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BERLINALE 2024 Panorama

Review: My Stolen Planet


- BERLINALE 2024: Resistance is both personal and political in Farahnaz Sharifi’s documentary, which uses archival footage to examine life in Iran from the revolution up to today

Review: My Stolen Planet

“I buy people’s memories,” says the narrator of My Stolen Planet [+see also:
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, whose voiceover guides an exploration on the politics of documentation and recollection just as much as on an exploration of life under political oppression. The two are inevitably linked, which becomes one of the film’s central themes. Writer-director-editor Farahnaz Sharifi's (who is also the narrator) self-proclaimed obsession with filming and documenting leads her to frequently purchase reels of old film — much of it Super 8 — from other people.

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This new work, the Iranian-born filmmaker’s first feature-length documentary, made its world premiere in the Panorama section of the 74th Berlinale. Combining archival media with an overtly political voiceover, Sharifi draws from personal archives of her own life filmed over the years, photos and videos of other Iranians, and more general footage on Iranian protest and resistance. Born in 1979, Sharifi had a childhood that was squarely in the aftermath of the Iranian Revolution, which framed her childhood as a young girl in terms of limited rights and freedoms, epitomised by the mandatory hijab. She describes a schism that was born between the freeing world inside her home and the confining world outside the home: two “planets”, the latter as governed by the new regime’s sociolegal order.

Sharifi does not shy away from the act of showing, as seen by the inclusion of video of Iranians being killed, among other emotionally charged clips. For footage depicting the seemingly unremarkable, every image develops semiotic meaning under her moving narration, becoming political when cast as a reflection or revolt against political restriction right down to the minutiae. Ambient sound design by Daniel Wulf and piano-centric music by Atena Eshtiaghi also round out the film’s emotive core, although the narration drives the film’s affective intentions.

Within Sharifi’s “private planet”, which also stretches to other spaces where Iranian women are free to be themselves, the mundane becomes beautiful. Passing, intimate moments are caught on film that depict an opposite, quieter facet to resistance (“Our daily life, which is a crime in their eyes”, says the narrator) rather than the ones caught in bold acts of protest in the streets. On the flip side, the world outside is always documented, with mobile phones shoved into faces, digital eyes forever watching. Through voiceover, the filmmaker questions her impulse to film everything, but “to film or not to film” is never the question — it’s not so black and white. Film bears witness to tragedy and injustice, and documentation is therefore also endlessly vital.

No doubt is the feat of cohesive editing laudable and the themes increasingly relevant, but My Stolen Planet also feels like an exercise done before, a mosaic of the personal and the political that ultimately plays out quite conventionally. Some audiovisual risk-taking and experimentation might otherwise elevate the film’s strong theses during its brisk 82-minute runtime.

My Stolen Planet was produced by German outfits JYOTI Film and PakFilm. International sales will be handled by Paris-based CAT&Docs.

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