Theater of Cruelty

In terms of communication, animation can have a high price, but can also be redeeming

The Tower, Tehran Taboo
Regissør: Mats Grorud Ali Soozandeh
(Norge, Iran, Tyskland)

Tehran Taboo and the Tower are political animated films with many commonalities, yet the ability to create deep empathy is what also sets them apart.


Animated documentary successes such as Persepolis og Roll with Bashir has paved the way for animated films with socially critical themes. Political animation has got its own name – and also had its own section during this year's Film from the South festival recently. Iranian-German Tehran Taboo and Norwegian the tower were two of the films presented. TAarne reports on four generations of Palestinian refugees in Bourj el-Barajneh camp outside Beirut, while Tehran Taboo follows young Iranians who in various ways suffer from the country's double standards.

The disaster

The Roll with Bashir used cartoon animation and suggestive visuals to convey the nightmare experience of war, director Mats Grorud is more traditionally employed in the tower. Grorud goes close and uses the relationship between eleven-year-old girl Wardi and her great-grandfather Sidi as the red thread in the story. The action takes place on two schedules, where clay animation is used in contemporary narrative, while more classic cartoons are used in retrospect. The clay dolls in the main part are not quite different from those we know from Ivo Caprino's adventures, only more low-key and sober.

In Tehran Taboo, emotions are conveyed through body language and facial expressions, despite a
almost poster-like cartoon style.

The Norwegian filmmaker presents 70 years of bloody seriousness and conflict history in his film. The hopelessness is made clear by showing how each new generation adds a floor to their home in the refugee camp – so that the houses there gradually overlap like a tower. Time spent taking such a visual shape, and the increasingly claustrophobic life situation of Palestinian refugees as well. The three-dimensional clay-and-cardboard animation captures the overpopulated and wandering in these miserable living areas – while the film's title, the tower, however, stands firm.

What about the characters? The protagonist Wardi and her anxiety for Sidi arouse compassion. The great-grandfather does not want to spend money on medication for himself, but at Wardi's schooling. He gives up hope of returning to Palestine, and on this anniversary Al Nakba – "the disaster" – he hands over his great-grandchild's testimony of the displacement of the Palestinians and the key to the home they left at the time, which he has been hanging around his neck ever since.

Raw, but not enough

According to the film's opening text, two-thirds of the Palestinian population had to flee when the State of Israel was created in 1948. And death and destruction surround the refugees, now as before. At the beginning of the film, two protesters are shot – one dies. While the other family members talk mostly about their traumatic conflict experiences, Wardi is in a hurry to find hope in the stuck situation.

One of the biggest challenges in the political animation genre is balancing distance
and proximity.

The elaborate scenes, with details such as torn posters, pigeonholes and puddles, add materiality and life to the scenes. The use of real photo albums and authentic news footage on the television testifies to Grorud's desire to link the animation to actual events in the conflict.

Grorud's insight into refugee life is raw and credible. But is that enough? One year, Grorud spent in Lebanon, collecting stories for his film. And yes, the stories are strong – but will they make room for viewers? What perspective do we consider the situation from? Is it to curb the hurt and bestial Grorud chooses to animate the brutality?


In the meeting with the movie Tehran Taboo I get answers to many of my questions. The actors here are dressed up, makeup, and filmed on location, and with the help of a special computer technique, the footage is then transferred to cartoons. The filmed material is analyzed route by route, and digitally recoded into drawing version.

Boats Tehran Taboo og the tower uses a seductive and captivating soundscape that draws in the spectator. The replicas are both alive and well. What makes a difference?

The tower's elaborate backdrop, with details such as torn posters, pigeonholes and puddles, adds materiality and life to the scenes.

I Tehran Taboo emotions are conveyed through body language and facial expressions, despite an almost poster-like cartoon style. The history of Iran comes from the will and defiance of life. The human desires and vices become part of the story that criticizes the patriarchate's strict laws about sex, baptism and obedience.

I the tower we hear of young Palestinian thieves who for generations have been reaping fruit from the fragrant trees of Sidi, to fierce reprisals from the old man. But we won't see it. IN Tehran Taboo the characters suffer partially self-inflicted or aggravated by their own bold choices. Like the young couple who indulge in sex at a nightclub, and then discover that the consequences can be fatal: Unless the woman gets a fake virgin in place before the upcoming marriage to another, both will be severely punished and have their lives destroyed.

The pursuit of a practical solution leads them into Tehran's lower shadow world as well as into the country's double standards. A woman trying to divorce her imprisoned, addicted husband is sexually exploited by the religious judge.

Distance and proximity

The characters in the film are briefly experienced as flesh and blood. The emotions need through the animation and create a significantly greater engagement than Grorud's animated camp puppet powers. I do not observe what is happening, but experience it through the characters.

This is probably one of the biggest challenges in the political animation genre – balancing distance and proximity. the tower has a distance to the depicted atrocities that inadvertently impede empathy in the protagonists. Tehran Taboo lets you breathe in the room along with the characters. They are not optional victims of injustice and suffering – they have their own will and fight against:

As the single mother puts her bare thighs over the shoulder of the morally quacked judge for "strangling" him in an agreed sex game, I hope she tightens harder.

The human meeting. Maybe it's not just the clay figures' lack of mimicry that does that the towers suffering stories become too tightly packed and distanced. The (admittedly) righteous indignation of others' injustices is a narrative perspective that quickly suppresses much of the human encounter that creates recognition and depth in a film.

In terms of communication, animation can have a high price, but can also be redeeming. IN Tehran Taboo the oversubscribed footage was a way to protect the actors from reprisals from the Iranian regime. But the animation in Soozandeh's film also managed something far more: to lift the portrayal of oppression into something both poetic and life-affirming – and thus engaging.

Going to the cinema.

Ellen Lande
Ellen Lande
Lande is a film writer and director and a regular writer for Ny Tid.

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