Thursday, April 28, 2011

Tribeca ’11: Flowers of Evil

The wave of protests sweeping the Middle East started in Iran, but it was the Islamist government that supplied all the rage. Their crackdown was swift and violent. The almost-revolution was not televised, but it was on youtube, where a young Iranian expat breathlessly follows the tumultuous events rocking her country from the safety of France in David Dusa’s Flowers of Evil (trailer here), which screens at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival.

When the French-Algerian Rachid (a.k.a. Gekko) first meets Anahita, he does not make a strong impression. He is the one carrying her bags when she checks into her upscale hotel. It is not snobbery. The attractive Iranian is understandably preoccupied with the government’s brutal response to the “Green” pro-democracy demonstrations. It is not just political. She has a number of friends and relative ominously missing. Yet, Rachid’s joie de vivre appeals to her, particularly as she faces the reality of Iranian oppression.

Anahita and Rachid initially connect through Facebook and social media is deeply ingrained in their daily lives. Though both are Muslim, their socio-political backgrounds are radically different. Naturally, she is the moderate though he wisely refrains from judging her occasional glass of wine (much). Initially, they appear to be a good match, with Anahita drawing off his energy, while he learns from her to appreciate the French culture he had always taken for granted. She even introduces him to the poetry of Baudelaire (hence the title). Unfortunately, her survivor’s guilt often manifests itself in bouts of depression, which the immature Rachid has little patience for.

Dusa sensitively dramatizes the expat’s dilemma, deftly incorporating actual youtube videos of the Revolutionary Government’s ruthless attacks on its own people. It is particularly shocking, because it is all true. A genuine find, Alice Belaïdi is smart, pretty, and vulnerable as Anahita. Unfortunately, the filmmaker is too enamored with the character of Rachid, (evidently based on his real-life friend Rachid Youcef, who essentially plays himself in the film), failing to recognize how problematic he is within the film’s dramatic context. Rachid cannot simply walk down the street without practicing a compulsive combination of parkour and hip hop dancing. (Indeed, how precious.) Yet, far less appealing is his rather short supply of empathy.

Considering France’s historically cozy ties to Iran, Flowers is a fairly bold film. Essentially a two-hander, it features at least one great performance. Shrewdly, it also goes directly to the online source for the straight dope on Iranian repression. Though presumably still available on youtube (the final credits even include the links), viewers should be warned some of these videos are quite graphic. Such is the nature of the Iranian regime. On balance, it quite a worthy little picture. Flowers screens again today (4/28) at Tribeca and will be available tomorrow as part of the online component of the Festival.