J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Tribeca ’17: Retouch (short)

If you have seen Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation, you have some idea how torturous divorce proceedings get in Iran. Ordinarily, that would be to the advantage of a crummy, lay-about husband like Siyavash, but he would have been better off with an easy no-fault California-style split. Instead, he will wind up dead in Kaveh Mazaheri’s short film Retouch, the winner of the Best Narrative Short Award at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival.

Maryam does all the housework and is the primary bread winner in her family, while Siyavash basically leaches off her. Her work involves digitally airbrushing the cleavage, slightly bare shoulders, and infinitesimally visible hairlines from celebrity magazine photos. You see, she understands how to make inconvenient details disappear. One day before work, Siyavash decides to start bench pressing free weights again, but he is way too ambitious. Rather than help lift the barbell crushing his windpipe, Maryam lets gravity have its way. However, on her return from work, she will have to properly re-set the scene.

Although only twenty minutes in duration, Retouch is a powerful film about acute relationship dysfunction, much in the tradition of many of the excellent recent Iranian film imports, like Farhadi’s latest Oscar winner, The Salesman and Nima Javidi’s Melbourne. Although not expressly political, the sort of censorship Maryam must do as part of her daily routine is definitely problematic. It also implies much about the inequality between the sexes in Iran that Maryam must capitalize on such an extreme opportunity to regain her freedom.

Sonia Sanjari is excellent Maryam, projecting both fierceness and vulnerability. Mazaheri maintains a level of tension commensurate with that of the aforementioned Farhadi and Javidi films. However, it is rather troubling Tribeca and Mazaheri went out of their way to complain about the travel ban preventing the filmmaker from accepting his award in person, without mentioning Iran’s travel ban on Israel, which will prevent the Israeli subjects of Tribeca’s Best Documentary winner, Bobbi Jene from presenting their film in the Persian nation. Beyond and apart from politics, Retouch is an accomplished film, highly recommended when it screens again today (4/29) as part of the Shorts: Last Exit program at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

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