The film “Chronicles of Tehran” brilliantly examines ordinary violence in Iran


Here, there is no cry of revolt against censorship. Chronicles of Tehran , a suite of nine scenes by Ali Asgari and Alireza Khatami, unveiled at Cannes (Un certain regard section) in May 2023, probes the “ordinary” violence experienced by Iranians, whether they are looking for a job, want to register a birth or simply withdraw a driving license.

Every day, men and women find themselves confronted, for seemingly innocuous acts, with individuals vested with authority – a civil servant, an employer – who abuse their dominant position, cheat their interlocutor, interfere in their privacy, let threats hover… But not all citizens bow down.

A certain resistance emerges: it nestles in the irony of the language, in dodging or manipulation, creating twists and turns, hooking the viewer into the dialogues. Especially since these stories are almost never resolved, the forty-year-old directors cut them off at the moment of maximum tension, like in an episode of a series.

Great actors

The frustration effect works, and the staging accentuates the suspense. Each vignette is filmed in a fixed shot, leaving the interrogators off-camera, whose voices are only heard: only the individual remains in the frame, whose reactions and responses tell an overview of the resistance in Iran. – a tip of the hat to the actors, all fantastic. We are neither in the punchy cinema of Mohammad Rasoulof ( The Devil Does Not Exist , 2020), nor in the twists and turns of an Asghar Farhadi-style story, even if Alireza Khatami worked with the author of A Separation (2011).

Chronicles of Tehran , filmed in seven days with the means at hand, bears the imprint of the “Woman, life, freedom” movement, born in Iran the day after the death of the young Mahsa Amini, in September 2022, as a result of her arrested for an ill-fitting scarf. Several scenes thus question the “policing” of female appearance. One of the most striking shots is the camera look of a little girl who discovers, disappointed, her reflection in the mirror (the camera and the mirror becoming one): her long red hair has disappeared under the creamy beige veil , such is his destiny on the eve of the start of the school year.

There is also this taxi driver, with an ultra-short haircut under her hood, who is contesting a fine she received for driving with her hair blowing in the wind. That’s not her in the image flashed by the radar, she said. Besides, isn’t the car interior a private space? “No, because you are visible from the outside,” said the agent. “What constitutes private space in Iran? » , dares the administrator. Another story, that of a poem tattooed on the body, confirms that freedom is shrinking in Iran.

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