Wednesday, January 09, 2019

IrFFNY ’19: Sly

No country has a monopoly on buffoonish presidents, but probably none was scarier than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Fortunately, his over-the-top saber-rattling rhetoric, mangled syntax, and constant accusations of nepotism finally turned even his hardline Islamist extremist patrons against him. Yet, he still has a name and a following, so this no-holds-barred satire is undeniably quite a bold work of cinema. Qodrat Samadi follows a very different career trajectory, but Iranian viewers will immediately recognize his physical and ideological resemblance to Ahmadinejad in Kamal Tabrizi’s Sly (trailer here), which screens during the 1st Iranian Film Festival New York.

Samadi is convinced he is destined to save Iran from infidels and Western agents, but the hardline political parties never accept him as a candidate, because of his clownish demeanor and excessive (even by their standards) intolerance. Nevertheless, a small group of hardcore rabble rousers remains loyal to him. Then one fateful day, Samadi and his band of thugs break up a state sanctioned rock concert by yelling out bomb warnings from the stage. To his utter shock, an actual bomb explodes shortly after Samadi scares everyone out of the theater. Suddenly, the hapless reformist party sees him as a hero figure, whom they recruit to be their standard-bearer in the upcoming election.

Of course, Samadi is an awkward fit for his new party, but he gets some timely coaching from a progressive journalist he rather fancies. In fact, the brash firebrand has a strange habit of speaking out more forcefully than his timid patrons. Unfortunately, just when he is poised to take off in the polls, his past comes back to haunt him.

Even though Ahmadinejad’s old allies have reportedly cut him loose, it is still pretty stunning to see such brazen political ridicule coming out of Iran. We will get a chance to see it, which is very cool, but it remains to be seen whether it will be allowed to screen within Iran. It would not be surprising if the powers-that-be deem it generally bad for business, but hope springs eternal, does it not?

Regardless, Hamed Behdad completely embraces Samadi’s absurdism, playing him like Ahmadinejad, by way of Chauncey Gardiner from Being There. He is sort of like Redford in The Candidate, but he is asking “what do I do now?” right from the start. Ironically, you could argue this is the best press Ahmadinejad has had in years, but he probably does not see it that way.

Even though the journalist is a somewhat underwritten part, Vishka Asayesh has a Persian Katharine Hepburn thing going on that plays well on-screen. It is still hard to understand why she doesn’t push Samadi under a bus. On the other hand, director-thesp Mani Haghighi is quite droll as hypocritical newspaper editor out to sabotage Samadi’s campaign (again).

It is darned impressive Tabrizi finished Sly and has taken it to international festivals. Iran’s Islamist power brokers may have severed ties with Ahmadinejad, but they are not inclined to appreciate this kind of impish mockery of an authority figure. Of course, we’re all in favor of it. Recommended for its subversive wit and general boldness, Sly screens this Saturday (1/12), as part of the 1st IrFFNY, at the IFC Center.