitles.

89 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – B+


LOVE CHILD – movie review

Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Eva Mulvad
Writer: Eva Mulvad
Cast: Sahand, Mani, Leila
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/14/20
Opens: September 14, 2020

love child

When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, his people asked him how it went. The good news is “I got him down to ten,” the lawgiver said. “The bad news is that adultery is still one of them.” Commandments notwithstanding, adultery is probably more common than killing, stealing, even dissing your mother and father. I’ll bet more people say OMG than drink Coca-Cola, so forget enforcing decrees against taking The Name in vain. While we in the West love soap operas with every kind of description of sex outside marriage, parts of the world are just no fun. In Iran, if you’re guilty of violating the Sixth Commandment, you are in deep doody.

The government of Iran says not only Death to America but when they get a chance they think Stone the Adulterers. In this doc, a dramatized one which makes it the kind of nonfiction story that evokes the same audience interest as a narrative drama, Sahand and Leila have a love child conceived four years earlier in Tehran. Mani, the title character, does not understand why her mother and dad are eager to leave everything behind in Iran, but in a way it’s because of him. He is the physical evidence that he was created by his mom, but not by the guy back home who somehow, after three years of marriage to Leila, left her, well, a virgin. The Iranian court would not grant Leila a divorce which even our Catholic church would make short shrift of with an annulment. Instead the judge said “Pray and watch TV.” Maybe they don’t have good stuff on TV like our Drew Barrymore show, and yet somehow, not explained, she does get the divorce.

They’re not looking for a place to exploit workers and make a fortune like people in some countries. They want only to live. They are an educated couple, speaking Farsi, Turkish, English, even Azeri which should make them welcome in many countries, but first they fly to Istanbul and begin a paper chase. They seek refugee status from the UN High Commission for Refugees, which sends their fate into the hands of a byzantine bureaucracy; not ironic considering that they’re filing from Byzantium. They check the UNHCR website eager to hear whether their plea for refugee status is granted, which would allow them to apply for passage to Canada or Australia among other places, but Mani decides for them. He wants America. He never heard of Trump. But Turkey is inundated with Syrian refugees—give the Turks credit for opening their borders to (shock) Muslims (!) and appearing ready to allow them to stay for years if they wish.

As stated above, this is a doc that’s in the welcome format of a narrative drama, one that even takes on the momentum of a thriller. The three stars are not professional actors, but you’d never know. Their lovey-dovey chats and arguments are likely to have been scripted by Danish writer-director Eva Mulvad, whose doc “A Modern Man” is about a Norwegian-English elite violinist, but they sure seem real. Makes you wonder why people go to acting school when all you need is a good director like Ms. Mulvad.

A compelling drama with subtitles in Farsi, Turkish, English and Azeri.

82 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – A-
Acting – B+
Technical – B+
Overall – A-


THE OPERATIVE – movie review

Vertical Entertainment
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Yuval Adler
Screenwriter: Yuval Adler, adapted from the Novel “The English Teacher” by Yiftach Reicher Atir
Cast: Diane Kruger, Martin Freeman, Cas Anvar, Liron Levo, Yaakov Zada Daniel, Ohad Knoller
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 7/26/19
Opens: August 2, 2019

Image result for the operative movie poster

You would expect Yuval Adler, a director whose freshman feature, “Bethlehem,” bounce back and force in the plotting, getting diverging points of view from people involved in the spy business. “Bethlehem,” about the complex relationship between an Israeli Secret Service officer and his Palestinian informant, finds the director coloring his new movie with the same complexity of his first. “The Operative,” based on Yiftach Reicher Atir’s book “The English Teacher” (available from Amazon for under ten bucks), excels with yet another gem of a performance from Diane Kruger, a German actress who is not only fluent in English but speaks it with an American accent. Kruger, who studied with the Royal Ballet of London until an injury ended that career, may have endured a blessing in disguise as she is easily among A-list actors sought for diverse roles whether a revenge thriller like “In The Fade” about a woman played by Diane Kruger who seeks revenge when a car bombing kills her husband and son, or “All That Divides Us,” examining the relationship of slum dwellers and a bourgeois family, with Diane Kruger playing the daughter of Catherine Deneuve who needs saving from a relationship.

