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Five Iranian Voices on Reza Mirkarimi’s Today

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COLLECTED AND INTRODUCED BY AMIR GANJAVIE.

Reza Mirkarimi’s Today (Emrooz, 2014) was selected to represent Iran at the 2015 Oscars despite being unpopular with Iranian critics from the beginning and despite expectations that it would be a great box office failure. According to the website of Hamshari, a leading Iranian newspaper, “some critics say the screenplay, that has been written by Mirkarimi and Shadmehr Rastin, is far from classical and academic standards of screenwriting, and its main flaw can be said to lie in the silence of the film’s hero.”

In spite of all these negative reviews, Today became a box office success and has made over one billion tomans, which is a significant commercial success in Iran. Interest in the film is not limited to Iranian viewers. I witnessed the same interest from audiences and film critics during the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). The interest was not limited to TIFF either. Jonathan Rosenbaum recently wrote a review of Today in which he says that the film proves that Mirkarimi is a master of Iranian cinema. Nacim Pak-Shiraz, the author of Shi‘i Islam in Iranian Cinema: Religion and Spirituality in Film, sees Today as a valuable addition to Iranian cinema. Deborah Young of the Hollywood Reporter describes Today as a movie that does not shout but rather whispers. For more reviews of the movie please visit Today’s official website.

It appears that it is now time for Today to finally receive the serious attention that it deserved from the beginning. Recently, the movie won three awards at Rabat’s 20th Festival International du Cinéma d’Auteur, namely the prize for best movie, the audience award for the best film, and the best actor award for Parviz Parastui. And, it is now part of the official selection at the Stockholm and Thessaloniki film festivals. Why has Today achieved success both inside and outside of Iran despite all of the early negative reviews? What was the source of the ambiguity in the movie which made it problematic and difficult to judge fairly at the beginning? To answer these questions, we asked some leading scholars on Iranian cinema to write about Today. What follow is their responses and reflections.

99775THE SILENCE OF YOUNES/JONA

By Kara Abdolmaleki.

What is the last resort in the face of ubiquitous evil? Reza Mirkarimi’s Today has a simple, yet astonishing answer: silence. Today, Iran’s representative in this year’s Academy Awards competition for Best Foreign Language Film, has been underestimated thus far. Nevertheless, it contains all main traits that have universalized Iranian cinema over the past decades: minimalism in script and poetic cinematography, with an air of spirituality. And Mirkarimi has harmoniously incorporated them.

The story of Today revolves around Younes, an extremely quiet war veteran, turned cab driver. Mirkarimi wants us to follow him everywhere, to listen to everything he hears and to figure his silence out. In an early scene, he stops the car to fill up his flask; we follow him with our eyes, while listening to a rather melancholic song playing on the radio:

O unfaithful! Hear my heart’s secret, from my reticence.
Do not ignore this silence!
O friend! Open the soul’s eye! Witness my state!
Do not overlook my heart’s passion!

The scene is so seminal that the director has chosen it to bear his Hitchcockian signature on the film: as we listen to the song, Mirkarimi appears in the background, with a green cap, masquerading as a pedestrian. This tells us that no detail is trivial in Today: in fact, the song is not random. It is a portrayal of Younes and an invitation to take his silence seriously. It reminds us of the silence of Ahmed in the 1987 classic Where Is the Friend’s Home? by Abbas Kiarostami.

Younes’s silence is a defense-mechanism, the last resort of a person with a resolve to live ethically in a world beset by vice. Jafar Panahi has rightly dubbed it “heroic,” for the moral decadence of the society is evident from the very beginning: Younes’s first passenger is banished from his taxi because he is foul-mouthed and aggressive on the phone. And later, the minute gestures and silent acting of the hospital employees takes that vice to a new level.

Also, the choice of names is very well in harmony with the stoic message of the film. In both the Hebrew Bible and the Quran, Younes (Jona) is the prophet of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, who leaves his people to God’s wrath and is punished by spending three days in the belly of a big fish. It is in this light that we can understand the pregnant woman Sedighe’s very cryptic line: “It is not here. It is a hospital with a building across from it that looks like a big fish.”

In fact, a building with a resemblance to a big fish does not exist in Tehran. The big fish is the hospital, and Younes is the one chosen to suffer there – in silence. Extra-marital relationships are unlawful in Iran, to this day. Therefore, Younes has to remain completely silent to any questions. If he says he is the father of the child, they will blame him for Sedighe’s broken ribs and will ask why his name is not on her ID as her husband. If he denies any relationship to her, they will send her illegitimate child to the orphanage. Again, such silence is nothing short of heroic.

