DIR/WRI/PRO/DOP: Behnam Behzadi • CAST: Alireza Aghakhani, Sahar Dolatshahi, Roya Javidnia, Ali Mosaffa, Setareh Pesyani, Shirin Yazdanbakhsh
Critic Owen Gleiberman of Variety wrote that throughout the best of Iranian cinema runs an “invisible tension”, a “clandestine suspense in the everyday”. Such is the case with Behnam Behzadi’s latest Inversion. Sahar Dolatshahi (Fireworks Wednesday) stars as Niloofar, a single thirty-something, business woman living in Tehran. In the early scenes, she seems happy and appears to possess a surprising amount of agency for a female living in Iran. Yet, throughout these opening moments, a portentous foreboding begins to creep in. We hear radio reports of pollution in the city being so toxic that schools in certain areas must close due to safety regulations.
While rekindling with an old flame, our protagonist receives news from her brother Farhad (Ali Mosaffa, The Past) that their mother has suffered respiratory failure – a result of the contaminated air – and must leave Tehran. Suddenly, Niloofar realises the control she thought she had over her life was only an illusion. Due to her single, unmarried status, the decision that she will sell her business and move outside of the Iranian capital to care for her mother is made, not by her, but by her siblings. Her relatives have their own families and therefore feel no obligation to care for her their ailing matriarch, placing the burden entirely on Niloofar.
At 84 minutes in length, Inversion is a tight and tense movie. Yet, the tension doesn’t derive from plot twists or moments of action. Instead, it comes from a series of stiflingly awkward and upsetting domestic squabbles, ones which make the main character completely revaluate her position in life and society. One shocking moment sees Niloofar being casually shushed by Farhad while explaining that she is “a fully capable adult woman” that should be consulted in issues pertaining to her. Despite all she has achieved in life – running a successful clothes shop – she is still somehow a second-class citizen. Every aspect of her life can be run by her brother – a man who is an unsuccessful business owner, owing a huge amount to debtors. As Niloofar states to Farhad: “No husband, no children, so I don’t count. You move me like a pawn”.
In a similar way to French drama Grand Central (which used nuclear radiation as an allegory for falling in love) – the symbolism of Inversion, using the dirty smog filled air as a metaphor for the repressive condition of women in Iran is heavy-handed but also interesting and intelligent. Both the toxicity and oppression are always present and visible, yet people ignore it – learning to endure.
Inversion feels like a neo-realist movie. The settings appear tangible and authentic. The actors disappear into their characters. There is no soundtrack, just the noise of radios and ringtones. Thus, for all its grimness – it’s a little surprising how positive the ending of the movie actually is, particularly after the setting the viewer up for a much more downbeat finale. However, even if the last moments are a little jarring, the positivity of the conclusion – particularly what it means for Niloofar – is unexpected in how uplifting it is.
Inversion is released 19th May 2017