Inversion (Varoonegi) d. Behnam Behzadi, Iran.
I’ve seen three Iranian films now I think, each of them memorable and beautiful.
This was made in 2016. A story of a woman, Niloofar, living in Tehran with her mother. Her mother, already ill, declines largely due to pollution affecting her lungs. Our heroine was just beginning to get to know an old admirer at the time. A this point her wider family intervene – the doctor orders her mother must go somewhere with better air. Her brother in debt and, we know from how he commandeers her car, no real respecter of her liberty and her sister, married to a man going somewhere materially, get together and decide she must go with her mother to look after her. No matter her ownership of a small business, at which she seems to do well. The ladies there like her, her niece (her sister’s daughter) seems to like her too. She seems a lovely person, good natured, kind and organised, one who understands the best of how she is raised and true to that.
The plot develops – I won’t spoil it with too much detail. It gets worse and her business is threatened further. There is a shot of her as the news has hit her, standing on a balcony just outside the business where the camera seemed to sway, it was the first I noticed this, was it handheld and unstable, but then when she comes down the stairs it is firm. I’m no film technician, but I am thinking I may love this film just for that shot alone – it seemed to sway in a way like the way she had just been rocked, maybe. Can I be right about this? It seems quite possible to me. I did not notice any other sway, as the next firm shot ended a touch of it maybe.
Niloofar is thoroughly tested in this film and quite resolute. Where does it go to – again I do not want to give that away. Though I saw significance in the ending with laughter and serious music whilst locked in a car. I think all the Iranian films I have seen have had cars in them and themes of driving in them, two in Tehran, where there seems a pollution issue (the other the wonderful ‘Taste of Cherry’), it also seems to have significance in terms of being locked in to some sort of ‘progress’.
In many ways there seemed themes of innocence under threat from material progress, Niloofar and her niece seem to sum up that innocence. Her niece was also played in a wonderful performance with an actress with a lovely appearance and face that seemed made for silent movies to me, she conveyed so much in her eyes and expression. Both material change in Tehran and also how human beings make themselves in getting to where they want to go seemed themes. I only know in the broadest terms of the government of their country and religious orthodoxy there, I don’t know how far those themes fit within that, and clearly there seemed some questioning of some direction. Further if it had maybe not religious but ethical themes they did not seem too different from those of other cultures — or those of people valuing spirit above the material and questioning material progress (in some ways), in some ways we see Niloofar as respectful I think of traditions. There is overtly no religion shown as I remember, except for context and maybe reference in terms of ethics.
I just found it a lovely film. Niloofar questions patriarchy and how she is bullied and remains herself through it. In some ways to I wondered if it was a horror film somehow, a nightmare reality in which it becomes clear how little say she has about anything – and that seems highly questioning of culture, government and all. Niloofar’s understanding of her situation and reactions to it are wonderful, a full human being struggling against difficult circumstances, she is inspiring. A subtle film that shows so much of life there and allows people to think. I hope it stays in my memory for a very long time, the acting throughout a huge part of its power, along with all else (writing, direction etc.) – in some ways it showed Tehran, not unlike how Rohmer approached Paris.
A. H / K. H-H (8th January 2019)