The Iranian cinema’s world prominence is due largely to the films of the late Abbas Kiarostami, whose meticulously local, fastidious realism is built on a Möbius filmstrip of metafiction and self-implication. A standout feature at the Iranian Film Festival New York, which runs from January 10th through January 15th, at the IFC Center, was conceived in an entirely different vein, a brashly comedic, satirical one that nonetheless taps the same documentary-rooted reflexivity as Kiarostami’s art. It addresses, with a daring specificity, the very conditions of work and life in the place where it’s made.

“Pig,” written and directed by Mani Haghighi (and screening January 11th and January 14th), is a macabre mystery centered on a fictitious fifty-year-old Tehrani filmmaker, Hasan Kasmai (Hasan Majuni), an acclaimed artist who is enduring a ban from filmmaking by the censorious government. Hasan’s intense frustration at his inability to work threatens to disrupt his decade-long affair with his lead actress, Shiva Mohajer (Leila Hatami). She has stayed idle in devotion to Hasan and his work, but, when she’s offered a role with a filmmaker named Sohrab Saidi (Ali Mosaffa), whom Hasan despises, she’s tempted to take it. Then leading Iranian filmmakers, one by one, start turning up dead, decapitated, with the word “pig” (in Farsi) carved in blood into their foreheads. The murdered filmmakers whose names and faces are shown are real-life ones—including Haghighi himself. When Sohrab (a fictional character) is killed in the same way, Hasan becomes a prime suspect and tries to clear his name—even as he wonders why the killer hasn’t yet seen fit to target him.

Hasan’s independent-mindedness, which led to his trouble with the authorities, is visible from the start, when he shows up at a high-toned art-exhibit opening wearing an orange AC/DC T-shirt. The paunchy, hirsute filmmaker, with a tangled mane of salt-and-pepper hair and a flyaway beard, stands out as a pugnacious and sad-eyed wild bear in a milieu of dapper and restrained elegance. The ideas that get him in trouble are on display from the start, too—when a Times reporter asks him about the killings, he dismisses the sentimental platitudes offered by another interviewee and blurts out, “These people simply hate us.” In Haghighi’s daring vision, the very question of who “these people” are—who the enemies of artists and artistic freedom in Iran are—is at the root of the action.

It’s remarkable that Haghighi even managed to get “Pig” made and shown; with his own audacity, he shows a world of artists facing constant pressure from the government. Though relegated to directing TV commercials, Hasan manages to get into trouble again owing to his artistic ideas—his commercial for bug spray becomes a virtual war film, featuring a Busby Berkeley-like array of dancers in red insect costumes getting overcome by a blue mist (as if enduring a poison-gas attack) and dying onscreen with a stylized grotesquerie.

Haghighi depicts Hasan’s confrontations with the law, in the course of the murder investigation, with a sharply sensitive irony. For instance, the officer in charge, Azemat (Ali Bagheri), is depicted as courteous, good-humored, and reasonable, even when holding Hasan under arrest; the iron fist within the velvet glove is never shown, but, rather, a conspicuously ludicrous bee sting suggests the police brutality that can’t be dramatized, and Azemat’s extraordinary revelations of inculpatory and exculpatory evidence suggests the tentacular state of surveillance that Hasan and his milieu endure. The tribulations of Hasan’s best friend, a psychiatrist who lost his job (played by Siamak Ansari), further hint at the extent of political control over public life.

The teeming, turbulent comedic panorama of Tehran’s movie community also reaches into the intimate realm, of Hasan’s life among women. There are his affair with Shiva and his relationship with his wife, Goli (Leili Rashidi), who lives with him while both accepting his infidelity and, the film hints, having a secret life of her own. There are his daughter, Alma (Ainaz Azarhoush), who works as his assistant and tries to keep him out of trouble, and Annie (Parinaz Izadyar), his social-media stalker. And there is his mother, Jeyran (Mina Jafarzadeh), an extraordinary comedic character who, in Jafarzadeh’s gruff performance and, with the wisdom of the ages, delivers the film’s sublimely insolent last words.

Along with its display of Hasan’s personal travails, his artistic ambitions, his artistic vanity, and his tempestuous inner life (brought out in extravagant dream sequences that are both comedic and awe-inspiring), “Pig” offers a large-scale public vision, complete with street scenes, crowd scenes, the teeming sets on which the films-within-a-film are produced, and even a grand-scale fantasy rock concert. Haghighi brings it all to life with a razor-sharp comedic precision, as in a dramatic showdown on an apartment balcony that veers from intimacy to public spectacle in a heartbeat; in a hospital where Hasan must identify the body—or, rather, the head—of a fallen colleague (the space itself, and the glances across it, have a quasi-musical delicacy); and in Hasan’s home, where Jeyran hauls out an antique rifle and proves that she can use it.

Haghighi’s wide-spectrum view of public life is integral to his own rueful and bitter political diagnostics. The movie opens with four schoolgirls cheerfully walking in the street and chatting about movie-celebrity social-media gossip when one of them endures a call from her suspicious-minded father, whose distrust of her leads to the girls’ incidental encounter with one of the murder victims. A crucial subplot, involving a social-media campaign of conservative moralism, further amplifies the idea that’s at the forefront of the film—the moral stigmatization of artists. Whatever “Pig” may suggest about the oppressive authority of the state is matched by what it suggests about the populace, whose own narrow-minded inclinations, conservative views, and media-centric gullibility provide the solid basis and sustenance for an official regime of oppression.

It is rare for a film to put forth so boldly precise a vision of society; it’s also rare to find a satire that hardly ever falls into mere ridicule or pathos. “Pig” deserves to be seen widely. To my dismay and embarrassment, its screening at the IFC Center isn’t its New York première; it was screened at MOMA, last fall, in a series devoted to the film’s cinematographer, Mahmoud Kalari (whose body of work, extending back to 1985, also includes “The Wind Will Carry Us,” which I consider to be Kiarostami’s farthest-reaching film). My failure to see it the first time around is a reminder that the New York repertory scene is a cornucopia of thrilling vastness—and that world cinema offers far more treasures, and often far greater ones, than those proposed on the usual rosters of releases.

Sourse: newyorker.com

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