Review: Tehran Taboo (2017)

Tehran Taboo (2017)

Directed by: Ali Soozandeh | 96 minutes | animation, drama | Original voice cast: Farhad Abadinejad, Jasmina Ali, Rozita Assadollahy, Alireza Bayram, Sasan Behroozian, Zahra Amir Ebrahimi, Siir Eloglu, Adem Karaduman, Morteza Latif, Aida Loos, Payam Madjlessi, Arash Marandi, Hasan Ali Mete, Negar Thomas Alizadeh , Ali Nasrabadic

Animation is a wonderful image form for film makers who are trying to address social abuses. Especially if the filmmakers come from countries where they can be prosecuted because they have an opinion that differs from that of the established order. Although Ali Soozandeh lives in Germany, he was born and raised in Iran, a country that is heavily burdened by strict Islamic law. In his debut film ‘Tehran Taboo’ (2017) he shows how young Iranians are forced to break those oppressive laws, in their quest for freedom and happiness. Because sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll may be officially banned in Iran, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Because of Soozandeh’s critical attitude towards the Islamic regime in his native country and the double standards and the resulting social problems, it was of course impossible for him to film ‘Tehran Taboo’ in Tehran itself. He could have chosen to shoot his film in another country in the Middle East, but he says that wouldn’t work. To keep the film as close to reality as possible, he chose to use animation techniques. Tehran could be copied as accurately as possible. Soozandeh then had the actors play the scenes, after which he traced them, as it were, using the so-called rotoscope technique and placed them in the animated backgrounds. The result is an animated film close enough to reality to be believable: this is Tehran, the people look like residents of this city. On the other hand, the animation form provides just that little bit of distance and anonymity that is needed in a society like Iran to broach these kinds of controversial themes. Because even though Soozandeh made the film from Germany, it is certainly the intention that as many people as possible in Iran get to see his work.

‘Tehran Taboo’ follows four young people in their pursuit of personal and sexual freedom. Pari (Elmira Rafizadeh) is a single mother who is forced to sell her body in order to support her son. The first time we see her, she’s in a strange man’s car and oral sex with her son in the backseat. The child’s father is addicted to drugs and is in prison. She would like to divorce him as soon as possible, but that is not so easy. And once she has found a judge (Hasan Ali Mete) who is willing to sign her divorce petition, he does make her available for his sexual needs. She snaps – what else can she do? Moreover, he arranges an apartment for her and her son, so she does not think it is such a bad deal. Next to her lives a young couple who are about to become parents for the first time. Although they pretend to be very happy, that remains to be seen. Sara (Zara Amir Ebrahimi) would love to work because she feels trapped in the house (which belongs to her in-laws), while Mohsen (Alireza Bayram) would rather she stay at home with their child. After all, as a banker, he earns enough to provide for the family. Sara and her free-spirited new neighbor Pari click, but she can’t believe that her new friendship is causing her a lot of trouble. Finally, we have the young musician Babak (Arash Marandi), who has an adventure after a performance with the beautiful Donya (Negar Mona Alizadeh). It turns out to be a one night stand with far-reaching consequences, as it turns out the next day. Donya is getting married soon and now she can no longer prove her virginity to her future husband. The only thing that can save her is an expensive operation, which Barak would have to pay for. However, he has no idea where to get that money from.

Abuses in the Iranian regime presented in an animated form, as we saw earlier in ‘Persepolis’ (2007) by Marjane Satrapi. In that film it was also underlined that it is mainly women who are the victims of double standards. But where ‘Persepolis’ concealed a hopeful message (‘Keep living according to your ideals, so that your ancestors did not die fighting for nothing’), the lives of the women in ‘Tehran Taboo’ are portrayed as pure tragedy. Where is that glimmer of hope, which no doubt must be there? While a filmmaker’s choice for animation is usually motivated by the desire to distinguish himself in the creative field, that is not the case with ‘Tehran Taboo’, or at least not the most important motive. Soozandeh wants to make his political point and misses every opportunity to do so. As a result, almost every scene makes a statement or raises some form of political or religious oppression, which may make it a bit too much. Soozandeh could have dosed this better by choosing a handful of themes and developing them thoroughly. It’s not about quantity, it’s about quality. Despite the fact that it’s actually a bit too much of a good thing (or rather a bit of evil), and the film paints a very bleak picture of Tehran, Ali Soozandeh made a brave and well-intentioned debut with ‘Tehran Taboo’. Perhaps the story would have worked better if it had been shot in live action, but with the choice of rotoscope Soozandeh stands out.

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