Mixed media: Film
(96 minutes) Written and directed by Ali Soozandeh
This is a tough, no-holds-barred animation about inequality, harshness, and deceit in sexual relationships. It focuses on four neighbours – a sex worker and her six-year-old son, a young male musician, and a childless woman who, illegally, and without her husband knowing, has secretly had two abortions to avoid being tied to the home.
Its rotoscope technique – digitally combining traced studio-filmed action with real street and cityscapes – makes it possible to convincingly locate in Tehran scenes it would have been impossible to film there. The opening scene, for example, has Pari blow-jobbing a taxi driver while her mute son sits in the back seat. But the technique effectively detaches us too from immediate horrors, to focus on the relationships between people, and to follow their intertwining stories, which are involved, convincing and involving.
So, in exchange for sex, Pari is set up by a mullah in an apartment. Her neighbour, Sara, desperately wants to work, but her husband, who works in a bank, won’t give his permission. She sometimes looks after Pari’s son, when Pari, who lies that she’s a nurse, has to work at night. He wanders and is rescued by Babak, the musician who has his own troubles and needs to borrow money.
The stories are bleak, grounded, sometimes desperately sad and, in one scene, unimaginably horrific. Yet the film is also a hymn to decency, resilience and openness in crushing circumstances.
The Heiresses (Las Herederas)
(95 minutes) Written and directed by Marcello Martinessi
For decades, Chela and Chiquita have shared their lives, the grand but decaying Asunción house where Chela was born, and a bed. Chela is quiet, reserved, lives by a routine. Chiquita, maybe, takes her for granted. But, every morning, she brings her breakfast on a tray, always arranged in the same way, while Chela sits at a table and paints, and re-paints, non-descript watercolours.
Chiquita is bolder. Bold enough to ‘borrow’ money from the bank, for which she’s about to be jailed for ‘fraud’. Possessions that they are forced to sell – inherited dining table and chairs, crystal glasses, landscape and portrait paintings – are on display in a large downstairs room. While Chiquita shows potential buyers, Chela, pained and mortified, watches through a door chink.
It’s as downbeat a set-up as you can get, but, having to shift for herself, incident, opportunity, even adventure and excitement, enter Chela’s privileged, circumscribed life. When a neighbour, who organizes ladies’ bridge-playing, browbeats Chela into giving her a lift, Chela, although she does not have a licence, rather enjoys it. Quickly, other society ladies, who fear that to take a taxi is to risk being kidnapped, are using her services, including one who is young, attractive.
It’s a film with well-drawn memorable characters, not least Ana Brun in a magnificent acting debut as Chela. Grounded and subtle, socially aware, cleverly shot, it’s an engrossing study of desire and our need for connection.