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Friday, 5 September 2008

Iranian Cinema: One Night by Niki Karimi

by Suzan Abrams

One of the main hallmarks of Iranian cinema is the row of noted pregnant silences that puncture important episodes and how such an extraordinary weaponry courtesy of the film-maker, masquerades intrigue by stringing the viewer along the reins of a script and all while parading mystery and allure.

There is hardly if ever, any sort of a thematic musical overture - so
reminiscent of popular American and European films that would be relied on to conjure the mood and tone of a film or otherwise, signalled out to dog a heightened dramatic pace.

Instead, the viewer of serious Iranian dramas bent on conveying important social messages, may be treated to illuminating shades of transparent colour and light within vast background landscapes or steady quiet character movements and various subdued expressions that prophetically conjure up the next scene to hint at an actor's possible thoughts and actions.

It is almost the watchful conjecture in mime as the reader fields through the silent scenes to predict what happens next.

In fact, the silence is so monumental you could hear a pin drop when you think that something as trivial as footfalls along a hushed hallway could kill the moment.

Without doubt, in such films, actions are meticulously designed to speak louder than words.

It was with such expectation that I watched Yek Shab meaning One Night (2005) so thoughtfully and lovingly made by Niki Karimi , an award-winning Iranian actress who has herself starred in more than 20 films before turning to directing for the display of a rightful, elegant passion. One Night which received its desired international applause in Rome, would place Karimi at the forefront of important Middle-Eastern women in cinema.

The film starred the remarkable and highly-talented Hanieh Tavassoli as its main heroine, Shahzad.

In the screenplay, Tavassoli acts out the role of a melancholic misunderstood artist who has to deal with a single mother bent on sly motives with her wiles on the seduction of a married man, a boyfriend who doesn't care enough to be around when she needs him and the fortitude to question injustices of a woman's foreberance subtly portrayed throughout the scenes.

This she does with a rather brave if not foolish attempt to wander a main street in Tehran at night. She walks alone, trying without success to hail a taxi. With her mother shooing her out of the way for the night Shahzad decides to go to her boyfriend. The mother is never seen and only her voice is heard. She is loving but insensitive to her daughter's tired day at college. Shahzad grumbles with exceptional fury.

Still, she does as her mother wishes and when she arrives at the cafe run by her boyfriend's father, her sweetheart is nowhere to be found. There are some late night diners but Shahzad is reluctant to dine even as the boy's parent invites her to do so. He tries to ring his son but to no avail. Shahzad later makes her escape when a noisy scene outside the restaurant ensures that everyone runs out to delightfully view the kerfuffle.

Before arriving at the cafe, Shahzad had reluctantly accepted a lift from a persistent middle-aged married man who vows concern for her safety but who reveals a playboy personality and makes a pass even as he kindly drops her where she wants to go. In his mind, Shahzad could just be a lady of the night. He insists on waiting for Shahzad as she steps into the cafe, hoping for a one-night stand before returning to his wife. She has to enlist the help of a friend to ward him off.

This is rather brave of the character to have accepted the lift in the first place, considering that there are police everywhere and women in Tehran are not allowed to be seen with a man alone unless he turns out to be a spouse or family. But she will attempt two more lifts by two different men on the quiet streets of Tehran, stopping once to desperately call her boyfriend from a public phone. He doesn't answer. She will sit and lament her fate with the sad broken heart of every wounded woman, on a deserted park bench, surrounded and shadowed by a canopy of trees. In her turmoil, she will also walk a highway. On the whole, the artist will have her fair share of adventure and episodes.

The film was especially riveting and convincing as the viewer is compelled to feel protective of the lone artist and chilled to the bone as the character thoughtlessly places herself in the face of danger. Taviassoli is wonderful with her ironic comic scenes and taut, acerbic advice that shows the artist through her difficult lifestyle, to act in a manner far older than her years and mature in her thoughts with psychological insights if not fruitless actions. She pronounces the modest ability to counsel older men far more privileged than her. She doesn't say much but her looks and gestures speak a thousand words.

The film is somewhat atmospheric and successfully conveys the idea of aloneness and the subject of loneliness masked in various disguises. However, towards the end, the pregnant pauses created to reveal horrifying declarations by one of the characters, were simply too long and it is feared that this eager experiment by Karimi, may have weakened what might have otherwise proved an enthralling Hitchcock thriller-type conclusion.

In Cathleen Roundtree's interesting interview with Niki Karimi on One Night, Karimi had labelled this screenplay a 'personal cinema.'

“The film is about things that are happening in society to women my age.," she had said. "I felt that there were few films about the experiences of women. I call this ‘personal cinema,’ not cinema from the commercial film industry. I wanted to show a woman trying to earn money, be on her own, and how many problems can surround her. I wanted to show the distance that she has from society. Because of that, she’s living out of the city. And each day she travels on the road and looks at the city and asks herself, ‘What is this place I’m going to?’”

These were some of the enlightening quotes amongst others. Thank you Cathleen for the tremendous insight.

Credit: Top picture of Niki Karimi (b/w) is from Niki Karimi Photos.
Below is of Iranian actress Hanieh Tavassoli.

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