Leeds International Film Festival screening.
Director: David Dusa. Screenplay: David Dusa, Raphaëlle Maes, Louise Molière, Mike Sens. 99 minutes. Blu-Ray, including English subtitles.
The film dramatises [at one remove] the ‘Green Wave’ protests in Iran in 2009, after the presidential elections there. The catalogue suggests that it offers ‘A dynamic new approach to political drama.’ A friend of mine at the screening suggested that it offered ‘a doomed love story with the spurious addition of the Iranian political protests.’ I incline to the latter view. The film is inventive, especially in the use of Internet, YouTube material and Twitter, but the actual political content is slender. In fact, the film seemed closer to the conventions of Hollywood political films, where the actual politics hardly make it on screen.
The basic plot revolves around Anahita (Alice Belaëdi) sent by her affluent parents in Teheran to Paris to avoid the political unrest and violence in June 2009. In Paris, where she apparently knows no one, she meets Gecko (Rachid Youcef) who is working as a bellhop. His work funds both his street dancing and travel interests. Unlike Anahita, he displays little political awareness. And his background is both much more deprived and much closer to traditional religion than that of the young woman. Their relationship develops at the same time as the street protests in Iran, viewed by both on the Internet, become increasingly violent.
I did not find the central relationship convincing: there are too many inplausibilities, for example, would Anahita’s parents send their daughter off to Paris where there is no one to watch over her? However, a younger audience might well engaged with the obsessive Internet action and Gecko’s street dancing.
What is of more concern to me is the lack of political substance. There are numerous clips from the Internet and YouTube plus Twitter messages, but as users will know, these are usually too brief to provide the context. And this is what the film fails to do. At one point Gecko looks up press reports on the Internet, but these are hardly on screen long enough to take them in, even if you have passable French. And whilst there is some discussion of the events between Anahita and Gecko, she is never given the space to offer an explanation, or even less an analysis. Presumably this takes place to a degree off screen: another similarity to Hollywood. His growing sympathy is concerned with her fears for her friends active at Teheran University.
Finally, the film seems to draw a parallel between developments in their relationships and the violence in Iran. This makes use of one of the familiar sexual turning points in young romantic relationships: and it is one that I found seriously misjudged. It is not a completely unusual parallel in films. Warren Beatty’s Reds (1981) used an equivalent scene for its depiction of the triumph of the Soviet Revolution. In both cases it seems to me that the films’ attempted metaphor confuses rather than illuminates the poltics.
Addressing politics and their context is something that Iranian films have succeeded in doing: two good examples would be Nader and Simin, A Separation / Jodaelye Nader az Simin (2011, which has just won the BBC World Cinema top award) and Offside (2006). Both films successfully weave politics into their narratives without being didactic, [though there is nothing amiss in being didactic]. I thought that Flowers of Evil wanted to do this but failed.
An Iranian student studying in the UK introduced the screening in Leeds. So there was a context of sorts on that occasion.