By Daniel Barnes
Opens Friday, March 2, at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco.
Iranian-born German filmmaker Soozandeh makes his feature debut with this rotoscope-animated ensemble drama about young adults searching for some measure of freedom in their extremely restrictive society. The serpentine story slinks around some tenuously connected city dwellers: ex-addict Pari, a mother pushed into prostitution when her convict husband refused to grant a divorce; her neighbor Sara, newly pregnant but still seeking work against the wishes of her husband; and musician Babak, whose drug-fueled carnal encounter with bride-to-be Donya leaves them both searching for creative solutions to her lack of virginity. Sexual hypocrisy hangs over every character like the blade of a guillotine – we see authorities round up and arrest unmarried couples holding hands in public, yet a soulless prostitution trade thrives at the highest and lowest levels of society. From the opening POV shots inside a car driving through a bleak and snowy Tehran, Soozandeh establishes a mood of bitter melancholy, a feeling only heightened by the rotoscoping technique, in which animation is traced over live-action footage. There are quibbles – the story is far from airtight, the ending feels forced and the characters often seem inauthentic – but between this film and Have a Nice Day, 2018 is already a solid year for grown-up animation.