By Daniel Barnes
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. The rotoscoping technique, in which animation gets traced over live-action footage, only heightens that feeling.
There are quibbles – the story is far from airtight, the ending feels forced and the characters often seem inauthentic – but between Tehran taboo and Have a Nice Day, 2018 already looks like a solid year for grown-up animation.