I occasionally wonder whether some of these movies that switch back and forth would be better served by a chronological pattern but we take what we’re given. Here Thomas (Martin Freeman), a “handler” operating with the Israeli Mossad in Germany, works this time with Rachel (Diane Kruger), whose principal mission is in Tehran. Rachel is a loner, admittedly often lonely as well, a woman involving herself in a romantic relationship that could damage a major operation: that of setting up an electronics company to convey equipment to Iran which is deliberately destined to fail. She likes Tehran (there’s no city like it says another character) but without knowing the language, she does her job as an English teacher to young Iranians. By coincidence, Farhad (Cas Anvar), an executive with the company, hits on her and she responds. Adler, who scripted the adaptation of “The English Teacher,” makes us wonder whether the relationship with this playboy-exec is part of a game that she is playing or whether she has made the cardinal mistake of sleeping with the enemy.

As word gets back to Germany about their agent’s faux pas, arguments break out among Mossad agents, some of whom want to “take out” their flawed operative despite Thomas’s vigorous opposition. The most suspenseful scene arises when Rachel, burying her body on the floor of a truck with Iranian men whose loyalties are unclear. One of whom actually tries to rape her in a fearfully claustrophobic setting.

This is an espionage tale that’s more John Le Carré than 007, with a complexity of plotting that might make viewers desire a second viewing.

Kolja Brandt films partly in Berlin, though the areas representing Tehran are not given either on Wikipedia or the Internet Movie Database. In English, Hebrew and Farsi with English subtitles.

117 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B-
Acting – B+
Technical – B+
Overall – B

3 FACES – movie review

3 FACES (Se rokh)
Kino Lorber
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net by: Harvey Karten
Director: Jafar Panahi
Screenwriter: Jafar Panahi
Cast: Behnaz Jafari, Jafar Panahi, Marziyeh Rezaei, Maedeh Erteghaei, Narges Del Aram
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC,
Opens: March 8, 2019

Jafar Panahi in Se rokh (2018)

In March 2010 Jafar Panahi, among the best-known of Iranian film directors, was arrested, sentenced to a six-year jail term , spending much of that time under house arrest and forbidden to leave Iran. He was accused of making propaganda films against the Iranian government. While awaiting the result of an appeal, he made This Is Not a Film (2011), a documentary feature in the form of a video diary in spite of the legal ramifications of his arrest. It was smuggled out of Iran in a flash drive hidden inside a cake and shown at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.

That act of smuggling is what could pass, justifiably, for excitement even here in the U.S., a sort of incident that patrons of commercial movies might line up to see. Nothing of this sort occurs in “3 Faces,” the title characters being one aging actress who performed before Iran’s 1979 revolution, one who is famous today, another being a young woman accepted to a conservatory who dreams of being in the movies. Panahi’s latest offering is a road-and-buddy movie using the genre’s tropes: a couple of friends who travel outside their neighborhood to observe the customs of folks from a less sophisticated walk of life. When Panahi travels from Tehran to a rural village in the Northwest of his country with actress Behnaz Jafari in the passenger’s seat, he entertains us with the odd folks you’ll probably find in the sticks anywhere. They are a friendly people who throughout the village invite them to tea, but under the surface is a hostility to women, sometimes shows vividly, and at other times with passive aggression.

This is not to say that Iranian women are like those of their gender in Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. They do not have to cover themselves head to toe and get whipped if they show so much as an ankle. They do wear hijabs, or coverings, on their heads but can push the scarfs back to expose some hair. (This would not be so objectionable if men were also required to cover themselves. Wouldn’t people with the uncovered looks of Brad Pitt get the women all hot and bothered ?)

