Iranian Cinema At Berlinale 2020
Updated: Apr 5, 2020
By: Amir Ganjavie
The most outstanding Iranian film at the Berlin Film Festival with any doubt was, There Is No Evil by Mohammad Rasoulof. Rasoulof’s film story was in four episodes with a central idea of capital punishment. In each episode, he has looked at execution from a different perspective and created a discussion concerning the different aspects of execution.
In Iran, it is mandatory for soldiers to perform the act of execution. From the first moment, Rasoulof was arguing that these soldiers are not evil. In fact, he agrees with Hannah Arendt’s idea that people are not hundred percent evil but they are the victims of the system in which they live and work and this seems to be the basis for his film. The very first episode paints this picture: we encounter a man who is lost in his everyday existence, he is just trying to feed his family; he picks up his daughter from school every day, talks to his wife, goes to the bank and this cycle goes on and on. This man’s life is like Goebbels in Nazi Germany who had a quiet personal life; he was the man who would order the execution of a thousand men and women in a single day but at night he played tennis and talked with his wife about trivial things such as eating food. When the episode ends, we understand that he is a hangman and in that very moment, a unique tension is built up as the film prepares the audience for the next episodes. The following episodes expand on this topic in different ways. A soldier is about to execute someone for the first time but he is not ready for the task; or we see another soldier who has gone to visit his girlfriend planning to get married and the girl realizes he had executed someone once who was dear to her family. In the last episode which is set in a desert, we see a man who has refused to execute people years ago and now he is in a self-imposed exile in the desert with consequences for his family.
In Rasoulof’s film, cinematography is aesthetically pleasing and one can find several extraordinary shots especially in the third episode which was shot in the forest in the north of Iran. It is obvious that there is a connection between these shots and the meaning and the themes in this film. For sure these frames are not meaningless in and of themselves and they were used in the film for a reason very professionally. As a result, There is No Evil is a colourful film with great visual features. Each episode was shot in a relatively different film genre which shows how the director has not limited himself to a single genre. His idea of using multiple genres in this film showcases his skills in creating small pieces of cinema. The film has a nice consistent rhythm and there are times when it even resembles an action film. In fact, what we are watching is not a hundred percent intellectual film. All agree not only it has a deep philosophical message but also entertaining. Rasoulof shows how good he is in controlling the performances, the atmosphere and the overall direction of his film and leading it forward. On top of all, the enjoyable music score gives a refreshing twist to the film and makes it more interesting for the audience.There is No Evil was an amazing movie and it absolutely deserved to win the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival.
Another Iranian film shown at the Berlin Film Festival was Yalda, A Night For Forgiveness which caught the attention of the critics and the audience alike. The film had already won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance Film Festival and it was shown at the Generation section of the Berlin Film Festival. The plot revolves around a little girl who becomes the Sigheh (temporary wife ) of a 65 year old man. She kills him in the middle of an argument later. The reason for their argument was a kid whom the little girl wanted to keep but the man was against it. The narrative is shown in the format of a television show. In the film, a television show is produced so that people can hear everything about the girl and decide whether she should be executed for the murder or not. They also want to ask the girl’s forgiveness from the victim's daughter.
Yalda, A Night for Forgiveness has great cinematography and it familiarizes the audience with reality shows. The rhythm of the film is engaging and it doesn’t make the audience bored. The director has tried to tell different stories in the film, all parallel with the main narrative, to engage the audience with stories he has in mind. Yalda was really interesting for those who saw the film at Sundance and Berlin Festivals, because they were introduced to the subject of Sigheh (temporary marriage) in Iran and also reality shows and their meaning in Iranian Cinema. We cannot see many films with these topics in Iranian film festivals, however the director’s unique approach to Sigheh, the straightforward plot of the film, and also the French company which co-produced the film, all contributed to the success of the film at International film festivals.
Another remarkable film from Iranian Cinema shown at the Berlin Film Festival was Namo directed by Nader Saeiviar (the producer of Jafar Panahi’s 3 Faces). In this film, the director is focusing on fear and the mechanisms that a government uses to generate fear in their citizens’ minds and create a dictatorship. The film revolves around a car which is parked in front of a building for a few days and the occupants of the building think that the car is there watching them by the government agents. The film conveys the feelings of paranoia, fear and alienation in the society. The protagonist is a Kurdish man who has recently moved to that building and is not yet accepted by the neighborhood. Others still look at him as a stranger, an outsider. Most people in the building suspect those in the car are there for a new tenant. Namo is a metaphoric film which is glued together by different stories narrated in the film and edited beautifully by Jafar Panahi himself.
There were two other noteworthy films made with Iranian cast and crew. One of these films which we saw at the festival was Pari directed by Siamak Etamadi, an Iranian filmmaker who lives in Greece. Pari is about a mother who goes to Greece to look for her son. In her journey, she reaches a revelation and learns how to see the world through a different lens. The film is shot in the streets of Athens, and it introduces the urban scene in Athens and the culture in the city. It is clear that the director is quite familiar with the urban life in Greece, and he has tried to use the locations which carry the history of Greece to convey the messages and the theme he had in mind.One of the strong points of the film is the performances. Finding Iranian actors and actresses outside of Iran is not an easy task, and we see really good performances in this film, especially the main actress protagonist who is bold in her role. In a sense that this film is breaking taboos, the leading actress does not fear being herself and she plays the role according to the needs of the story.The only thing this film suffers from is the screenplay and its plot where it seems to be disorganized and full of plot holes. Also the characters’ behavior seems irrational at times. In other words, the cause and effect are not always apparent in the narrative which it seems that the original idea of a mother who is looking for her own identity moves the film forward, and the director forces the idea on the plot.
In recent years, several films were made about homosexuality, but none of them actually paid attention to homosexuality and ethnicities at the same time. Faraz Shariat, the Iranian director of the film No Hard Feelings has combined these two really well and he has made a film which revolves around a young Iranian man with a dual identity who was born in Germany but still suffers from an identity crisis and he carries it with him wherever he goes. Where does he come from? To which of these countries does he belong? The director has successfully shown these feelings of alienation toward homosexuality and has conveyed the feelings of a homosexual who feels like he does not belong to the society as he is still struggling with the issues of homosexuality and identity crisis that seem to go hand in hand.One can see the director’s own aesthetic experiences reflected in the film as it is filled with scenes which seem to evoke memories from the director. As the narrative continues, we get introduced to different ethnic experiences. This film won the Teddy award for the Best LGBT Film at the Berlin Film Festival.