MOVIE OF THE WEEK September 1, 2023: ORCA

Perseverance is at the heart of Sahar Mosayebi’s moving drama Orca, which is based on the true story of Elham Asghari, the Iranian open-water swimmer who defied the legal and cultural limitations placed on women in Iran by making and breaking world records. In the process, she’s helped bring attention to the challenges faced by Iran’s female athletes, who long for the opportunity to compete in all sports, not just the officially sanctioned ones.

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ORCA – Review by Pam Grady

Just like any typical sports movie, Orca is an uplifting story of an athlete striving for excellence. But there is nothing typical about Elham Asghari’s (Taraneh Alidoosti) journey as an endurance swimmer in Iran that is typical. A domestic abuse survivor, she recovers her sense of self in the water. But when she reaches out to Iran’s sports federation for its blessing in a swimming competition, the organization denies her. (This is, after all, a government body that won’t allow women to participate in kickboxing or Muay Thai because it might damage their reproductive organs – say what?)

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SUBTRACTION (Melbourne IFF 2023) – Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Mani Haghighi has steadily established himself as one of Iran’s most consistently intriguing contemporary filmmakers, with films like 2016’s dazzling A Dragon Arrives! revealing a unique gift for blending the fantastic with his more earthly thematic concerns. This fascination continues in the taut doppelganger-centric thriller, Subtraction. Much more than just a novelty, then, the doppelganger premise of the film grants Haghighi space to explore the depths of his thematic interest in identity, gender and violence in contemporary Iran, rendering Subtraction a powerful and intelligent exercise in genre play.

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NO BEARS – Review by Diane Carson

Confined to house arrest over the last decade, Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi continued creating unsanctioned, humanistic cinema. In that regard, Panahi’s latest, multilayered film, No Bears, again proves his truly imaginative, complex, at times even playful interrogation of tradition versus progress, freedom versus oppression, rumor versus evidence. The central character is Panahi himself playing a barely fictionalized role, a director who retreats from Tehran to the village of Joban near the border with Turkey.

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HOLY SPIDER – Review by Diane Carson

A determined investigative woman reporter, Rahimi, anchors Iranian born director Ali Abbasi’s unnerving Holy Spider, its original title Les Nuits de Mashhad, Nights of Mashhad. It dramatizes horrifying, historic events, the murders of sixteen women in Iran’s holy city of Mashhad. Believing in his religious duty, pious family man Saeed picks up and strangles several prostitutes, the crimes violently depicted.

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AWFJ Presents: OUR TIMES – Review by Loren King

Director Rakhshan Bani-Etemad’s verite documentary starts out as a look at how Iran’s young people, especially girls that include the director’s daughter, organized in support of reformist candidate for president Mohammad Khatami in 2001. But Bani-Etemad discovers that many women are also running, despite the restrictions placed on women’s autonomy in Iranian society and with little recognition or chance of winning. She begins to explore why these women wanted to make their voices heard. Her film soon focuses on one in particular, the quietly fierce Arezoo Bayat, a 25-year-old divorced mother who cares for her young daughter and blind mother.

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HOLY SPIDER (MIFF 2022) – Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Based on the true story of Saeed Hanaei who was responsible for killing 16 women across 2000 and 2001, the gritty true crime surfaces of the film barely disguise the intensity with which Ali Abbasi and his collaborators seek to reveal something much bigger about Iranian society, using this case as a shocking lens to see broader problems when it comes to gender politics. Tight, taut and not one beat out of place, Holy Spider captivates from start to finish; it gets its claws in and refuses to let go

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A HERO – Review by Susan Granger

Set in the Iranian city of Shiraz, the film follows sign painter/calligrapher Rahim (Amir Jadidi), a divorced father imprisoned for debt, who is given a ‘furlough’ of 48 hours to convince his dour creditor, Bahram (Mohsen Tanabandeh) who runs a copying/printing store in a shopping mall, to drop the charges. The complex narrative explores universal themes of honesty, honor and the price of freedom by showing how half-truths and lies can erode the soul and exposing how insidious judgment by social media is increasingly prevalent.

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A HERO – Review by Diane Carson

Iranian director Asghar Farhadi takes small incidents, elaborates their details, and thereby reveals the destructive fault lines of personal and political situations. As in his brilliant A Separation, winner of the 2012 Oscar for Best Foreign Film, his A Hero takes on an illuminating tour of the tangled complexity of Iranian justice and social media, family and business.

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SUN CHILDREN – Review by Liz Braun

Iranian street urchins struggling to survive are the focus of Iranian master Majid Majidi’s latest film, Sun Children, dedicated to the 152 million forced into child labour in the world. The film centers on an adolescent Tehran street kid named Ali and three of his friends, all of whom work hard — often at petty crime — to help support their families. It’s a heartbreaking saga of poverty and determination.

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