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September 12, 2021


written by: Jafar Panahi, Anthony Chen, and David Lowery
produced by: Anthony Chen, Brad Becker-Parton, Matthew Cherchio, Jeff Deutchman, Yoni Golijov, Keetin Mayakara, Laura Poitras, Andrea Roa, Si En Tan, & Meng Xie
directed by: Jafar Panahi, Anthony Chen, Malik Vitthal, Laura Poitras, Dominga Sotomayer, David Lowery, & Apichatpong Weerasethakul
rated: not rated
runtime: 115 min.
U.S. release date: September 3, 2021 (limited) & September 10, 2021 (wide)


Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit on a global level back in March 2020, it was clear that life would change for most of us. While concern for health and safety for ourselves and loved ones was paramount, those of us who are film enthusiasts couldn’t help but to also wonder how this would impact our viewing. Of course, those who make films would be impacted as well, with productions halted and releases rescheduled or postponed. There’s already been a handful of films released (primarily on streaming services) that were shot during the pandemic, but only a couple of them had stories set in the pandemic or about the pandemic. It would be easy to make an apocalyptic tale in a world full of shutdowns and quarantines, but “The Year of the Everlasting Storm” offers something that today’s viewers will likely find quite familiar and quite intriguing and reflective.

The anthology is a collection of seven shorts from all over the world, made by a variety of directors: Jafar Panahi (Tehran, Iran), Anthony Chen (Tongzhou, China), Malik Vitthal (California, USA), Laura Poitras (New York City, New York, USA), David Lowery (Texas, USA) and Dominga Sotomayor (Santiago, Chile), and Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Chaing Mai, Thailand), presented in that order and offering a look at life during COVID, on a personal level, but also a chance to reflect on human behavior and observations during this time. Depending on the stories being told, the filmmakers incorporate different styles and approaches to the sound and vision of their entries.

The anthology starts with the sound of rain and a quote from French auteur Robert Bresson, “One does not create by adding, but by taking away”, which is appropriate given the conditions the filmmakers were working under and what their subjects were. Artists often find freedom in minimalism and can find a clearer path to their vision when certain elements and ideas are removed. The titles for each segment only appear during the end credits while the location and the director are listed before each story begins.

Setting up the COVID context is Jafar Panahi’s “Life” which simply captures just that, shot in the Tehran apartment the director lives in with his wife. We see their daughter’s giant iguana Iggy, which roams the hard wood floors and can often be seen looking past the sliding glass door to the patio where two pigeons nurse their eggs. The honking and bustling traffic of the city can be heard outside, but Panahi solely documents what transpires inside, especially when his sweet mother comes to visit. Decked out from head to toe in PPE gear and spraying disinfectant, the elderly woman’s entry is amusing and is a visitation spawned by love and a desire for connection during uncertain times. She has an conversation via FaceTime with her granddaughter which abruptly ends due to the grandmother’s emotions. Whole she is apprehensive towards Iggy, she eventually warms up to the creature (perhaps her opinion changes when she sees her daughter-in-law feed feeding liquified food to the toothless, aging pet using a tube) and the closing shot finds Panahi capturing the two sitting on the floor, watching on of the eggs hatch, with the mother holding the iguana’s front right leg as she sings. Just under 19 minutes, the short ends on a note that reflects its title appropriately, reminding us that no matter what happens in the world, life will find a way.



Anthony Chen’s “The Break Away” is a narrative short consisting of a few actors and a small crew. It follows a young husband (Yu Zhang) and wife (Dongyu Zhou) living in a small high-rise apartment in Tongzhou, China, with their young son Xiahao. As the short opens, it’s clear its early in the pandemic since the family is wishing the wife’s father a “Happy New Year” (February 1st in China) via Face Time while they eat dinner. Her father states “the whole thing will blow over soon”. Chen captures the stress of a wife already frustrated with her husband (probably before COVI) – how he spends money and how he can’t seem to prevent their boy from interrupting her while she tries to work her customer service job from home. Xiahao is restless and wants to go outside and play, so the father moves furniture around and creates a loud play area for him and the boy. This creates more tension and resentment between the couple and you can see how the stress of the pandemic has amplified existing stressors for some, especially those who have to figure out life in lockdown mode. Chen and his actors capture this permeating stress and lonely restlessness excellently.