The eight-year Iran-Iraq war was a very spiritual time with its own cinematic genre. Those were simpler times. Yes, it was a time of war, but there was a spirit of harmony and transcendence in the air that is missing in Today’s Iran. We have good and we have evil, but unlike what we are used to see on the silver screen, the forces of good and evil are not in constant clash. Evil is already rampant and good reticent. The likes of Younes have won the battle against Saddam Hussein, but the country has lost the moral war. It is “no country for old men.”

The move from the old hospital to the new building symbolizes that transition. It is the dialectic between the old and the new, yesterday and “today”. To Younes, yesterday is, of course, “the gunner’s dream,” that has turned into a nightmare. The dark and dingy corridor, connecting the old hospital with the new, is Younes’s only way out. It is the fish’s throat, through which he escapes to get away from the police. The labour room is a feminist heterotopia, where “they can scream as they please.” It is the only place in the universe of the film where a woman’s screams are not suppressed. It is the only space where Sedighe – who symbolizes the oppressed Iranian woman – can make herself heard. This is where motherhood is exalted and the meaning of a mother’s worries is explained. Why doesn’t he walk away, the way Henry walks away in A Farewell to Arms? Many critics have asked this question and have ascribed that to a flaw in the script. But interestingly enough, Younes answers that question in his labour-room conversations with Sedighe. Younes says he has always dreamt of waiting outside this same door. This is his chance to identify with the non-existent father of Sedighe’s child for a second.

Little does he know that, in fact, according to Mirkarimi’s poetic justice, he is the father of the child. The blue ink on his thumb, from filling out the hospital firms, symbolizes that; as if he has just signed a marriage contract and stamped it with his finger, a common legal gesture in Iran. The poetic justice is, in fact, the force behind the film’s spiritual message. It is always helpful to go back to the bare bones of the plot: Younes helps a stranger despite all hardships and at the end he is rewarded with what he has wanted all his life: a child, a new hope, hope in the next generation’s innocence, hope that the modern hospital can work as well as the dilapidated one. Hope that brave new today’s people can be as moral as yesterday’s.

film-emroozA SURPRISING CHOICE OF NATIONAL SELF-IMAGE

By Milad Dokhanchi.

An irresponsible and propagandistic society, seemingly ethical subjects who project their self-interests under a moral disguise, a bastard generation, an ambiguous past, a nervous future, and a power that, unlike its image, fails at modalities of discipline, are all the images of Iran that, surprisingly, the Iranian state has chosen to show to the world audience through Today, Iran’s representative for the 2015 Oscars.

Today, directed by Reza Mirkarimi, tells the story of Younes, a wretched cab driver who picks up a pregnant passenger in need of emergency care. The passenger, Sedighe, is a victim of domestic violence and perhaps even rape; she implores Younes to help her with more than just the drive and asks him to play the role of her child’s father upon admission to the hospital. A war veteran with an artificial leg, Younes complies and, while he has the choice to leave the hospital after admission, he decides to stay out of concern for Sedighe’s wellbeing. The stay, however, is not peaceful. The hospital serves as a metaphor for Iran’s disciplinary society and is staffed by nurses and doctors who harass Younes both physically and verbally for the alleged one-night stand and his, equally alleged, violence against Sedighe. Younes appears careless and the film eventually reveals his underlying motive for staying with Sedighe.

Like Asghar Farhadi, Mirkarimi frowns upon a highly judgmental society. He also uses suspense to expose the audience’s quick judgment of Younes’s actual intentions. However, unlike Farhadi, Mirkarimi opts for a slow-paced film full of long takes, which stands at odds with his emphasis on the new generation that prefers fast computer games over painting. The fact that the film was shot on a DSLR camera and that the producers refused to hire any other Iranian superstars beside Parviz Parastui, allows the latter to shine solo in the role of the taxi driver. However, when it comes to Soheila Golestani’s performance as Sedighe, the film did little to excite Iranian critics, since she barely captures the complexity of her role and barely convinces the audience of the depth of her character’s demise.

The film was commissioned not by the Iranian opposition, but rather by an external branch of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), which is responsible for Iranian propaganda targeted towards the Arab and the Western worlds. However, the film succeeds more in depicting a dystopia of current Iran than an apologetic portrayal of the Ayatollah’s blissful society.

