Tehran Taboo - MIFF

2017 Melbourne International Film Festival Review: ‘Tehran Taboo’

Animated Iranian film draws starkly realist depiction of modern-day Tehran.

Director Ali Soozandeh has made a film that he knows won’t be shown on television or in cinemas in his home country, where the film is set. For a film so concerned with its home city’s censorship and social inequalities, it makes fascinating viewing for an outsider, like receiving a message from an impassioned prisoner. With sex as its subject, Tehran Taboo aims to expose the problems inherent in a city that attempts to keep hidden a basic human desire and explores how this affects the people, especially the women, in it.

Growing up in Tehran, Soozandeh saw that, time and again, women took the brunt of the restrictions. To get this across, his film takes a strongly sympathetic view of its female characters while positioning the male characters as villains. There’s Pari (Elmira Rafizadeh), a prostitute to whom we’re introduced in the opening sequence. She’s giving a blow job to a taxi driver while her young son is sitting in the backseat. Pari’s profession isn’t known to her neighbour Sara (Zara Amir Ebrahimi), a somewhat happily married mother-to-be who wants to get a job as a teacher, which her husband refuses to allow.

There is one male character who appears more sympathetic than the peripheral husbands, pimps and pigs, a musician named Babak (Arash Marandi). After having sex with a woman at a club, she comes to him pleading that he pay for a surgery to have her hymen reattached because she’s getting married in a week. It’s made quite clear that Babak assists her out of fear for his own safety because, as she says, her husband will kill him if he finds out.

Filmed in rotoscope animation, a process in which the frame is overlaid with a kind of 3D cartoon effect (similar to films like A Scanner Darkly and Waking Life), an effect which renders some of the more devastating scenes not quite as upsetting as they would be otherwise. The film has a surreal landscape, as if this were all taking place in some dark, noir-ish fable. And while the stories intersect, they play out more like short films in an anthology unified by theme and style. The result pieces together a Tehran which is at once starkly upsetting and dreamily enchanting, one where you root for the characters whose backs are broken by the weight of their society’s laws, but at the same time you know things probably aren’t going to end well.

Soozandeh has a specific and powerful vision for Tehran Taboo, one which is both stylish and entertaining, and which never buckles under the weight of its message.

– Tom

Tom Bensley is a freelance writer in Melbourne who reviews anything he attends, watches or reads. It’s a compulsion, really. Follow him @TomAliceBensley.

Tehran Taboo played at the Melbourne International Film Festival, which ran from August 3 – 20.

Disclosure: The Plus Ones were invited guests of Asha Holmes Publicity.
Image credit: MIFF