Anyone Can Be a Poet, But They Must Suffer First

in 54th Viennale - Vienna International Film Festival

by Suncica Unevska

The film “Bodkin Ras” by Kaweh Modiri, winner of the “Fipresci” award in Vienna, is an extraordinary story about escape, suffering, loneliness and the hell in and around the psychological place that terrifies everyone: where you do not belong anywhere. In “Bodkin Ras” the filmmaker has crafted an unusual mix of real and fictional stories across fantasy and reality, it a very beautiful place, full of shadows, always searching for a way out until the realization hits that it is just within.

In Forres, a small town in the north of Scotland, a foreigner arrives, fleeing through the woods, running away from thoughts, fear, despair, his own story and his role in it, not understanding it. So begins a film with a narrative about pain, suffering, personal torture and misery; about the place where there is no one, and the hell that is reminiscent of death. The mysterious foreigner arrives in a beautiful town, full of flowers, with tradition and distrustful, but mostly gentle, people. But then reflection begins, when everyone, like it or not, hears the old traditional Scottish song, which initiates a journey into a different surrounding.

The presence of a foreigner makes people think differently; they reflect upon their place, their lives, their stories and the city that gives a feeling of home. But what does it mean to be home? For someone, it is enough to be with a neighbor at the bar, for someone else it is enough to see the Nelson tower, and for someone else again it is enough to be surrounded by all the familiar places and friendly people – for someone nature is enough. What actually determines belonging?!

Modiri’s idea to address the fears and past hanging over his characters, which brings feelings of anxiety, is outstanding. He chose to tell the tale of Forres through real stories, through true destinies and tragedies that, when faced with the presence of a foreigner, take on different dimensions. Questions arise, confrontation as well, especially in lieu of their own reactions when someone completely unauthorized shifts things from their usual course.

“Bodkin Ras” is an extremely strong, internal story, which is in harmony with beautiful nature, but also with the nature within us, the nature that remains intact as long as something does not shift it… This is how Modiri approaches this story, a story about people, but also a story about a city; about the sense of belonging, but also about escape from oneself, in which peace is always associated with anxiety, in which beauty is often able to hide disturbing things, until it loses its own shine.

Can a man escape himself if he carries hell within? Can suffering teach you to recognize things? Can peace and security in the city make despair disappear? Can belonging make you change? Sometimes a person persistently searches for peace and belonging, searching for a way to forget the pain, unaware that he himself causes it. Where can we hide from ourselves? Sometimes we believe that the borders will protect us, but they are so porous.

Kaweh Modiri has made an excellent movie for exactly that modern day paranoia around “foreigners.” But, playing in a completely different way with what a foreigner means; what it means to be different, how to discover and accept one’s own nature, because, as with the outdoors, it too can be unpredictable. The friendly city has another side, just like everything else, because isolation can never protect us from life and nature. Anxiety remains, as does pain and uncertainty. The tragedy is inevitable, but why?

Because nature will someday come to light. Because man is as unpredictable as nature. Foreigners and distrust are only a need to believe in something so weak that it is taken by the first storm. “Anyone can be a poet, but they must suffer first,” says Modiri, talking about the “normal” things in the light and shadows of boundaries we set ourselves, constantly believing those are how we will protect ourselves. Through “Bodkin Ras” Modiri shows us how big our delusion is.

Edited by Tara Judah