the cast and crew of an Iranian film chose to work under conditions of
anonymity, it usually a good sign you are about to watch something bold and
challenging. While that is not the case for these filmmakers, based in either
Iran or America, most of their assembled films reveal much about the state of
Iranian society. Alienation and uncertainty are themes cropping up throughout
the Iranian Shorts Program, which screens during the 2014 Asian American International Film Festival.
short block gets off to a bracing start with Tara Atashgah’s For the Birds. It is not just a film—it is
an indictment of Iran’s Sharia laws against adultery and those who enforce
them. The title might sound comedic, but it is really a tribute. The “birds”
are women like Atefeh Rajab Sahaleh, a sixteen year old girl executed for
adultery in 2006, to whom the film is dedicated.
artistic reasons, Birds is not
subtitled, but it is painfully easy to follow the story nonetheless. Nazli K.
Lou vividly expresses Sahaleh’s fear and bewilderment, while Chervine Namani
powerfully captures the horror and impotence of a decent bystander. This is a
film that will knock the wind out of people, yet visually it is quite polished
and striking. Without question, it is the class of the field.
it is just an excerpt from a larger documentary, the sampling of Nahid Rezai’s Dream of Silk is sort of an apple among
oranges. Still, the fatalism and lack of confidence in the future expressed by
the high school girls she interviews at her Iranian alma mater is undeniably
telling. The whole thing is probably worth seeing.
Hamed Rajabi’s Turnabout and To Ride a Bicycle are intended to be
seen in dialogue with each other. Both address the exile experience following
the 2009 election protests and subsequent crackdown from different perspectives.
Arguably, Bicycle is the stronger of
the pair, following Mahsa as she struggles to dispose of the bike her former boyfriend
precipitously left behind. Of course, she cannot ride it. That would be
immodest. Turnabout does not quite
have the same pop, but Rajabi conveys a strong sense of place, observing a soon
to be exile fruitlessly searching for friends at his former university to say
it brevity, Mohammad Farahani’s The Theft
is difficult to discuss without giving the whole game away. Regardless of
the O.Henry-esque development, it depicts the grim realities of poverty,
particularly those endured by women, in no uncertain terms.
For the Birds, Anahita Ghazvinizadeh’s
When the Kid was a Kid is likely to
generate the most heated response. It is probably safe to say Taha has sexual
identity issues, perhaps stemming from a problematic relationship with his
often absent divorced mother. When the other kids in his apartment building
play dress-up, Taha dons his mother’s dresses and make-up. Just what he gets
out of the process remains ambiguous, but it is striking how readily the other
children accept him as “Shohreh.” It is brave lead performance, but the entire
youthful ensemble is quite engaging and unaffected.
Iranian Short Block ends with another ringer. Frankly, Assal Ghawami’s A Day in Eden is respectably earnest and
boasts a very fine performance from Briana Marin, but the American-set story of
an Iranian cellist encountering an extremely difficult nursing home patient
does not really speak to realities of contemporary Iranian life.
is a lot viewers can glean and digest from the Iranian Shorts Program,
especially the eye-opening For the Birds and
the patient but forceful To Ride a Bike.
Recommended for connoisseurs of short films and Iranian cinema, it screens this
Saturday (7/26) at the Village East, as part of this year’s AAIFF.
Labels: AAIFF '14, Iranian Cinema, Short Films