- Farhad Delaram's feature debut emerges as an evocative narrative, blending a realistic portrayal of oppression with an introspective journey of resistance
Recent films emerging from Iran candidly tackle the nation's socio-political dynamics, even in the face of government restrictions on filmmakers. After the noteworthy Critical Zone [+see also:
film profile] clinched the top honour at the Locarno Film Festival, Farhad Delaram's feature-length debut, Achilles [+see also:
interview: Farhad Delaram
film profile], now steps into the spotlight. Opting for a civilian perspective, Delaram still vividly captures the weight of the country's oppressive regime. A Tehran native, Delaram’s repertoire includes several shorts, notably the Berlin Crystal Bear recipient Tattoo (2019), culminating in his debut feature, which has just screened in the Discovery section of Toronto.
Farid (Mirsaeed Molavian), known as Achilles, works night shifts as an orthotic assistant in a Tehran hospital. One evening, he's summoned to the psychiatric ward to attend to a patient who has injured her wrist by striking the walls. The colleague who alerts Achilles to this confides in him about her son's tragic end owing to the prevailing state system, prompting Achilles to disclose his own discontent. Delaram gradually unfurls Achilles' story – once a filmmaker, he abandoned his entire past life to work in the hospital, all the while residing in his car. His unexpected encounter with the psychiatric patient, Hedieh (Behdokht Valian), shakes him from his listlessness.
The protagonist attempts to make Hedieh's hospital stay more pleasant with kind gestures, only to discover that she is a political prisoner, sedated and confined to the ward. What begins as a brief escape spirals into a daring journey from Tehran to Lake Urmia, and then on to the Caspian Sea, in a bid to save Hedieh. Drawing on his own experience in isolation, Delaram presents a direct portrayal of the relentless pursuit by state authorities, infusing the narrative with tension and suspense as they seek to evade capture.
On their journey, Delaram subtly underscores the repercussions of state oppression, juxtaposed with the unwavering solidarity among its citizens. The director distinguishes between the regime and its people, shedding light on the challenges faced by Iranians, and exploring themes of sacrifice, resilience and enduring human spirit. Rather than mounting an overt critique of the regime, the writer-director delves into the consequences of oppression on its populace, capturing a narrative of loss, resilience and the ongoing quest for liberty.
Echoing Mohammad Rasoulof's Golden Bear-winning anthology There Is No Evil [+see also:
film profile], Delaram delves into the profound impact of the regime on its citizens and their families through the lens of humanistic drama. The journey Achilles embarks upon towards the Turkish borders, aiming to save Hedieh and possibly reconnect her with her estranged daughter following her enforced institutionalisation, becomes a pivotal moment of transformation for the protagonist, infused by the director’s real-life experiences.
As a politically tinged social drama with elements of a thriller, and despite the refugee road-movie aspect, Achilles is largely an introspective narrative peppered with poetic nuances. It delves into the effects of systemic corruption and oppression as experienced by the marginalised protagonist. While Hedieh is confined by both physical and institutional walls, Achilles is hemmed in by his own mental ones. Walls, serving as a representation of the state's method to incapacitate political dissenters, and the self-imposed barriers created by an overbearing system, emerge as subtle metaphors in Delaram's otherwise realist drama of quiet resistance through solidarity.
Achilles was produced by Iran’s GalanGedan Film Production and Saeed Shahsavari, Germany’s Basis Berlin Filmproduktion and Barrieri Filmproduktion, and France’s Unité. Visit Films handles the international rights.
Photogallery 24/09/2023: San Sebastián 2023 - Achilles
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