Friday, February 03, 2012

Global Lens ’12: Mourning

Open and honest communication is tricky in a closed society like Iran. However, deafness is something of a double-edged sword for a middle-aged couple, particularly as they escort their agitated hearing nephew home. What they express and how much he picks up on will be highly significant in Morteza Farshbaf’s Mourning, part of the 2012 Global Lens collection, which kicked-off this January at MoMA and continues this weekend at The Picture House in Pelham, New York.

We see the subtitles, but do not hear the Persian. Kamran and his wife Sharareh are discussing just what they should tell young Arshia, who might be following some of the conversation as a lip reader. His quarreling parents left a family retreat in the middle of the night, angrily driving into an apparently fatal accident. Frankly, they are decidedly sketchy on the details themselves.

Although they suffered through difficult years, Kamran and Sharareh have become the responsible ones in their family. Of course, they are still deaf, a fact they are keenly aware of. While they never address contemporary social issues directly, viewers get the sense Iranian attitudes towards deaf citizens are not exactly edifying. Indeed, this fact weighs on their considerations regarding Arshia’s future.

Developed from a short film Farshbaf co-directed as part of Abbas Kiarostami’s film workshop, Mourning’s timing is perfect, screening around the country just as Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation appears poised to win the best foreign language Oscar. While it lacks Separation’s visceral intensity, it is still quite an accomplished work. Farshbaf keeps viewers thoroughly invested as he slowly but surely reveals what his characters know and how they feel about it all. In narrative terms, Mourning is very straight forward, but it address questions of communication and perception in intriguing ways.

Though not professional actors, real life artists and married couple Kiomars Giti and Sharareh Pasha are remarkably convincing as Farshbaf’s leads. They convey a dramatic lifetime together, relying solely on their physical expressions. Intended as a somewhat withdrawn, even anti-social character, Amir Hossein Maleki plays Arshia accordingly. As a result, he often fades into the background.

Technically, Mourning is quite well crafted, especially for a feature directorial debut. Farshbaf’s POV gamesmanship is distinctive, but never comes across as forced or self-indulgent. Cinematographer Hamid Reza Ahmadi Ara also fully capitalizes on the scenic but lonely landscape, composing many striking vistas.

Some viewers might need a bit of time to acclimate to Mourning’s rhythm, but it is a very good film. Nicely produced and acted, it is one of the best of this year’s Global Lens slate, along with Mohamed Mouftakir’s Pegasus. Following its North American premiere at MoMA, Mourning screens this Saturday (2/4) and Sunday (2/5) at The Picture House in Up-State (from here) New York. Pegasus also screens there Saturday (2/4) and Tuesday (2/7), as the Global Lens collection makes its way across the country.