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SXSW 2022

Review: The Locust


- Iranian director Faezeh Azizkhani’s second self-reflexive and cinephilic feature portrays a broke woman amidst personal crises and artistic frustrations

Review: The Locust

Being a filmmaker, said once Krzysztof Zanussi during a masterclass, means to be unemployed for most of the time – and as a consequence, probably haunted by misfortunate practicalities such as home eviction threats due to unpaid rent, as happens to the main character of Faezeh Azizkhani's Iranian-German co-production The Locust, [+see also:
interview: Faeze Azizkhani
film profile
which just premiered within the Global Presented by MUBI section of SXSW (March 11-20).

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The material world bodes homelessness and destitution to Hanieh – a 41-year-old Iranian writer and filmmaker, passionately played by actress Hanieh Tavassoli, whose face is reminiscent of Maria Callas’ tragic expression – however, she insists on inhabiting the creative realm, no matter what. Thus, she decides to sell her old and very personal script to her more successful friend Pegah (played by Pegah Ahangaran, an experienced actress but also a director of the archival short I Am Trying to Remember, which premiered at the latest IDFA), aiming no lower than the Cannes selection. At Pegah’s place, they dive into an endless rehearsal of the text by interchanging the roles and experimenting with other participants. As the group argues about and analyses the main character in the script, who is obviously the author’s alter-ego, Hanieh grows more uncertain and upset as she starts to feel dissected and questioned. The tension culminates during an unexpected visit by her brothers and despotic mother who turns out to be her main source of insecurity, while she keeps having inner dialogues with her deceased father –  an interesting interlocutor, supporter and an inspiration for her.

Filmed by Alireza Barazandeh mainly in close-ups and overcrowded, claustrophobic interior spaces, The Locust is a chaotic and vivid chatterbox and difficult to follow at times. The only exterior sequences are a bird’s eye view of the two women entering the house and an imaginary talk in imaginary woods between Hanieh and her eccentric father in a Hawaiian shirt – all the rest is enclosed in their creative bubble as if the outside world didn't exist. Meanwhile, Faezeh Azizkhani is constantly declaring her love for cinema with visual and verbal references to numerous directors, mostly male, standing for paternal figures just like her father – from Fellini to Tarantino, from Kurosawa to her real life teacher Kiarostami. The fourth wall between the running dramedy and the audience is also firmly positioned through sequences in which Hanieh speaks directly to the camera and through the clear demonstration that documentary material is very much involved too, so the viewer feels under constant pressure to distinguish fiction from reality. As for the title, referring to the locust plague, it feels like a metaphor for the disturbing outside world which constantly attacks Hanieh like a swarm of annoying insects.

As loud and almost hysterical as the women in the film seem, as unobtrusive but solid their feminism is. After all, The Locust is a film about the rivalry of two female artists, while men in their conflicts and environment only have supporting roles. Moreover, the terrorising monster here appears to be the mother – despite her negative profile, she is undisputedly a strong female figure. In this regard, neither gender not hijabs can stop the heroines from being attractive or frightening and from expressing themselves to the fullest, despite the conservative environment that might lurk outside. The Locust radiates female and artistic freedom without resorting to activism or victimisation, which is particularly liberating.

The Locust was produced by Iran’s Bamdad Film and Documentary and Experimental Film Center (DEFC), co-produced by Germany’s KapFilme and distributed by Iran's IRIMAGE.

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