unDependence 2019: Iran Shorts

A key program in Edinburgh’s UnDependence Film Festival this year – celebrating its fifth year in the Scottish capital – is a program of shorts from Iranian filmmakers. Covering a range of stories and tones the ‘Iranian Short Stories’ program shows there is reservoir of talent from the country beyond the established brand names like Panahi and Farhadi.

LIKE A GOOD KID follows a childminder navigating her day following the young boy recapping an argument with his mother the previous evening. Despite the very narrow setting (almost the entire short takes place in the family home), and apparently mundane issues, the manner in which director Arian Vazirdaftari allows the power dynamics to shift between Sara (Shadi Karamroudi) and Matin (Yazdan Kokabi Saba) is engaging. Laced with a level of discomfort, the film stretches some tension across the short story, with an ambiguous ending that leaves the true impact of the day upon both an open question to ruminate upon.

ARE YOU VOLLEYBALL? is an altogether less domestic affair, opening on the barbed wire fence at an asylum seeker camp rattled furiously by those within. The disquieting face-off between the frustrated detainees and gun-toting soldiers sets an adversarial atmosphere nicely before puncturing it with the children finding amusement within their situation. Using the volleyball they play with to find recreational common ground with their guards displays the fact that when barriers imposed artificially are removed, more unites people than divides. The film has the odd flourish of slo-mo which isn’t really needed, but an engaging set of performances and simple tale make an elegantly straightforward narrative of human connection punctured by geopolitical impositions, an optimistic view tempered as reality again encroaches come the end.

STATION (EESTGAH) is a wonderfully shot short – a single take that slowly pulls back and pans across a crowd waiting for the last late-night bus. Opening on a tight shot of a man waiting, the camera slowly introduces more characters without breaking its gaze upon the ever-expanding crowd. Some are lingered upon with dialogue, whereas some use shorthand to establish surprisingly full characters sketches within the film: one discusses their childcare issues, another munches snacks, another jabbers on her phone. A simple idea executed well, STATION is a skilful directorial effort from Marzieh Vafamehr – a woman previously imprisoned for her work in film.

FLYING FISH (PARVAZ MAHAHI) is perhaps the loosest film in the program in terms of narrative discipline, but displays some fine visual work in opening on a motorbike tracking shot. Showing a young teacher arriving at a village, he shows concern for a little girl who doesn’t engage in class. Facing repercussions for reporting a burn he notices on the girl, his situation quickly spirals while he tries to adapt to the situation. Although the hardest film to follow in the program, an empathetic central performance and a pace managed well with the film’s editing keeps it from disengaging your interest.

MR AHMADI AND A SIMPLE JOURNEY follows the passengers of a bus and their reaction to the sudden death of one of the passengers. The varying reactions of the crowd are well-written, finding a nice of conflict in establishing audience empathy with some of the empathy-lacking passengers, weaving in some characters with more selfless concerns. The visual work is also engaging, the camera slowly drifting back and forth down the bus from a birds-eye perspective, offering a snapshot of the cross-section of the people in this situation. A gentle but intriguing approach is gripping for the lack of hysteria any of them display.

‘Iranian Short Stories’ will screen on Saturday April 6th, 6.30pm at the Grassmarket Community Centre in Edinburgh. Tickets for this program are available through the unDependence website.

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