By Ali Moosavi.
To fans of Asghar Farhadi, Mani Haghighi may be known for co-writing the script of Fireworks Wednesday (Chaharshanbeh Soori) and acting in About Elly (Darbareye Elly). He is, however, a prominent writer-director in his own right. His style, as seen in his recent films Modest Reception (Paziraieh sadeh) and A Dragon Arrives! (Ezhdeha Vared Mishavad) can be described as absurdist black comedy. His latest film Pig (Khook) falls in the same category. However, whereas Modest Reception and A Dragon Arrives! focused on the absurd, dark, surrealistic aspects of the story, Pig pushes all three elements of absurdity, darkness, and comedy to the fore very successfully and is sheer unadulterated delight from start to finish.
The film starts with three school girls coming across a severed head left in a ditch in a populated street in Tehran. It actually turns out to be the head of director Mani Haghighi! Apparently there is a serial killer on the loose, killing and beheading prominent Iranian filmmakers and writing the word “Pig” in blood on the face of the severed head. His victims have included such politically and stylistically different, real-life filmmakers as Rakhshan Banietemad, Hamid Nematollah and Ebrahim Hatamikia.
Hasan Kasmai (Hasan Majooni) is a fictional filmmaker who fears he might be prominent enough to be the next victim. He has been banned from film making by the government (a fate not uncommon in Iran, having been applied to such filmmakers as Jafar Panahi, Mohamad Rasoulof, and others) and is pouring all his creativity into making a very elaborate, musical commercial for an insect killer spray! He is becoming increasingly neurotic and his ego is badly dented when he finds out that his normal leading lady and muse, Shiva Mohajer (Leila Hatami) has secretly been acting in a film by a rival filmmaker, who has a permit for making films (played by Ali Mosaffa, real life husband of Leila Hatami). He sees himself as an un-conformist rebel (hence, his love of rock outlaws such as AC/DC and, in a fantasy scene, playing guitar with a tennis racquet).
Mani Haghighi must have taken particular pleasure in writing a scene depicting a memorial event, mourning the passing of director Mani Haghighi, and writing the eulogy for himself, read by fellow filmmakers in the film! Haghighi also has a go at the huge influence of social media in Iran, where Instagram followers and even “likes” are openly traded for money. When a video of Hasan, threatening one of the victims before the actual murder happens, goes viral, the hash tag “Hasan is the Killer” spreads across Twitter.
The main weight of the film is on Hasan Majooni’s shoulders. He is more famed as a theatre actor-director in Iran (I was impressed a few years ago by seeing him play the lead role a production of Chekhov’s Ivanov in Tehran). He succeeds admirably switching constantly between being caustic and egotistic to fearful and hurt. There are also a host of colourful characters in the film, including a mysterious actress in Hasan’s commercial (Parinaz Izadyar). The colourfulness of the characters has been accentuated by Mahmud Kalari’s colour-staturated photography, Amir Ghodsi’s production design, and Negar Nemati’s costumes.
The current state of Iranian cinema, with some prominent filmmakers banned from working, others having their films refused a screening permit, commercial comedies ruling the cinemas, big egos and many other “behind the scene” things that Haghighi is undoubtedly privy to, provide ample material for him to put through his abdurdist, black comedy mixer. Haghighi has thrown everything but the kitchen sink into the mix. Not all the elements work, but enough do to keep us both entertained and intrigued for 108 minutes.
Ali Moosavi has worked in documentary television and has written for Film Magazine(Iran), Cine-Eye (London), and Film International (Sweden). He contributed to the second volume of the The Directory of World Cinema: Iran (Intellect, 2015) and is based in the United Arab Emirates.