If critical minds in the West are worried about the ever-rising disciplinary society under neoliberalism, Mirkarimi wants more discipline for Iran. His hospital hardly produces “docile bodies;” its doors are open, its security measures are unreliable, and the hospital authorities have little interest in asserting formal procedures. The head nurse, Ms. Majd, is not the cliché-subjugated woman of Muslim societies, or at least she does not look that way. Instead, she is a Machiavellian. A single mom herself, she threatens her staff with job termination for “irresponsibility,” yet she fully complies with Younes’s project quite irresponsibly herself. She speaks of “the law” but little cares for it. In Iran, for Mirkarimi, the laws are there, but so are ways to escape them. Younes’s passengers turn his radio channel from an IRIB-sponsored Quran recitation to a critical Iranian-style rap song aired by a foreign channel in Farsi. The citizens of Iran resist IRIB propaganda and IRIB itself is telling us that, as well as about the demise of women’s situation in Iran.

Today attests that Sedighe’s situation is just one among many. In fact, there is an ever increasing number of women in Sedighe’s precarious situation in the face of very poor social support mechanisms in Iran. Men too are in a bad condition. Younes, whose silence may lead the audience to think of him as an ethical subject, is at best a moral person in a Nietzschean sense. His childlessness has turned into a major complex and he helps Sedighe ultimately to treat himself. In other words, Mirkarimi’s protagonist is barely ever faced with an ethical choice. He is more an opportunist than a caretaker.

For Mirkarimi, Iranian war veterans are not heroes. They are protectors of a new generation with illegitimate parents. The past is not glorious and the future is dim with things only going by. Life is like an Iranian nuclear “centrifuge” – everyone has a hand in its making. In fact, Mirkarimi’s dystopia is the result of the state’s desire for “centrifuges.”

The reason behind the Iranian state’s choice to produce Today for a world audience remains unclear. At best, one can read Today as Iran’s realization of the importance of self-critique. If the state funds a dystopian and critical portrayal of Iran, perhaps more Iranian critical minds, some who live in the West, must knock state cultural commissioners. If the state funds Today, then it is not clear what it is that they do not allow to be shown. Iran is hardly a disciplinary society. That is what the condition of Today’s production indicates to us. And that is precisely Mirkarimi’s point.

20140924ir01VIOLENCE, CINEMA, AND THE OTHER

By Amir Ganjavie.

The most important key to Today’s success is the tangible connection of viewers – both Iranians and foreigners – with the worldly message of the film regarding respect for the Other. Today is an unintended reminder of the French-Lithuanian philosopher Emmanuel Levinas and his thoughts about responsibility for the Other.

Levinas, a Holocaust survivor at a young age, devoted his whole life to a proposal for the creation of a worldwide society opposed to violence. His perspective emphasizes the greater importance of ethical relations with the Other. In fact, Levinas believes that Western philosophy has never developed a non-totalitarian perspective toward the Other, instead the Other has always been undermined by a perspective of sameness, a factor which leads to violence.

Levinas believes that humans commit the greatest crimes in the name of totality by denying the uniqueness of the other; a process he sees as a reduction to homogeneity. Therefore, Levinas has tried to criticize the Ego in his writings and frequently reminds his readers about the importance of paying more attention to the unlikeness of the other. He asks his readers to consider the mysteriousness of the other and their inability to know them.

In recent years, the affinity between Levinas’s thinking and the works of the Dardenne brothers and Michelangelo Antonioni has been the topic of a wide range of discussions. In continuation of this cinematic tradition, Mirkarimi has applied various methods in Today to draw the viewers’ attention toward the Other and ethics while also provoking them to recognize his/her unrecognizable characteristics.

The story follows the daily life of a character, “an Other,” in present time and has nothing to do with an ethical judgement of his past. In complying with this approach, there has been an intentional attempt not to provide any form of information that may help in identifying the backgrounds of characters. À la Levinas, this Other can’t be easily psychologized. He is a total stranger, an absolute Other.

