Tehran Not Taboo in Jerusalem

in 34th Jerusalem Film Festival

by Simon Safranek

Eleven first features were screened in the international debuts competition of the 34 th Jerusalem Film Festival. The FIPRESCI award went to the Tehran Taboo, that “is an important film while still remaining entertaining. It brings us into a corrupt and unequal society, and gives every character a chance to exist without judgement and in an uplifting tone,“ says the jury’s motivation.

The films in competition varied heavily on many levels. There was an agricultural thriller about cow disease – Bloody Milk (Petit peysan) by Hubert Charuel; a complex drama on the aftermath of a terrorist’s past – After the War (Dopo la guerra) by Annarita Zambrano; a fragile dramedy about a 6-year- old girl trying to adapt to a new life after the loss of her mother – Summer 1993 (Estiu 1993) by Carla Simón; and a beautifully crafted historical romance – Lady Macbeth by William Oldroyd. And then there was a young Spanish immigrant in New York who gets a mysterious job offer in an indie thriller – The Most Beautiful Island, written, directed and produced by the films star Ana Asensio. This picture won a major prize at the SXSW festival, while others scored at Locarno, Berlinale and San Sebastian, or were screened in Cannes or Sundance. Five of the films were directed by women.

The films are striving for the perfect dramatic arc and often deal with family problems and relationships between parents and children. Most of the stories aim for an airy subtlety rather than hard pressing storytelling. Two pictures shone in this respect: Menashe by Joshua Z. Weinstein is an anthropological look into an ultra-orthodox Jewish community in New York. The beautifully lensed Desert Bride (La novia del Deserto) by Cecilia Atán and Valeria Pivato on the other hand is a minimalistic little piece of a road movie with the brilliant Paulina García as a woman searching for her lost bag.

I didn’t find much of a cinematic risk-taking in any of the films, so it was refreshing to watch the Iranian drama The Pot and the Oak (Goldan va Derakht-e Baloot) by Kiarash Anvari about a man’s collapse after he discovers he is sterile. Anvari is experimenting with form and substance, changing the tempo and layering a theatre performance with the reality. The picture feels like a dogfight between the director and his imagination, a battle that Anvari ultimately lost, but he tried at least.

Then there were a handful of movies that were simply very good: The Most Beautiful Island, about immigrant girls in New York who work at a special party, tackles a subject of prostitution with an chilling effect, especially for those who suffer from arachnophobia. The Bulgarian hammer of a film Godless (Bezbog) by Ralitza Petrova follows a nurse who steals IDs from her demented patients to be used in business schemes. It’s an austere and merciless take on a corrupt system that doesn’t allow for any other way. And finally, there is Tehran Taboo by Ali Soozandeh, where we follow the stories of three women and a young musician whose liberal lifestyle clashes with a society strict on sexuality, religion and equality. It is a film that doesn’t try to find answers, rather only asks the questions.

I think that was also a point of the program itself; the selection on a display represented the world of debut cinema with its different shades without pushing for a single direction. In that I think the program presents an opportunity for cinema lovers in Jerusalem to sample the richness of today’s cinema without being forced into a certain view, theme or subject.

Edited by Yael Shuv

Šimon Šafránek Freelance journalist contributing to the Czech weekly Reflex, daily print Lidové noviny and cinephile quarterly Film a doba. Also a writer and documentary director.