Persian International Film Festival 2012: Highlights

Please Do Not Disturb (Iran)

Persian Film Festival posterThe Persian International Film Festival kicked off last night in Sydney with Tina Gharavi’s acclaimed  I Am Nasrine (2011, Iran/UK). The new festival on Sydney’s burgeoning film scene is aimed at showcasing those films from Afghanistan, Iran and Tajikistan that are gaining international recognition. The five films below are indicative of why that is.

Please Do Not Disturb (2010, Mohsen Abdolvahab, Iran)

Mohsen Abdolvahab
’s anthology film is one of the highlights of the festival, showing the increasingly modern city of Tehran from the perspective of a battered wife, a mullah, and an elderly couple. The first story sees the abused wife of a TV host finally snap and make a report to the police, revealing a system that makes in increasingly difficult for women to actually report. In the second story, a beleaguered mullah tries to counsel couples while dealing with a thief who has taken the contents of his bag, in frustratingly hilarious consequences. The final story is perhaps the most heartbreaking, as an elderly couple talk in loops with a TV repairman they refuse to let in. The documentary filmmaker’s first fictional feature is compelling, often funny and always fascinating, with this holistic view of Iran’s conflict of ideals explored in a way that even the terrific A Separation (below) has to tip its hat to.

Please Do Not Disturb is screened Friday 24th of February at 6:30.

Rainy Seasons (Iran)

Rainy Seasons (2009, Majid Barzegar, Iran)

Majid Barzegar often layered look at social interactions in Iran is shot in the familiar intimacy of hand-held cameras, but this belies an often complex series of relationships that sit underneath the surface. The ostensibly familiar narrative, in which an Iranian teenage boy becomes trapped in the middle of his parents’ divorce as well as his own problems, becomes a disarmingly intimate one when he can only confide in a female student looking for a roof over her head. Barzegar reportedly spent two months rehearsing with his actors, and the ease at which they relate to each other is evident on screen. While some of the other films aim to look at the problems unique to Iran, viewers will undoubtedly see parallels with the youth in their own country in this snapshot of an Iranian generation.

Rainy Seasons  is screened Saturday 25th of February at 4:00

Ashkan, The Charmed Ring and Other Stories

Ashkan, The Charmed Ring and Other Stories (2009, Shahram Mokri, Iran)

Another film that explores the interconnecting lives of five quirky characters. We meet a cop who is unhappily in love with a cashier, a sculptor who dreams of emigrating, a young man who constantly is constantly trying to kill himself, and, in the middle of it all, two blind jewellery thieves, who are about to make the heist of their lives. This is one of those movies that demands your attention, and that’s partly because it is as twisty as a snake in the sand. While the film can sometimes be too clever for its own good, Shahram Mokri – who released a short film last year called Raw, Cooked, Burned – has marked himself as one to watch in the future.

Ashkan, The Charmed Ring and Other Stories  is screening Saturday 25th of February at 6:30.

Opium War

Opium War (2008, Seddiq Barmak, Afghanistan)

Afghanistan’s official submission to the 2009 Foreign Feature Academy Awards, as well as the  winner of The Golden Marc’Aurelio Critics’ award for Best Film at Rome International Film Festival, follows two American soldiers who are stranded after their helicopter crashes in enemy territory in Afghanistan. When they encounter a group of opium farmers who grow the crop to survive, the film offers an interesting outsiders perspective on the rough end of an industry that makes barons around the world incredibly rich.

Opium War screens on Saturday 25th of February at 8:45.

A Separation

A Separation (2011, Asghar Farhadi, Iran)

Few Iranian films have gained as much attention as A Separation. From the opening scenes of Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation, in which a faceless bureaucrat categorically tells troubled couple Simin (Leila Hatami) and Nader (Peyman Moaadi) why they will not be granted a divorce, it is clear that the filmmaker has a thing or two to say about the Iranian justice system. When the pair separate, because Nader is unwilling to follow his wife out of Iran due to his Alzheimer’s stricken father, a carer is brought in for the old man while the family is at work. Hiring the devout Razieh (Sareh Bayat) proves disastrous, when Nader returns home to find his father tied to a bed near death and the resulting scuffle results in a murder charge for Nader when the pregnant Razieh and her hot-tempered husband claim he caused Razieh’s miscarriage. An often frustratingly circular plot only serves to highlight the frustratingly baffling legal “system” in Iran, very much indebted to the Koran. While it sometimes feels like a legal procedural (we doubt Law & Order: Iranian Investigations Unit is on its way), and is a little on the lengthy side, this is another indictment of a “justice system” that barely lives up to either of those words.

A Separation is the closing night film of the Persian International Film Festival. It will be released in Australian cinemas on 1 March 2012 from Hopscotch.