It would be mere naiveté to think that a director, who pays great attention to the smallest details in his film, has not been able to create a story in which characters can act logically from psychological perspective. Actually, there is a focus on details throughout all of Today. During the earlier minutes of the film we are given different clues about the character of the taxi driver. We notice that he is ethical and charges customers based on metered fares. He does not want to drive a passenger who is involved in something unethical. The importance of these clues to the identity and character of the taxi driver is that they really make the film completely tractable for the viewer. Although Mirkarimi has the necessary knowhow to write a good, classic screenplay, he has intentionally tried to make the character and the story in Today totally unpredictable. To enjoy a movie like Today, one should not act like a therapist toward a mental patient.

On other hand, in complying with Levinas thinking based on alterity, we can see that emotion and mystery have overcome logic and transparency in Mirkarimi’s work here. Respect for the Other cannot ever be justified by reasoning alone, and the air in Mirkarimi’s work is not full of thinking and reasoning, but rather complexity and mystery.

df77a7fComplexity and mystery can be seen at different levels of the film. The genre into which Today fits is difficult to determine since it keeps shifting between social realism, drama, detective story, and other categories. The movement of the camera does not help us follow the story easily. In one scene, the camera’s focus on the taxi driver leaves viewers expecting to see him as the person who leads the story through the scene, but surprisingly, it is the guard, who is seen in the depth of the field, who then turns off the television and becomes the scene’s center of attention. There are more examples of this sort of “misdirection” throughout. Mirkarimi has almost adopted pranks in order to make a kind of film in which the unpredictable overcomes the predictable. This format is in great compliance with the thinking of Levinas, as we confront the Other without applying a stereotyped vision toward them; that which is unpredictable should overcome the predictable and we should not think that we know them and have the right to label them as we please.

The subtleties mentioned above have helped Mirkarimi create a character based on Levinas’s recommendations. The taxi driver, played by Parviz Parastui, is a battlefield veteran, but full of mercy. He has a kind and motherly spirit and does not dominate others. According to another Iranian director, Rakhshan Bani Etemad, although Mirkarimi is a man, his works are highly concerned with vanguard and rare elements of feminism. So, here remembering Parastui’s work in The Glass Agency (Ajans-e Shisheh-I, 1999), we expect him to play a character with a masculine, aggressive, and absolutely decisive personality. It is true that the taxi driver has a decisive personality, but at the same time he is flexible and ready to change. His character is in a state of constant rebirth, such as when, after having a phone conversation with one of the woman’s relatives, he changes his decision to abandon her at the hospital. He is a man of dialogue, sacrificing himself for the sake of the Other. As Levinas states, the taxi driver becomes hostage to the Other. He is ready to be beaten up. He is completely different from the man Parastui played in The Glass Agency. Along with his progressive view of women, Mirkarimi creates a manhood different from our contemporary norm; this new manhood is fragile and features a motherly kindness.

Through these characteristics, one can say that Today becomes very attractive to both Iranians and Westerners since it has been made with a sort of logic which is interpretable from a Western philosopher’s perspective.

The film’s success relies on providing the possibility of finding an answer and not only questioning the Other’s position. Actually, just as Stanley Cavell claims, because of the interruptions that modernity has caused in the relationship between human beings and nature, we lack the ability to comprehend our position in the world at many levels and thus we feel alienated. As Cavell argued, by watching films, cinemagoers find an opportunity to feel themselves part of the world. According to this view, influential movies are those works that give alienated viewers the opportunity to make decisions in the world. Today is a pleasant work in this regard. Today creates a cinematic world which motivates the viewer to contemplate the problems of the relationship with the Other in their own world. In this worldly picture, that presents one day in someone’s life, the audience find themselves identifying with the character of the taxi driver, who has been subjected to constant judgment. Viewers see someone who is just like themselves, in a struggle for survival.

What could be the solution to this alienated world? Similar to Levinas’s point of view, that prioritizes ethics over law, the ending of Mirkarimi’s movie implies that the only solution is for an individual to neglect the law and do things based on a personal ethical perspective. In fact, the law is nothing but a set of rules created by humans and has no meaning outside of human relations. The child’s kidnapping at the end of film may seem totally irrational and, but it is a kind of violence that Mirkarimi considers to be ethical against the increasing immorality in our world. The violence is somehow justified since it happens as a result of the lack of ethics in society. Mirkarimi sees a bright future for a new ethical society; nothing expresses this better than the vision of a hopeful smiling kidnapped child, whose fate is unknown.

Note from the author: I would like to thank Leila Atayi, who helped me to prepare the text.

References

Cavell, Stanley (1979), The World Viewed: Reflections on the Ontology of Film, second enlarged edition, Cambridge, MA and London, UK: Harvard University Press.

