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iffr: ziba

Looking back on the Signals: Inside Iran program of the Rotterdam Film Festival, a film that stood out in the rich variety of Iranian cinema harvest - from the scathingly absurd ('Modest Reception') via low-budget sci-fi ('Taboor') to the outright bizarre (Tiger winner 'Fat Shaker') - is 'Ziba', an unflinching study of alienation and ennui.

With an intelligent script and impressive acting, 'Ziba' is the kind of film that throws you off-guard to end up leaving an almost physical impression. As the filmmakers put it, this film is “not a character portrait per se”, but rather a “visceral metaphor of the general state of oppression and imposed silence in Iran today”.

The film starts out conventionally enough with Ziba, the listless trophy wife to a Tehran real estate developer, leaving for a weekend on the coast with her husband. On the way he needs to take care of some business, and they make a stop in a newly developed area of Tehran, where skeletons of new housing projects stand amid dusty empty lots. In the one completed building the first tenants are moving in, and Ziba's husband needs them to sign some papers while she waits in the car.

Ziba - 1

Through a series of misunderstandings that reveal both Ziba's lethargy and her husband's callousness, she is left in this strange no man's land, in the sweltering midday heat, and she is stuck there until her husband returns. It takes until at least halfway into the film before you realize that this is not some drawn-out detour in the story - this is it, and we will wait out the whole endless, stifling afternoon with her.

While Ziba wanders around with nowhere to go and nowhere to stay, conversations with the family moving in offer off-hand glimpses into the lives of middle and lower class Tehranis. Ironically, the father and daughter she meets don't really live there either, so that everyone appears to be in transit, uprooted and disconnected.

Ziba - 2

As director Bani Khoshnoudi explained at the Rotterdam screening's Q&A, the Farsi name Ziba means beautiful, “with a connotation of aesthetic beauty, something you look at that's beautiful”. Continually sighing and adjusting her headscarf, the character of Ziba reminds of nineteenth century literary heroines, beautiful, rich and neurotically bored. For some viewers, especially in the West, her passivity will be maddening, but the accidental way in which she drifts into other people's lives makes for fascinating cinema.

Subtly picking apart the social fabric of Tehran, 'Ziba' has much to say about the position of women, the boredom of the affluent class and the disempowered “lives of quiet desperation” led by the rest of the population. The metaphor is for Iranian society, but the alienation it depicts is universally recognizable.


iffr: rhino season

A fitting start of the International Film Festival Rotterdam with Bahman Ghobadi's new film ' Rhino Season ', a dark and haunting tragedy based on the life of Kurdish poet Sadegh Kamangar, who was imprisoned for almost 30 years following … Read the full post »

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