Performers use their own names as though this were a fly-on-the-wall documentary. The movie gets off to a vivid opening when Marziyeh (Marziheh Rezaei), a woman of about eighteen, makes a video of her suicide, tying a rope around her neck, the other end fastened to a tree. She sends the video to Jafar Panahi who shows it to Behnaz Jafari, who becomes obsessed with what she considers the injustice: the young woman’s parents will not allow her to attend a school for acting. Women who “perform” are said to dishonor the family, at least in this rural area where Turkish and Azeri become the dominant languages of the people. (I won’t bother to say obvious things about the millions of Americans living predominantly in rural and suburban areas of red states.)

As the director and the celebrated actress negotiate the unpaved roads in areas where many people had probably never seen Tehran, they take note of oddities. An elderly woman relaxes in a grave that she has dug, keeping the snakes away because the reptiles will punish her for her bad deeds. An old man soon after instructs Panahi to honk his horn once, then twice, seemingly a compulsion but in fact having a rational purpose. Toward the conclusion, another resident hands Jafari a foreskin of her infant to serve as a talisman. And a bull with “golden balls” that has practiced his stud service in a single night on ten cows lies in the road with a broken leg, its owner determined not to put the animal out of his misery because the animal makes a living for him.

There is virtually no music in the soundtrack. Panahi respects his audience enough to take many a long shot, all filmed expertly by Amin Jafari’s use of handheld cameras. Of course the young woman’s “suicide” is faked, designed to get the famous actress to visit and to talk the girl’s parents into allowing her to “perform.” In this film the acting profession is used to symbolize the patriarchy of the country, strongest of course, in the sticks. The three faces of the title include Shahrazade, who does not appear, having performed before the 1979 revolution and now living alone and miserable. While Behnaz Jafari has had success in her profession and is treated with excitement by the teen girls in the village who crowd around her, she is not all that welcomed by the oldsters. We wonder whether the third and youngest face will be able to compete for the success of Mrs. Jafari. “3 Faces” demonstrates the solidarity of women, all the more pronounced when it is repressed, a compassionate look at what some would call the “real people” of their country, all the more moving because of the film’s meditative nature.

100 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – B+

PIG (Khook) – movie review

PIG (Khook)
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net by: Harvey Karten
Director: Mani Haghighi
Screenwriter: Mani Haghighi
Cast: Hasan Majuni, Leila Hatami, Leili Rashidi, Parinaz Izadyar, Mina Jafarzadeh
Screened at: Critics’ Link, NYC, 1/6/19
Opens: January 11, 2019 at Iranian Film Festival in NY: at IFC Center, 323 6th Avenue

Pig (2018 film).jpg

How do you like your Iranian movies? Do you favor meditative ones in the Ingmar Bergman style with a focus on the regrets of old age? Then Bahman Farmanara’s “Tale of the Sea” is your glass of sharbat. If instead you prefer absurdist dark comedy, Coen Brothers’ fashion? Then go for “Pig.” “Pig,” or “Khook” as the picture is known in Farsi, is a hallucinatory look at the high-end folks of Tehran, people who visit museums that show modern art and those whom Trump supporters would consider elitist. These are the well-to-do, BMW-owning artists, in this case represented by Hasan Kasmai (Hasan Majuni), a filmmaker who was blacklisted by the government. People in the know about global politics will pick up that Kasmai stands in for the real-life Jafar Panahi, a filmmaker who was unable to get a job because the politicians did not like his alleged propaganda against the government and who in 2011 smuggled a video out to the Cannes Festival by hiding the flash drive inside a cake.

Writer-director Mani Haghighi, whose “Men at Work” is an allegorical take on four middle-aged men on a ski trip, continues his wont to hide political commentary in a similar allegorical form, this time gives us “Pig,” a barb against the narcissism of artists, a trait that we in the U.S. know well given the current administration in the White House.

To get his message across, Haghighi employs the darkly comic theme of murder, wherein a killer decapitates artists before or after cutting off their heads. One filmmaker, the blacklisted Hasan Kasmai, feels slighted that he still keeps his head, wondering whether he is really in the top tier of his profession if he is being ignored by the murderer. Perhaps Haghighi is saying that some high-up officials are themselves being headless, persecuting those with whom they disagree.