Levinas, Emmanuel (1979), Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority, Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press.

0003-today_06_siteA MODERN HERO

By Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa.

I.

Reza Mirkarimi introduces a modern radical hero who is compassionate, caring, and non-judgmental.

Today features a taxi driver who goes out of his way to help his passenger, a poor young pregnant woman, who needs to go to hospital for her delivery. The taxi driver subjects himself to the insults, even the physical attacks, of the hospital staff in order to protect the desperate woman. An act of kindness takes him from the realm of every day realism to a larger-than-life mythical level. He assumes the role of another man, the absent husband, who has evaded his responsibility. A messianic character, the taxi driver is burdened by the guilt and the wrong doings (sins) of others knowing that he would have to sacrifice his own safety for the pregnant woman’s: the greater good.

Interestingly, the story of the film echoes The Brick and Mirror (Khesht va Ayeneh, 1965, directed by Ebrahim Golestan), in which a cab driver finds an abandoned baby in his car. Unlike Today’s hero, he doesn’t take any responsibility for the child. Like many men of his generation, he is only concerned about himself, indifferent to the sufferings of others as he represents society’s values.

When the taxi driver of Today realizes that the pregnant woman is alone, he decides to accompany her and let the hospital staff assume that he is her husband. Since the woman’s papers do not reflect any marriage registration, and since she is beaten and her ribs are broken, their suspicions about him escalates as they believe him to be a brutal, abusive man, who has taken advantage of the young woman. Here the taxi driver risks his honor and his safety by associating himself with an unaccompanied pregnant woman he doesn’t know, in order to help her.

The film suggests that a different kind of heroism is needed, beyond the level of comfortable societal ethics, in order to reach the oppressed, the defenseless, and the marginalized. Several scenes in the film inform us that the taxi driver was a war hero. But now his identity is extended to include fighting for the abandoned: to help a pregnant woman without a man and to save her baby at the end.

II.

Motherhood weighs heavily as the central theme when in the middle of the film it becomes the topic of the conversation between the pregnant woman on the hospital bed and the taxi driver who is sitting next to her. This is the only scene where they reveal and share something personal about themselves, and it is presented in a non-sentimental manner.

The film resists giving us background information about the man and the woman. Much is left to our speculations. But in fact, we know all we need to know about both of them. The pregnant woman asks him if men know how mothers worry. When he recalls a memory of his own mother, he confesses that, as a man, he still doesn’t comprehend the depth of his mother’s love for him. The pregnant woman adds that she is worried about her unborn baby girl and her future without a loving mother, just like her own motherless childhood.

Here the film suggests that a society’s foundation is based on the love of the mother for the child and the child for the mother, and the whole structure of love depends on this bonding. Both characters as well as the viewer become conscious of the meaning and poignancy of the spiritual hierarchy in a society: the love of a mother for the child reinforces the unseen and manifests laws that govern humankind.

With this film Reza Mirkarimi introduces a new kind of behavior for a hero that is needed in our present time. He seems to be saying that a society that doesn’t honor the mother of a child will fail. It doesn’t matter who the mother is, or who the child is; the taxi driver knows that any human/child is worthy of being saved.

Note from the author: Unfortunately, I haven’t seen all of the films by Reza Mirkarimi, only a couple of them, including his powerful first feature, The Child and The Soldier (1999). I hope more work of this director will be become easily accessible to audiences outside of Iran.

13930630000625_PhotoIThe Silent Hero

By Hamid Taheri.

Today introduces to us a self-righteous, silent character, who understands that in order to save himself he must become a little less idealistic.

A pregnant woman suddenly gets into a cab whose driver just minutes before was shown to be a little hot tempered. The driver had asked his passenger, who seemed to be a lawyer heading to a courthouse, to get out of the car two blocks away from his destination. Only the passenger was shown in that scene and the audience did not like the way he was threatening someone on his cellphone. The car stopped and the voice of the driver did what we would not dare to do or would not think is “proper.” When the passenger asked why he would not take him further, he calmly answered that he was hungry and wanted something to eat, apparently not feeling the need to give any further explanation. “You’re sick!” the passenger exclaims before getting out of the cab.

