This film arrives as the result of a piece of slight of hand. The only way it came into existence is that director Rakhshan Bani-Etemad filmed it as a series of shorts. Those don’t require approval by the Iranian film censorship bureaucracy. Her film is something that would have been vetoed for its depiction of inadequacy and comic, insensitive authority pitted against done wrong bottom feeder citizens.
This history appears to have had a happy ending because the winning Bani-Etemad
in a hijab turned up to introduce the film from the stage of the State Theater,
saying that eight years after her last fiction movie and four years after completion,
this one is finally showing on it’s home turf.
GHESSE-HA reaches us with many of its qualities filtered out. Bani-Etemad
made it because she wanted to re-visit characters from her earlier work, which we
haven’t seen, and we learn it features prominent Iranian performers who we
don’t recognize, Peyman Moaadi, the star of JODAEIYE NADER AZ SIMIN (A
Separation, Ashghar Fahradi) among them.
A succession of characters appear and vanish formlessly. A cab driver is filmed
by the documentary video maker, who gives him a cigarette which he later passes
to a woman passenger, who offers herself to him for a place to shelter her sick
child. She turns out to be the childhood friend of his sister, whose hair his mother
used to plat. The mother presents a petition at a government office, where a
respectably dressed middle class man faces poverty because of a glitch in
hospital paper work and is ejected by the bureaucrat too busy with personal
calls on his mobile. In the train home, the man over hears a couple apparently
plotting an assignation, which disgusts him, but they are actually preparing a scam
to get money from their family. Stories lead back to a woman’s shelter where
the film maker, the cab driver and the women all have business. The granny lady
becomes spokesman for a van full of former workers going to a protest and moved
on by the police. One woman worker goes home to be reviled by an indignant
husband, who has accepted a letter sent by his wife’s former temporary husband,
which being illiterate, he can’t understand. As the contents are read to him by
her and their child, pried away from his homework, the man’s (and our)
understanding changes. The ending, taking the dried out junkie social worker
and her ex student-demonstrator driver from the center, accompanying an
ill girl, is a show stopper.
Message content includes sanctions hitting the already miserable and the
telling the reformer film maker that there are so many such documentaries. The
answer that film won’t stay in someone’s drawer forever is less
GHESSE-HA has the qualities we associate with the best Iranian films. We feel
for the participants - on screen and behind the camera. There’s sympathy even
for the aggro husband who scarred his wife with boiling water - more than the
cell ‘phone guy gets. The final segment, with it’s revelation that always draws
comment from reviewers, is a more startling version of the mating dance finale of
1994’s ZIRE DARAKHATAN ZEYTON (Through the Olive Trees.)
Film form is intriguing. The handling is accomplished and the colour quite presentable on the big screen, unlike the greenish video presentations we are
used to seeing on Iranian material. Some of the material is done in single
takes - two for the letter reading, though the apparent one-take of the bus
ride betrays the concealed edit behind the passenger’s back by a change in the
on-screen time code. However the ending ride cuts between the two participants,
with their dialogue overlapping at one point, suggesting simultaneous cameras.
This one could be seen as the culmination of a cycle of common-character
sketch films, more like the Duvivier’s FLESH & FANTASY, with characters
walking from one story to the next, than his TALES OF MANHATTAN having a
linking device siring the John Badham THE GUN and others, closer in form if not
mood to Pietro Germi’s SIGNORE & SIGNORI where the lead in one ep.
does walk-ons in another.
Pietro Germi! Now there’s someone who’s so little known and impressive enough to
deserve a major retrospective but then David Stratton would be afraid of being
alone in the theater on that one.