“Pig” can be considered a horror film only as a stretch. When we see a few heads on the curbside and in the morgue with missing torsos, we are not in the company of filmmakers like Wes Craven and Rob Zombie who give their largely teen base the blood and guts that they eagerly lap up. When Hasan, the film’s principal subject, is not lamenting the injunction on his film making, using his time to shoot commercials, he is having an affair with leading lady Shiva (Leila Hatami). But Shiva, tired of being without employment because of the ban on her lover and director’s art, goes over to filmmaker Saidi (Ali Mosoffa) to Hasan’s displeasure.

Still, Hasan is pursued, even stalked for roles in movies yet to come, by Annie (Parinaz Izadyar). At the same time Hasan is himself babied by his rifle-toting mother, who will play a major role toward the story’s conclusion. Hip audience members will recall Chekhov’s insight that a gun shown in Act I will be used in Act III.

Among the visual candy on hand is an extended insecticide commercial, the all-female crew of bugs dressed in red with yellow boots, ultimately to be killed off by a huge, misty cloud. A dig at social media, in this case Instagram (Iran does not allow Facebook), sets Hasan up as the murderer by capturing him in scenes that could lead to his prosecution. Despite the thematic importance of this film, Hasan Majuni in the lead role becomes tiresome with a half hour to go. He is unlikable; an obese, temper-tantrum baby wearing silly T-shirts including one advertising Black Sabbath, an English rock group named after Mario Bava’s 1963 film of the same name.

There’s an elephant in the room. We in the U.S., told repeatedly that Iran is an authoritarian state that denies freedom to women and would not tolerate a movie critical of its repressive laws, may be surprised to note that men and women who are not related are seen chatting freely, driving cars, and observing so-called corrupt abstract art which was banned by totalitarian governments like Germany in the thirties and the Soviet Union under communism.

“Pig” is among the films exhibited beginning Jan. 10, 2019 in New York, enjoying the first Iranian Festival contributions this year. Shot on location in Tehran with sharp images by Mahmoud Kalari, the picture is in Farsi with English subtitles.

108 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B-
Acting – B
Technical – B
Overall – B

TALE OF THE SEA – movie review

TALE OF THE SEA (Hekayat-e Darya)
Reviewed for Shockya.com and BigAppleReviews.net by: Harvey Karten
Director: Bahman Farmanara
Screenwriter: Bahman Farmanara
Cast: Bahman Farmanara, Fatemeh Motemad Arya, Leila Hatami, Saber Abar, Ali Nassirian
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 1/
Opens: January 10, 2019 at the First Iranian International Film Festival in NY: At IFC Center, 323 6th Avenue, NY NY.

Leila Hatami and Saber Abar in Hekayat-e darya (2018)

You would not be surprised at the similarity of “Tale of the Sea” to previous works from the Iranian filmmaker, Bahman Farmanara. Farmanara deals with momentous subjects in previous works. In “Smell of Camphor, Fragrance of Jasmine,” for example, the writer-director envelops his principal character with thoughts of death, plot items evoking thoughts of the final exit. The principal character wonders why his niece’s husband fails to return home. He searches hospitals for an unclaimed body while his own heart is giving out. In “A Separation,” a married couple runs into conflict as one partner wants to leave Iran while the other needs to care for an ailing mother. A heart (one breaking, the other physically fragile), marital conflict, illnesses including a budding schizophrenia and depression, and once again thoughts of leaving Iran, crop up again. This new film may remind literate moviegoers of the works of Ingmar Bergman, particularly his 1957 film “Wild Strawberries”(an aging man confronts the emptiness of his existence)—while Peyman Yazdanian’s score at times recalls Hitchcockian tones.

“Tale of the Sea,” which takes place in a writer’s spacious home overlooking the ocean, is a theatrical piece, with most scenes involving one or two people with the occasional presence of a trio. Taher Mohebi (Bahman Farmanara), the principal character, is played by the filmmaker, who is 77 years old, a large man made up to look as though he is approaching his mid-80s. Conversations take place between drinks of tea that his wife Jaleh (Fatemeh Motamed-Arya) often prepares and a cup of Turkish coffee brewed by Paraveneh, a surprise guest in his home who will radically change the married couple’s life.