Next, a pregnant woman enters the cab in the middle of the driver’s lunch break. She seems sick and asks the driver to take her to a hospital for which she does not even have a name or a clear address. Our cab driver puts away his lunch and starts the car, at which point we conclude that he is probably a moralist since he did not take the threatening lawyer’s money to skip his lunch but now puts it away to care for a pregnant woman who appears to lack money. The driver, whose name we find out is Younes, even gives his cellphone to the pregnant woman to call someone called Mr. Yaghoobi, whom the woman says is supposed to take care of her at the hospital and pay the cab fare. Yaghoobi does not answer and when they get to the hospital Younes discovers that he has been retired for some time.

The pregnant woman asks Younes to come inside the hospital with her because she does not want be seen alone being in labor since there is no sign of the baby’s father. Thus, Younes and the audience assume that the father is not available for some reason or that, in the worst-case scenario, there is no father. What Younes then does is what a logical person would not do because he accompanies the woman into the hospital, where the doctors discover that the woman has been beaten and has a broken limb, as well as internal bleeding which has weakened her significantly. Some nurses in the hospital think that Younes is the woman’s husband and trouble seems to be on its way. For a moment, Younes does what seems logical; he flees from the hospital in order to escape what seems to be coming. However, when Yaghoobi calls him – he has seen Younes’s number on his phone – Younes sees no other moral choice but to return to the hospital and again play the role of the woman’s husband. Yaghoobi tells him that they all thought the woman was lying when she told everyone she had a husband and thanks Younes for coming back, but when Younes returns to the hospital the misunderstanding reaches a new level. Now that all the nurses and doctors have not found any sign of a husband in the woman’s documents, Younes appears to them to be a psychopath who has impregnated a woman and then beaten her in order to induce a miscarriage. This misunderstanding remains till the end and Younes does not say a word to correct it.

Most Iranian critics have a problem with Younes’s silence in the face of accusations. They ask why Younes does not defend himself, even when he is beaten by a hospital employee for something he has not done, or why, even when a doctor in the hospital understands Younes’s situation, he does not confirm her theory. Another question often asked is about why Younes goes to such trouble for a woman he does not even know. The answer to these questions is easy; all the trouble that Younes goes through is for the baby inside the woman and not for the woman herself. The baby is a bastard in the eyes of “the norm” and law. Imagine that Younes had told someone that he is not the father. What would have happened to that baby? She – we understand that the baby is a girl – would then have to carry this stain everywhere she goes for all of her life; something she did not choose would decide her future. Her honour is at stake before even being born, so Younes, whom we understand to be a moralist, sees an ethical obligation, though he also has another motive for his action which will be mentioned further below.

But why does Younes continue in silence? Can he not defend the baby’s honor by speaking, even if to tell lies? He is actually making people believe a lie by hiding the facts, so it would be inaccurate to say that lying is at odds with his morals. The answer to this question is a little problematic and even Reza Mirkarimi, the director of Today, cannot provide us with a clear answer. During an interview Mirkarimi answered a question about Younes’s silence by saying that:

“We knew this silence may make audiences angry; an audience who has fallen into the habit of talking to defend himself or herself. This has transformed into a norm in which anyone who talks is active and those who don’t are passive. We wanted to move against this stream, but finding a type of silence which wouldn’t convey isolation, advantageousness, pride, hopelessness, fatigue, and indifference took a lot of work; to find a way to put the character in a situation in which, from his silence, he finds a political stance, social agency, and fulfillment.”

In a note about Today Jafar Panahi, the director of Crimson Gold (2003), calls this a “heroic silence” (Khabar Online, 8 February 2014). Is this silence really heroic? Do we see any friend of Younes’s, indicating that he has not isolated himself? Does he have a political stance? Does this silence not, as some critics have rightfully mentioned, convey a kind of pride? I am afraid these questions are harder to answer.

The reason for Younes’s silence exists in the narrative, and in his characterization and background, but everyone seems to overlook it, or, for some reason, try interpreting it in some other way. Younes has a bizarre attitude, but not so bizarre as to remain misapprehended. His attitudes are so bizarre that any of his decisions can raise a question. Younes is a veteran who was wounded in the Iran-Iraq War and now makes a living driving a cab. Why does he not use the benefits of the Veteran Foundation? Of course, we know that a lot of veterans have a hard time, even with the help of the Veteran Foundation, but we can infer that Younes does not take anything from any foundations from the scene in which an agent from a charity foundation comes and asks him to list the woman’s name among his dependents in a category called “the destitute,” so that the foundation would pay her hospital bills but he refuses to do so.

