Dispatches from Chicago’s 28th Annual Festival of Films from Iran

(Note: This article originally appeared here.)

The 28th Annual Festival of Films from Iran takes place at the Gene Siskel Film Center; it starts tomorrow and screenings continue throughout the month of February. As expected, the lineup contains plenty of good reasons to go out and spend $11, including the last work of Abbas Kiarostami, an animated film about prostitutes in Tehran, and a neo-noir about a woman in desperate need of medical care. Third Coast got the chance to watch several of the films in advance; here’s our take on what’s worth your time (and what isn’t).

Blockage (82 minutes)

Image courtesy of Hedayat Film.

The protagonist of Mohsen Ghararie’s Blockage, a street cop named Qasem (Hamed Behdad), is about as unlucky as they come. His boss hates him. His wife wants to leave him. His father thinks he’s irresponsible. And on top of it all, a street peddler he manhandled threatens to bring charges against him. Ghararie’s depiction of how Qasem navigates these challenges subscribes to the mistaken notion that suffering is an automatic sign of profundity; his insistence, moreover, on turning virtually every scene into a confrontation reminds one of Aaron Sorkin at his most obnoxious. Yet for the patient, the film occasionally punctuates its relentless dialogue with moments of genuine poignancy. And for all his faults, Ghararie has certainly painted a compelling portrait of a society in which everybody has to act from self-interest.

Blockage screens on February 3 (8:00 PM) and February 4 (3:00 PM).

24 Frames (114 minutes)

Image courtesy of Janus Films.

The late Abbas Kiarostami made films (Taste of Cherry, The Wind Will Carry Us) that invariably challenge our very understanding of what movies are supposed to be like. In 24 Frames, the last work he made before his untimely death in 2016, he continues this provocative streak, taking inspiration from photographs and paintings (including Peter Bruegel’s Hunters in the Snow) to create 24 four-and-a-half-minute-long shorts. As a posthumous release, the film occasionally has the feel of a rough draft, as though Kiarostami didn’t have enough time to flesh out the ideas he was juggling in his head. But what we have here is still a fascinating meditation on a myriad of themes: the (un)importance of narrative, the value of digital effects, the filmmaker’s responsibility to reality, and the epistemological limitations of film as a medium. It’s a subtle but endlessly thought-provoking work that only a guy like Kiarostami could have made.

24 Frames screens on February 9 (2:00 and 6:00 PM), 10 (8:00 PM), 11 (3:00 PM), 12 (6:00 PM), 13 (8:30 PM), 14 (6:00 PM), and 15 (8:15 PM). The February 12 screening is hosted by Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa and Jonathan Rosenbaum, the co-authors of a book on Kiarostami’s work.

Disappearance (89 minutes)

Image courtesy of New Europe Film Sales.

At the start of Ali Asgari’s Disappearance, an unnamed young woman (Sadaf Asgari) needs to be treated for a mysterious illness. Here’s the catch: to get treatment, she needs a husband’s consent, but all she has instead is a grumpy, dishonest boyfriend (Amir Reza Ranjbaran). The noir-esque tale that arises from this premise plays as a kind of cross between Detour and L’avventura—an ambiguous, unashamedly anti-climactic story about unhappy social outcasts. Throughout it all, Asgari’s impeccable technique—forlorn long takes, isolating camera angles—ably captures his protagonist’s overwhelming sense of resignation. And without ever overplaying his hand, he eventually offers an insightful indictment of the corruption and latent misogyny that beset modern-day Iran.

Disappearance screens on February 17 (6:00 PM) and February 18 (5:00 PM).

Negar (100 minutes)

Image courtesy of Hedayat Film.

In Rambod Javan’s Negar, an aging businessman (Ali Shojanoori) abruptly decides to commit suicide; in her grief, his daughter (Negar Javaherian) becomes convinced that he was the victim of some kind of foul play. The film’s chief selling point lies in Negar’s susceptibility to hallucinations, a condition that Javan illustrates via the frequent use of elaborate, riveting fantasy sequences. But while Javan’s stylistic prowess is undeniable, he doesn’t use it for anything particularly meaningful: most of the film plays like a needlessly melodramatic illustration of just how badly grief can affect people, an idea you easily could have grasped without Javan’s help. Javaherian’s energetic lead performance is just about the only thing that redeems this well-intentioned but ultimately empty endeavor.

Negar will be screened on February 17 (8:00 PM) and February 18 (3:00 PM).

Siskel Film Center’s 28th Festival of Films from Iran runs from February 3 through March 1. More information on films, showtimes, special guests and tickets is available here.