The 26th Iran Film Festival is watching the country today – WCP

Institutional failure is an important theme of 2022 Annual Film Festival of Iran. Now in its 26th year, the festival, co-presented by the National Museum of Asian Art and the AFI Silver Theater, returns to virtual and IRL audiences on January 14. This year’s multi-month event showcases films featuring various downtrodden characters who persist against despair. Many films depict poverty, but even one about a middle-class family implies that governments and social safety nets offer few solutions. Real help for ordinary people, several films suggest, comes from family and an informal network of corruption. But the filmmakers have little interest in dwelling on misery for its own sake, and instead capture how slices of ordinary life somehow make every indignity and tense situation more tolerable.

There are formal similarities between the films of this year. He will be recognizable to anyone who follows the Oscar winner Asgar Farhadi, including the last film, A hero, has a national release before being available to stream on Amazon Prime. Modern Iranian cinema relies on realism, filming real houses and cityscapes that eschew any sense of glamour. The actors have natural dialogue and performances, rarely relying on histrionics. The cumulative suggestion is that these people have learned from a lifetime of experience that vulgar displays of emotion rarely accomplish anything. With one notable exception, it can be easy to confuse these films with documentaries as the writers and directors imagine scenarios that blend into the reality of everyday life. Even when a film creates supernatural forces beyond the character’s control, it’s through the prism of typical trials.

The skin follows Araz (Javad Ghamati), a merchant of luck. He sells leather goods, but no one has come to his store for months, so he spends his time bickering with his mother. The biggest problem is that he can’t be with the woman he loves – his ex – because she fell in love with another man. Unbeknownst to Araz, his mother complicates matters through supernatural means: she is a witch who has placed a curse on Araz’s potential lover, preventing them from reuniting. Written and directed by twin brothers Bahman and Bahram Arch, The skin believes in witchcraft and demons. Parts of the film unfold like a folk horror tale (as the film’s description notes, the brothers rely on traditional Persian folklore and music to tell their story), with Araz struggling to satisfy a djinn who is terrorizing his community. However, the formal constraints are poles apart from the horror genre. There’s a handful of spooky imagery, including bizarre creatures lurking in the shadows, but most of the film involves bickering between characters who disagree over how or if those forces should be. appeased. A convoluted, inward-looking plot prevents Araz’s struggle from having any real sense of urgency.

While horror doesn’t lend itself to modern Iranian cinema, black comedy is one area where the genre and limited production values ​​can thrive. The son follows a character that will be instantly recognizable to Western audiences: Soheil Ghannadan rooms Hamid, a jobless loser, who dotes on his frail mother in their posh apartment. Hamid is a jumble of contradictions. He wants to be recognized for his devotion to his parents, but resents that his attention led him to a life with no great future. Of course, Hamid has little self-awareness about it, so the film’s comedy comes from his willingness to exaggerate and lie whenever it suits him. The plot kicks in shortly after the death of Hamid’s mother. He doesn’t trust the authorities with his body, so he hides it in his refrigerator (director Noushin Meraji wisely avoid showing us this image). Now that he’s truly unmoored, Hamid uses his death as a lazy attempt to drum up sympathy from strangers. He asks the neighbors for favors and, in a bizarre deadpan scene, he unharmingly invites a sex worker to his room, too unlucky to understand the services she provides.

Hamid is a Judd Apatow-like a hero, an idiot and pathetic, except there’s a deeper pain that only becomes clear when his older, more successful brother returns from the United States. His brother left Iran for a supposedly better life and his continued frustration with Hamid crystallizes their differences. Institutional failure is part of what separates the two: Hamid’s brother immediately wants to involve the authorities, a subtle hint of his Americanization, while Hamid is understandably more skeptical. They resolve their differences in a long scene, a scene where shared experience irons out impasses that have developed over decades. The son isn’t touching in a traditional way, though it acknowledges the universal struggle and pain between siblings in an empathetic, if bizarre way.

While The skin and The son using gender to explore modern life in Iran, humanist drama Drowning in holy water is the best synthesis of form and subject. It follows Hamed (Morning Heydarnia), a young man from Afghanistan who plans to immigrate to Germany via a path from Iran to Turkey. He meets there Rona (Sadaf Asgari); the two connect and promise to meet again once they arrive in Europe. Director Navid Mahmoudi films their naivety in a moving way.

During his pit stop in Iran, Hamid stays with Sohrab (Ali Shadman), a smart young man who sincerely cares for his traumatized sister Setareh (Neda Jebraeili). Their informal arrangement is supposed to last just a few days, except there’s a complication: Europe is refusing Afghan immigrants, so Hamid’s best chance of moving is to convert to Christianity. As Hamid, a proud Muslim, wonders if the compromise is worth it, he discovers that Rona has been kidnapped by the family she longs to flee. The film becomes a race against time, with Hamid facing impossible choices.

Mahmoudi and his young cast deftly create a harrowing situation and add desperate procedural details with sheer ingenuity. As Sohrab, Shadman is a compelling presence, a fundamentally decent person who speaks realistically about what Hamid needs to do. Hamid can’t be much older than 20, and while his serious nature hurts him in ways he can’t see, the movie ultimately implies that those qualities could help him in the long run. Drowning in holy water portrays the inevitable consequence of institutional failure. As Hamid and Sohrab resort to shocking violence, the film morphs into an observant account of immigration struggles that wisely avoids direct criticism. It’s this year’s best film at the festival because it’s too wise – or perhaps resigned – about the plight of young immigrants to challenge the system head-on.

As the festival’s press release states, “Iranian filmmakers continue to create culturally vital and innovative films despite daunting challenges.” The event will showcase the country’s latest cinematic works as well as selected classics, including two filmmaker retrospectives celebrating Shahram Mokri and Farhadi.

The annual Iran Film Festival, which features feature and short films as well as live events, runs from January 14 to April 21. Starting January 14, The Freer Galley of Art will screen selected films online through the museum’s virtual platform. . To free.

In-person film screenings begin Feb. 4 at AFI Silver, 8633 Colesville Rd., Silver Spring. $1 to $13. Tickets for both are available on the the festival website.

About Pamela Boon

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