26th Annual Festival of Films from Iran: AVALANCHE (2015) review
written by: Morteza Farshbaf
produced by: Javad Noroozbeigi
directed by: Morteza Farshbaf
runtime: 85 min.
U.S. release date: February 6-7, 2016 (Gene Siskel Film Center, Chicago, IL)
While snowfall can be quite beautiful and relaxing, a subzero and windy winter can damper the spirits and drive those already struggling with depression into a downward spiral. Such an atmosphere can also summon a newfound awakening of these feelings, so you imagine what a blizzard would do to someone who’s been working the same tedious job for years. We find out in “Avalanche” the latest film from Iranian writer/director Morteza Farshbaf, which doesn’t contain a literal natural disaster, but a different kind of avalanche that unexpectedly builds in the life of one particular character, as the film unfolds.
Homa (Fatemeh Motamed Aria) is a compassionate and accomplished nurse working in Tehran who is often asked to exclusively care for certain patients in the local hospital. She takes a 10-day night shift job caring for a bed-ridden elderly woman while the treating physician is away. During this time it never stops snowing, causing visibility issues and slow travel as the snow builds. When she’s not at the hospital, Homa has trouble sleeping and is becoming increasingly irritable and despondent to those around her as she contemplates her life. Homa speaks with her concerned son on the phone and is annoyed by her husband Ahmad’s (Ahmad Hamed) upbeat disposition since he recently returned to writing after a twenty-year hiatus. As fatigue and restlessness builds with each passing day, Homa struggles to keep it together as she begins to wonder why she should even try.
“Avalanche” is both a well-written character-driven study and an atmospheric film at the same time. I’ve found that its usually hard for a film to be one or the other, left alone both. In this case, one definitely (and affectively) impacts the other, as Motamed Aria’s Homa sinks deeper and deeper into herself as the increasing snowstorm blankets everything around her. The palpable cabin fever she experiences accentuates feelings she has seemingly nursed for years. Farshbaf offers several shots of the snowswept blue-hued atmosphere, often following Homa traveling to and from work in her vehicle, communicating an obvious lonesome tone to the film. This matches what we see when he steadies the camera on the disparate Homa, who is often found staring out a hospital or an apartment window, looking out at falling snow – again, it’s peaceful, but Motamed Aria’s expressive face is somewhere else, lost in the white void.
Melancholy may weigh heavily on the film, but it feels real and not forced in any way. We may not know all that is going on in Homa’s mind, but she is nevertheless a character we can relate to – someone who is burnt out, someone who is wondering who she is and how she is loved and perceived by others.
I couldn’t help but think of both “Anomalisa” and “45 Years” after watching “Avalanche”. As we follow Homa and see her breakdown and finally share her feelings with her husband, it reminded me of the lead characters in both of those films. She develops a level of irritability toward certain people around her – similar to Charlie Kaufman’s creation, Michael Stone, in “Anomalisa” and also suddenly finds (or finally faces) a rift in her marriage that distances her from her husband, much like Charlotte Rampling’s character in Andrew Haigh’s “45 Years”. All three films include a look at how humanity can often be defined as an isolating and smothering experience, due to either internal or external sources.
I’d really be interested to know more about this beautiful and moving film. It left me wondering where Farshbaf arrived at the idea for the story and whether or not Homa is based on a real-life person. I also found myself interested in knowing more about the work of Motamed Aria, who is apparently a renowned actress in her own right. As far as I can recall, this is my introduction to her and I’m definitely interested in seeing more of her work.
“Avalanche” is playing at the Gene Siskel Film Center this weekend – on Saturday, February 6th at 7:45pm and Sunday, February 7th at 4:45pm – as part of the 26th Annual Festival of Films from Iran, which runs from February 6th through February 28th.
NOTE: Motamed Aria also headlines the festival’s closing film, “Yahya Didn’t Keep Quiet” on February 27th and February 28th.