Theater of Cruelty

The filmmaker against the system

The man against the current
Regissør: Mohammad Rasoulof

Mohammad Rasoulofs The man against the flow is far clearer and more direct in his systemic criticism than is usually seen in Iranian film.


With directors like Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Abbas Kiarostami, Samira Makhmalbaf, Jafar Panahi and Asghar Farhadi, Iran has for decades marked itself as an outstanding film country, gaining recognition and awards at the world's leading festivals. This despite the fact that Iranian film has been subject to extensive state censorship ever since the days of the Shah.

Under the current regime, the manuscripts must be approved before recording, and the filmmakers are often required to make extensive changes – if they are allowed to make the film at all. A similar check is then performed by the recorded films, before the cinemas finally have to grant viewing permission. Not only do they take commercial considerations into account, but also the largely conservative moviegoers can resist viewing films they deem problematic.

The art of hinting. This has made Iranian filmmakers the true masters of the art of hint and symbolism, especially with regard to subtle systemic criticism.

Rasoulof did not receive a Film from the South festival in November because Iranian authorities confiscated his passport.

In his first films, the acclaimed director Mohammad Rasoulof was among those who took advantage of this approach. Nonetheless, all of his films are refused screenings in Iran, and eventually he has faced strong opposition from the authorities to continue his work.

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Along with the aforementioned Jafar Panahi, Rasoulof in 2010 was sentenced to 6 years in prison for "propaganda against the regime" in connection with a film they collaborated on, and they were also banned from making films in 20 years. Rasouloff's sentence was later reduced to one year, but they have both been banned from leaving the country (although with some exceptions). When Rasoulof was supposed to be one of the main guests of the Film from the South Festival in Oslo in November, he was prevented from coming because Iranian authorities confiscated his passport – something they have done before.

Can't stop. However, this has not stopped Rasoulof or Panahi, both of whom have continued to make films. Rasoulofs previous movie Manuscripts Don't Burn was filmed in secret, with staff and actors anonymous on the cast for fear of prosecution. He, on the other hand, was allowed to make his new movie – the cinematic feature film The man against the stream – supposedly on the condition that it should not be too gloomy. Both films were also selected for the Un Certain Regard section during the Cannes Film Festival. Manuscripts Don't Burn was awarded in 2013 with the international film critic organization FIPRESCI's award, while The man against the stream won the award for best film in this side program at last year's festival.

Not only has Rasoulof continued to make films, they have also become clearer and more direct in their system and socially critical content. The political thriller Manuscripts Don't Burn is inspired by a real event – an almost accident a bus with writers and
Opposites were exposed in the 1990 years. In the film, state agents – who torture and kill dissidents – try to find a manuscript describing how the authorities were behind a similar near-accident to kill a group of poets.

The man against the system. The man against the stream is about the principled Reza (Reza Akhlaghirad), who has moved in the countryside with his wife and their children to run goldfish farming (which is not without symbolic significance to connoisseurs of Iranian culture). The film's international title A man of integrity is a striking description of the main character, who says no to bribe bank employees to get better repayment terms on the loan he has depended on. He faces ever-increasing opposition from various corrupt authorities, and experiences sabotage of the fish farming business because an unnamed company wants to take over the land.

"When men's pride creates problems, it takes women's intelligence to solve them," Reza's wife Hadis (Soudabeh Beizaee) expresses. She is a strong and central female character in the film, which fully illustrates how women in this society are placed on
spectator space in the most important respects. And when she herself tries to use her position of authority as a teacher to pressure the man's opponents, it only makes matters worse.

Rasoulof's previous film was filmed in secret, with staff and actors anonymous on the cast for fear of punishment.

Clear and under-narrated. Although Rasoulof in this film is far more confrontational than most Iranian filmmakers, alternates The man against the stream in a neat way between clarity and sub-narrative elements. Among other things, the director fails to show a fight between Reza and one of the company's thugs, which becomes an important element in the legal fatigue war they are waging against the main character. And not least, it is interesting to see how the film portrays the sexual aspects of Reza and Hadis' relationship with clear, but never direct, hints that may bring to mind Hollywood's more bloody "golden age" in the decades starting with the 1930 years.

The many repetitive elements in images as well as in action also serve a function – they give a Kafka-like feeling of not moving on, while at the same time being in effective contrast to the film's more action-packed last act.

Bittersweet turn. "People are either oppressed or they are oppressors," the film says. This phrase sums up much of Rasouloff's little optimistic message. The man against the stream is by far a classic tale of the difficulties of not being corrupt in a thoroughly corrupt society: if one cannot overcome them, one may have to become like them – albeit with a bittersweet turn, which should not be revealed here.

One might argue that the filmmaker has followed this admonition not to make a completely gloomy film, but it is still hard to imagine that the Iranian authorities will be particularly pleased with the result. The man against the stream is charged with anger and frustration, and there is little doubt who this is aimed at.

The man against the stream their Norwegian cinema premiere 4. May.

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Aleksander Huser
Aleksander Huser
Huser is a regular film critic in Ny Tid.

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