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28th Annual Festival of Films from Iran: Blockage & Azar

February 2, 2018

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In recent years, I’ve covered the focus on Iranian films curated by the Gene Siskel Film Center in February and what I’ve found is that the experience provides what I treasure most in film-watching: to be transported to a place I’ve never been before, a place and people I have a desire to learn about and come to an understanding and appreciation of who the people are and what happens in their lives. There are eight new films in total making their Chicago premieres, all made by directors working in or near Iran. I’m only two films in right now, but I can attest that is exactly my experience so far in viewing the 28th Annual Festival of Films from Iran the Film Center is presenting this month. The two premieres opening this weekend, “Blockage” and “Azar” are a good gateway to the rich potential of modern Iranian films and I’ve compiled some thoughts on them below.

 

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BLOCKAGE (2017) 

In the bustling streets of Tehran there are municipality workers whose job is to disperse the crowded streets of unlicensed vendors trying to peddle their goods. Among them is the hot-headed Qasim (Hamed Behdad), who often uses violence as a first response in his job and we see how corrupt and manipulative he is as this complicated and layered story from screenwriter Saeed Roustayi unfolds. His wife Narges (Baran Kosari) has a dream to own a home, yet much to her disdain, Qasim has taken her inheritance money and purchased a used pickup truck (a lorry) to make money transporting goods. Through a series of lies, acts of harsh violence and an accident that almost kills a man, Qasim digs himself deeper and deeper into a destructive position that effects his job, himself and his family. The situation between Qasim and Narges comes to a volatile head when she threatens to abort their baby, uncovering years of building resentment toward a man she no longer knows or loves. This compelling drama, at times surprisingly thrilling, is the first feature from director Mohsin Gharaie, who shows a great grasp of balancing rich and authentic characters in complex situations.

RATING: ***1/2

 

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AZAR (2017) 

The title character in “Azar” is an unconventional woman (Niki Karimi), this is apparent as the film opens with her liberal-minded husband, Amir (Hamidreza Azarang), and their young daughter watching her race a dirt bike in a local motocross. It’s not what is expected of a woman in Tehran and probably not what we expect either in the screenplay from Ehsan Biglari which adds unexpected complications to the lives of this family. Azar wants to see the pizza place she manages with her husband flourish, but when a sudden tragedy befalls the family it puts her in the crosshairs of Amir’s misogynist stubborn uncle, turning her into an unwilling victim of the family’s circumstances. What transpires is a complicated family drama involving greed, pride and grief, that puts the resilient Azar front and center, finding the character wrestling with life-altering decisions. The award-winning Karimi (“Wednesday May 9“) is one of the most famous actresses and filmmakers out of Tehran, which is no surprise considering she’s definitely commanding as the lead in the directorial debut of Mohammed Hamzei.

RATING: ***

 

 

The festival runs all month and there are plenty more films to catch. For more information on the 28th Annual Festival of Films from Iran and for ticket information, click here

 

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