Local Release

(The Monthly) Venice International Film Festival 2022 highlights

By Shane Danielsen

From Iran came Without Her, a smart, expertly crafted psychodrama about a woman, Roya (Tannaz Tabatabaei), reluctantly preparing to emigrate to Denmark with her husband Babak (Saber Abar), who one night finds an anonymous woman (Shadi Karamroudi) in the street, mute, apparently amnesiac, and takes her in – only to be undone by this act of charity, as the stranger in her house quickly begins assuming her own identity. What begins as a psychological horror movie, a study of a home invasion by stealth (aided by some Olympic-level gaslighting from the heroine’s husband), gradually broadens its focus to become a savage critique of contemporary Iranian society. Watching, I was reminded of those great Eastern European films of the ’60s and ’70s, from people such as Hungary’s Miklós Jancsó and Czechoslovakia’s Jan Němec, which used metaphor and allusion to condemn the communist regimes under which their makers lived and worked.

The film, according to its writer-director Arian Vazirdaftari, “is about the illusion of individual choice if others determine who you are – a situation forcing you to either adapt or risk being replaced by those who do”. A pertinent theme in this age of social media and deepfakes, but especially timely given this particular film’s provenance. As I write this, I’m watching news footage of uprisings in various Iranian cities, as extraordinarily courageous women there torch their hijabs and demand the overthrow of the mullahs, in protest against the unlawful death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini at the hands of the country’s morality police. And the fact that the Western media took so long to give these astonishing protests the attention they deserve is astounding to me.

Vazirdaftari had rather a busy Venice, also being the co-writer on another superb Iranian feature, Houman Seyyedi’s World War III, in which, once again, a slightly fanciful narrative conceals a savage indictment of their homeland and its rulers.

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