Younes is a man who suddenly asks someone he does not like to leave his car. As a morally sensitive man, all his actions have to be explained to people who are involved, but can Younes reason with people? The answer is of course no. In his silence Younes seeks freedom from all these explanations because he does not want to answer to anybody, not even to his wife, when he is unable to make it to a family gathering she has held. This desire for freedom gradually turns into a weakness as Younes becomes someone who does not know how to talk to people. We can suppose that he has tried, and if we go a little further in our assumptions, he has failed. In Parviz Parastui’s profound portrayal of Younes we feel his discomfort whenever he has to talk. For example, there is a scene in which Younes is forced to calm the woman before her operation. He just sits there quietly. Time passes and he tries talking to her by telling a story about his childhood, but this does not calm the woman. In the end he tells the woman that everybody is worried about her and that someone has put in a good word for her. The confused woman asks who, and, of course, there is no answer; there is no solace. Younes leaves as the nurse enters and the woman is still agitated. Younes cannot even talk to the little daughter of the doctor because he cannot stand being alone with someone he does not know. There is nothing heroic about his silence. What he does is heroic of course but firstly it is detached with his silence and secondly it’s not heroic as these two filmmakers claim it to be.

Younes has a wife but no children. He says that he is dying to have a child. Why has he not left his wife? The answer is probably that he loves her. Why did he not adopt a child? It seems to be because he is an idealist in every way. Younes has always felt a void due to the absence of a child in his life. This is so important that he, the man of silence and secrets, tells us about it. So it is not hard to believe that he sympathizes with the woman’s child. After she dies, he comes back and steals the baby and the film ends with him talking to his presumably beloved wife while looking at the baby. We can say that Younes and the baby save each other because he saves the child from living in an orphanage and the child fills his void; of course, it is a heroic act, but he also does it for personal reasons.

Today introduces to us a self-righteous, silent character, who understands that in order to save himself he must become a little less idealistic. He understands that the world cannot revolve around him. Nothing is perfect – not even he himself – and by stealing that baby he became a vigilante.

ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS

Kara Abdolmaleki is a doctoral candidate in the Comparative Literature program at the University of Alberta. He received his Bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Kurdistan and his Master’s degree in English Literature from the University of Tehran, both with distinction. He has worked with several journals and magazines including the London-based Cine-Eye Magazine and Inquire: Journal of Comparative Literature at the University of Alberta. His research interests include ​Modernity and Modernism, ​Psychoanalysis, ​the Frankfurt School, ​Phenomenology, Film Studies and ​Iranian Literature. His website is: http://karaabdolmaleki.wordpress.com/.

Milad Dokhanchi is a documentary filmmaker and PhD candidate in Cultural Studies based in Kingston-Ontario.  In his latest film, Multiculturalism Unveiled, he provides a critical account of Canadian state multiculturalism. In his scholarly research, he explores the resonances between modern anarchism and classical Shi’ism. He currently teaches Contemporary Cultural Performance in Practice at the Isabel Bader Centre of Queen’s University.

Fascinated by the issue of alternative and utopian space in cinema and architecture, Amir Ganjavie has published widely about cinema, architecture and cultural studies. He has recently co-edited a special volume on alternative Iranian cinema for Film International. His most recent article deals with the meaning of space and utopia in cinema by analysing the films of Tsai Ming-Liang.

Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa teaches a variety of cinema studies and film production courses in the Cinema Art + Science department of Columbia College Chicago. She has written extensively on Iranian cinema. Her book on Abbas Kiarostami, co-written with Jonathan Rosenbaum, was published by the University of Illinois Press in March 2003.

Hamid Taheri was born in 1988 in Tehran. He studied English Literature at the Kharazmi University of Tehran, has made three well-received short films and works as a film critic for numerous Iranian magazines.

 

3 Comments for “Five Iranian Voices on Reza Mirkarimi’s Today

  1. Thanks so much for this. Iranian cinema is so rich and fascinating, full of intelligent ideas, radically new approaches to storytelling, and beautiful films. This is such an important and telling discussion. I particularly enjoy the multi-voiced perspective here. It seems appropriate to this type of cinema. Though these films are not easy to find, they are more than well worth tracking down.

    When it comes to Iranian cinema, if you cannot get to festivals, it certainly helps very much to be able to read work that highlights significant films. This work is genuinely appreciated. Many thanks, Amir Ganjavie!

  2. […] published on Film International […]

  3. […] published on the Film International […]

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