For his part Taher, a writer known by his former students as Maestro, has spent three years in an institution for the emotionally disturbed, longing to remain there though prodded by his doctor (Ali Mosaffa) to go out and face reality. Taher continues to look like Job, years of woe yielding a face whose perpetual sadness belies the pale blue eyes that we assume should connote joy. We don’t wonder why his wife wants a divorce, though she will wait until her husband gets better lest an announcement of separation now lead to the poor man’s death.

A few scenes on the beach take us temporarily away from the purely theatrical. Taher meets people from his past, including a hallucinatory friend (Ali Nassirian) who had been “assigned to eternity” years earlier, and an emotional political activist (Saber Abar) who would like to relive the best years of his life—which were back in college when Maestro was his favorite teacher. All this Proustian remembrance of past memories is not unlike the situation faced by Dr. Eberhard Isak Borg in “Wild Strawberries,” whose “visits” to past people in his life remind him of the emptiness of his existence.

If you are not familiar with Ingmar Bergman—though if you read commentary on this film you surely must be—then think of Katherine Hepburn who, when asked about the value of old age to provide wisdom to youth replies that old age has not a single redeeming feature. You would expect that in his better days, Taher, active as a teacher and a celebrity author as well, was a different person, and you would probably be right. By the time you exit the theater, you may be more fearful of growing old (yes, of course, it’s better than the alternative), than ever. The melancholia of age and the way the brilliant director, producer, screenwriter and principal actor work to make you feel the mournful emotions, are what make “Tale of a Sea” a downer, if you will, but one that will leave you absorbed for its full 97 minutes while respecting that this filmmaker is at the top of his game.

97 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – B+

AVA – movie review


Grasshopper Film
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Sadaf Foroughi
Screenwriter:  Sadaf Foroughi
Cast:  Mahour Jabbari, Bahar Nouhian, Leili Rashidi, Vahid Aghapour, Shayeste Sajadi, Sarah Alimardani, Houman Hoursan
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 4/20/18
Opens: April 27, 2018
Ava Movie Poster
Watching this mother-from-hell berate her daughter reminds me of verses by the British poet and Oxford University graduate Philip Larkin (1922-1985):

“They f*** you up, your mum and dad/ They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had/  And add some extra, just for you.
But they were f***d up in their turn/ By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern/ And half at one another’s throats.
Man hands on misery to man/ It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can/ And don’t have any kids yourself.”

Never mind that the mother (Bahar Noohian) in this case is Iranian and that the setting in a conservative society helps provoke the woman to extremes.  Ava (Mahour Jabbari) is the sixteen-year-old whose own kids years later will likely be as screwed up as she.  Most important, what is happening to her could happen to teens anywhere in the world and quite often does.  There is some truth that many adolescents, despite being in the best physical condition in their lives, are a troubled mess.

Sadaf Foroughi, in her freshman job at directing and writing, has made an auspicious beginning, one which quite often in the field of filmmaking leads to even more mature works to come.  This is the kind of story that could be semi-autographical, so strong and unrelieved are the tensions created in Ava that we suspect that Foroughi has endured this pain herself.

The title character, Ava, comes from a solid middle-class home, a well-appointed house with clean, tiled bathroom and granite countertops.  She attends a school where the students appear likewise well off and studious.  She’s a normal girl who may be shoved under a metaphoric bus thanks to her mother, a doctor, whose overreaction starts a spiral that her father (Vahid Aghapoor) may not ameliorate given that he’s an architect and often not home.  The trouble begins when Ava’s mom finds out that she has spent an hour in the park with Nima (Housman Hoursan), a young man who it unwittingly the target of a bet that Ava makes with her best friend Melody (Shayesteh Sajadi) that he will ask her out.  Her mother is frantic.  Alone with a boy for an hour!  She takes the girl to a gynecologist to confirm whether her daughter is a virgin.

