Because there’s a few bigger budget movies getting all the attention these days, it’s important for me to shine a spotlight on some of the smaller and lower-key movies being released into theaters that are likely to be missed entirely.
This week, we have a doozy, as it’s an animated film that explores the way women are treated in Iran. The film couldn’t be more timely, because while the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements are making strides in the U.S., Canada and Europe, women in places like Iran and other Eastern hemisphere countries still have to deal with antiquated religious-based views that keep them down.
Tehran Taboo is the U.S. theatrical premiere by filmmaker Ali Soozandeh, an Iranian exile who has lived in Germany for the past twenty years but who has enough memories of his experiences in Tehran that he was able to recreate the city using animation, partially because he would never be allowed to film this movie in Iran.
There aren’t many animated films made expressly for adults, but Soozandeh’s film is an intriguing anthology in the vein of Babel or other movies where we follow different characters on separate journeys that eventually converge.
The primary story involves Pari (Elmira Rafizadeh), a single mother with a mute son forced to prostitute herself in order to keep a roof over their heads. Another story involves a young musician named Babak (Arash Marandi) who has a tryst in a club and then is charged by his consensual partner of taking her virginity, and he feels obligated to pay for the surgery to restore her virginity. A third story revolves around a pregnant married woman named Sara (Zara Amir Ebrahimi) who wants to go back to work but has to go up against the stringent conventions of her husband and family’s religion.
These are all interesting stories in their own right, but the way they come together in an organic unforced manner is what makes Soozandeh’s film such a rich and enlightening experience, because women in Iran are still dealing with some of the same prejudices against women that they’ve had to endure for centuries with no signs of change.
For instance, the idea that women have to be virgins when they get married and that they aren’t allowed to have the same sexual feelings and desires as men, who are portrayed mostly as pigs in the film. That is, other than Babak, a young musician who is conned into paying for the surgery of a young woman he has a sexual encounter with in a club, so her future husband won’t find out. There’s way more to this story than I’ll divulge, but Babak will eventually meet Pari who helps him with his financial dilemma, and Pari will also befriend the pregnant Sarah and push her to be more assertive.
Soozandeh uses rotoscoping to animate the characters in Tehran Taboo, although it might be deceptive how Soozandeh created such a visually-stunning film, because the backgrounds clearly had to be created from scratch. You quickly forget that you’re watching animation, because the animation is so realistic and because the story is so vivid.
It’s really nice to see a film like this being made, one that’s deeply personal and isn’t relying on name stars to tell its story, yet still keeps you captivated as you learn new things about the people of Iran you might never have realized before. The educational aspect of the film is noteworthy, because there haven’t been many films about daily life in Iran and the growing divide between men and women there.
Tehran Taboo is now playing at the Film Forum in New York City, and it will open in Boston and Chicago on Feb. 23, San Fran on March 2 and then L.A. and other cities on March 9.
If you’re not in New York or L.A., you can find out when it might play your city here, and check out the trailer below.
Edward Douglas | East Coast Editor
Under the Radar is a semi-weekly column focusing on one or two movies that you might have missed or wouldn’t have heard much about since they have limited marketing budgets and coverage on other sites. These aren’t necessarily reviews per se and they won’t always be about movies I necessarily like — just movies you should know about and any social implications they might have that would make them worthwhile viewing.