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The Shared Emotions of Iran: The Cinema of Ali Asgari

Blog
The Shared Emotions of Iran: The Cinema of Ali Asgari

26.03.2024

Text: Beyza Yıldırım

The Shared Emotions of Iran: The Cinema of Ali Asgari

Ali Asgari, who started his cinematic journey with short films and continued with feature films, will take part in the discussion program of the 20th Akbank Short Film Festival to share his cinematic experiences. He is also among the jury members of the “Shorts from the World” program. Let’s take a look at the cinema of Ali Asgari, the mind behind many shorts that have traveled to festivals worldwide.

Asgari’s journey begins in Tehran, where he was born in 1982, and extends to the world where we all share common concerns. His filmography features a dynamic that often confronts societal boundaries, discussing themes of justice, freedom, and rights. After receiving cinema education in Italy and graduating from the Berlinale Talent Campus in 2013, Asgari is also a member of the Academy of Motion Picture and Arts and Sciences. Having gained numerous international nominations, he has become one of the prominent figures in Iranian cinema. His films, many of which he personally wrote, exhibit an enduring quality with open-ended narratives, and his directorial style grants the audience a voice. Defying the conventional realistic cinematic approach, he distinguishes himself by consistently placing his characters under the lens of his technique, bringing him quite close to contemporary filmmaking.

With his films Bishtar Az Do Saat (More than Two Hours, 2013) and Il Silenzio (The Silence, 2016), Asgari was nominated for the Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival in the short film category. Asgari’s short films have been presented to audiences at over 600 film festivals worldwide. Il Silenzio, revolving around Fatma and her mother, Kurdish refugees living in Italy, sets its narrative in a hospital. His first short film, Tonight Is Not a Good Night for Dying in 2011, explores the night of people gathered around a mysterious man who falls from a balcony.

In Napadid shodan (Disappearance, 2017), which explores all possibilities and serves as the director’s debut feature film, we find ourselves at the intersection of events as a night transitions into morning. Sara and Hamed, a young couple experiencing their first sexual encounter, end up at the hospital due to potential complications. The hospital, with its sterile environment and staff delivering robotic phrases, is unsettling, offering no healing for their situation. The laws, assumed to be a scale of solution in Iran’s dense population, constantly hinder them, leaving no breathing space and preventing them from receiving the support they need. The totalitarian system, which crushes and diminishes individuals until they feel guilty and realize their existence is for the state, does not cease until that realization occurs. The film raises the necessity for the state to exist for the people, spreading its inclusivity to every aspect of life. Napadid shodan has a thought-provoking aspect, engaging the audience in self-reflection when approached with a humane sensibility. Asgari’s knack for storytelling, evident in his shorts like Bishtar Az Do Saat, translates into an engaging and enjoyable experience in this feature-length film.

In his second feature film, Ta farda (Until Tomorrow, 2022) which premiered at the Berlinale, we glimpse into a day in the life of Fereshteh, who tries to conceal the baby she secretly brought into the world when she learns that her family will visit. Attempting to leave her belongings at the neighbors for just one night, Fereshteh faces only inquiries. While searching for a place to leave her two-month-old baby, she grapples with more significant problems. The struggles of a mother trying to handle life with a baby on her own are endless, encountering simple yet persistent obstacles. Confrontations with people devoid of compassion, forgetting all conventions and facing the challenges an integral part of the world order that Asgari attempts to comprehend by portraying women, highlighting a life marked by intimidation through oppressive systems, and an obliviousness to the possibilities within reach.

Premiering at the Cannes Film Festival in the Un Certain Regard section, Terrestrial Verses is Ali Asgari’s latest film and among the anticipated releases of this year. Centered around micro-resistances in daily life, the film serves as a reminder of social, cultural, and political constraints. Its societal dimension diversifies by following individuals from various professions and authorities. These individuals, while contending with many imposed restrictions, disrupt the ordinary flow of life without even momentarily disconnecting from reality; life itself becomes the embodiment of resistance. The existence of a problem gains value not just through its presence but transforms into a genuine issue if even one person sees it and deems it worthy of fighting against. The film, which led to Ali Asgari being among the banned filmmakers in Iran, has gone as far as severing ties with international festivals due to its criticisms of the country’s regime and its structure that scratches at censorship. In addition to all this, Terrestrial Verses is a production that, from its first minute, creates an immersive spiral and brings numerous cinematic achievements along with it.

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