Much of “Little Measures” is told using lo-res FaceTime videos between a Los Angeles father and his three children. He is already separated from his children, due to the separation between him and their mother and their behavior preventing either of them from keeping their children, but imagine how much harder it is to try to stay connected with your young children during the pandemic. The African-American father, who suffers from his own depression and PTSD (having overcome a childhood of homelessness and physical abuse), can be seen and heard interacting with them, teaching his son what to do when he is outside and a shooting occurs and asking his daughter what kind of superpower she would like to have. Director Malik Vitthal incorporates energetic gold-and-black animation throughout the short, that accentuates the story being told in a creative manner. Overall, what is certainly communicated here is a desire to connect during a time when physical contact is prohibited, regardless of COVID.

Out of all the shorts, the documentary from Laura Poitras (“Citizenfour”) “Terror Contagion” seems kind of out of place. Yes, it’s set during COVID and specifically focusing on an Israeli cyberware manufacturer named NSO, but it feels disconnected from the other shorts that focus on the everyday lives of people and in the end warrants a full-length documentary (fingers crossed). The director teams up with Forensic Architecture to investigate NSO and the spyware called Pegasus they use to threaten journalists and their friends and families online. They come across NSO while realizing that the government is using the same surveillance tracking device for contact COVID tracing. Much of what we learn is via Zoom calls with the director interviewing lawyers and investigators or explanatory texts that pop-up, providing viewers progress of the investigation. No doubt, there’s room for more expansion for this material, especially when it attempts an exploration of digital vs. physical violence. It’s fascinating stuff, with a meandering score by Brian Eno, that feels like there’s more to it all, and is dedicated to the memory of Alaa Al-Siddiq (1988-2021), dissident and human rights defender targeted by Pegasus.

Chilena filmmaker Dominga Sotomayer (“Too Late to Die Young”) offers a segment called “Sun Título, 2020” with the distancing effects of COVID front and center. The story revolves around a woman (Francisca Castillo), a singer who lives alone in Santiago with her plants and animals, who is trying to maintain connected to her two daughters. She brings one of her daughters home to live with her after she finds her living in a tent alongside a road. The daughter still pitches her tent indoors, indicating an estranged relationship with her mother. The pair travel to the other daughter’s location to deliver a care package after she just delivered a baby. They greet each other at a distance, with the traveling mother and daughter remaining on the street while the package is pulled up by a rope onto an apartment balcony where the newborn is being held by the other daughter, now a mother. The short ends with the mother back at home on her phone, watching the choral piece she contributed to, playing like a beautiful elegy.



“Dig Up My Darling” is the segment offered by American filmmaker David Lowery and if you’ve seen some of his previous films (“The Green Knight” and “A Ghost Story”), it continues the filmmaker’s rumination on death. It opens on a masked older woman (Catherine Machovsky) in Texas, who is scavenging through a storage unit where she comes across a map and letters dated back to 1926 from New Orleans, Louisiana. The letters are read aloud by a man who was the father writing to his son, while this woman works her way across Texas in a old pick-up truck. As the letters are read, we learn of the son’s brother’s death from a contagious virus and it eventually leads to the woman digging up a grave and Lowery closing out the film with the perspective of the skeleton remains she places in the passenger seat. It seems like the modern-day tale is taking place during COVID (or some post-apocalyptic setting) and it’s okay that it’s never quite clear. This is the one narrative short that could’ve possibly benefit from additional characters and a full-length, but even then I’m not so sure.

The anthology ends with “Night Colonies” from director Apichatpong Weerasethakul
(known for “Uncle Boonme Who Can Recall His Past Lives” and “Cemetery of Splendor”) which is an obscure coda to the collection. More of an observance or an art installation than it is any kind of narrative, Weerasethakul positions bright lights above a bed and fixes his cameras on an assortment of bugs (grasshoppers, flies, and a wasp, which sit, crawl, or fly on and around the bed sheets. While we hear the buzzing of the insects and the humming of the lights, we can vaguely make out the sounds of humans (during the end credits, it’s listed as audio from the demonstration for democracy in Bangkok, recorded on July 18th and August 27th, 2020, featuring the voices of Jenjira Pongpas Widner, Sakda Kaewbuadee Vaysse, and Banlop Lomnoi). Recorded, edited, and directed by Weerasethakul has a knack for the astute, observing life in ways mot of us wouldn’t even consider.

There is some question as to how some of these shorts fit in a cohesive manner, but it’s not enough to fault “The Year of the Everlasting Storm” as a whole. Everyone’s life has changed in some way due to COVID over the last eighteen months and counting, so it’s good to get another perspective of the same event and get an understanding for what others are going through and a reminder that we’re not at all that different.



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