Again: are there reasons for this overreaction?  It turns out that 17 years back, dad got mom pregnant. They married and apparently were not too pleased to have a child this early in their lives.  Mother is convinced that she has spooked her girl into acting like her, and this dovetails with the background of a conservative Muslim society.  It doesn’t take long for teacher-parent conferences with the school principal-from hell, Ms. Dehkhoda (Leili Rashidi), who wears white gloves perhaps to symbolize her expectation that her charges will be virgins—and not doing crazy things like seeing a boy in the park for an hour without supervision.

The girls in the school all wear black veils albeit with the front of their hair showing while the boys are like teen boys everywhere, in this case wearing red sneakers. As in the U.S. the girls curse as much as the boys.  The focus is on Ava, an intense young woman with a growing anxiety and rebellion that prompts her to cut her hand (and this is the hand of a violinist) and deliver a monologue to counter her mother’s own monologue in the film’s most melodramatic scene.  American teens watching this film will identify—that is, if they don’t mind reading the English subtitles while the performers speak Farsi.  (In English class, the girls throw spitballs at each other when the teacher’s back is turned, which is not likely a reflection of hostility toward the English-speaking world.)

Quite an interesting first film by Foughi and likewise a suitably intense performance by Jabbari, on whom lenser Sina Kermanizadeh concentrates sometimes in sharp close-up and other times in soft focus.  Tehran is the location.  In Farsi, English subtitles.

Unrated.  103 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B

TEHRAN TABOO – movie review


Kino Lorber
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

WINDOW HORSES – movie review

  • WINDOW HORSES: The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming

    First Pond
    Director:  Ann Marie Fleming
    Screenwriter:  Ann Marie Fleming, Maryam Najafi
    Cast:  Voices of Shohreh Aghdashloo, Ellen Page Sandra Oh, Navid Negahban, Nancy Kwan, Omid Abtahi
    Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 12/21/17
    Opens: September 29, 2017

    If you don’t like poetry because you cannot understand its meanings, you’d do fine by watching “Window Horses.”  Ann Marie Fleming’s animated creation evokes poetry in the exotic scenery, and the verses read especially by the awkward Rosie Ming (Sandra Oh) are as clear as good writing can be.  This is animation created for adults, although responsible children can surely profit from watching and hearing from the stick figure of Rosie and the more elaborate designs of all the others.  The story would be found particularly poignant by people whose fathers had abandoned them, and when Rosie discovers the real reason she was lost to her dad, you may find sympathy for the man who left his daughter through no conscious fault of his own.

    Rosie Ming, who is half Chinese and half Iranian lives in North Vancouver with her supportive grandparents, who, upon hearing that she is invited to a poetry festival in Shiraz, Iran, have mixed feelings.  They know that she loves Paris, though she has never been there, and try to persuade her to shift her travel plans—but at the time she had no invitations to similar festivals in the French capital.  Rosie’s best friend Kelly (Ellen Page) did not know even that Rosie was a poet, though Rosie explains that “it’s nothing,” an indication of her self-denigrating posture.

    Arrival in Shiraz wearing a black chador—whose symbolic meaning she probably does not know—she is encouraged by people she meets that she has no real need to dress that way.  She makes friends with a scruffy German, Dietmar (Don McKellar), fascinated that the fellow with a straggly beard lives in the city of her dreams.  Warmly met by fellow poets and by the festival’s cultural ambassador Mehrnaz (Shohreh Aghdashloo), she reads on two occasions from her poetry. When the festival’s MC Cyrus (Camyar Chaichian) tells her the reason for her father’s disappearance, her principal fear (that she was not wanted) and hostility (how could he do such a thing?) melt away.

    Criticism of the present government of Iran is so subtle that one might expect that country’s censorship people to OK the animation, at least for export.  Political satire is hardly the point of the 89-minute film by Ann Marie Fleming who directs her first feature since 2003, but there is no small feminist message throughout.  We learn something of the history of Persia, a glorious chapter in the world’s record of the past, the brilliance of a fourteenth century’s beloved Persian scribe seemingly snuffed by a government that cares more about arming terrorists in Hezbollah than in reflecting on the country’s humanistic past.

    Unrated.  89 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

    Story – B
    Acting – B
    Technical – A-
    Overall – B