Friday, January 26, 2024

Animation First ’24: The Siren

By 1980, many (if not most) Iranians realized the Islamic Revolution was a national catastrophe. Unfortunately, the Iran-Iraq War had the unintended consequence of strengthening the Ayatollah’s hand, because when Iraq attacked, patriotic Iranians like Omid’s brother rallied to their country’s defense. The young (barely) teenager wants to serve, but instead he stays to care for his elderly grandfather in Sepideh Farsi’s The Siren, which screens as the closing night selection of this year’s Animation First.

Omid’s brother Amed has volunteered to defend their strategic (and oil-rich) port city of Abadan, like most young men his age. Their mother whisks their younger siblings off to safer territory, reluctantly leaving Omid in charge of crotchety grandpa. Omid hoped to join Amed on the frontlines, but he changes his tune when blunders into a full-scale fire-fight.

Unfortunately, the front constantly finds Abadan thanks to Saddam’s rocket attacks. Replacing Farshid, a surrogate big brother injured by shell fragments, on his food delivery route, Omed meets a colorful cross-section of Abadan’s remaining residents. There is an eccentric engineer, two Armenian priests safeguarding their church’s icon, and Elaheh, a former star vocalist, who has been living in quiet seclusion since the Revolutionary regime banned music.

Omid is even more interested in Elaheh’s pretty young daughter, Pari, who is also incredibly brave. Pari helped save Farshid’s life after the shelling, by using her headscarf as a torniquet—in what might be one of the most important scenes in you will see in an animated film this year. Learning the Iraqis are expected to soon overrun Abadan, Omid hatches an evacuation plan inspired by his father, a sea captain who went down with his wooden lenj.

The Siren
is part magical realism and partly a brutally honest and unvarnished record of life under the Islamist regime’s Khomeini years. Screenwriter Javad Djavahery’s narrative is loaded with historical and social significance, but it also tells a highly relatable coming of age story. Of course, Omid faces vastly more peril than the kid on Boyhood.

The animation is consistently solid, on a par with the thematically related
The Breadwinner. The Persian architecture and the carnage of rocket-leveled city blocks look great on-screen, but the score composed by French jazz musician Erik Truffaz is even more impressive. Truffaz’s music is a perfect fit, blending his Miles Davis-In a Silent Way-style trumpet, with his signature electronics, and traditional Persian instrumentation. Hopefully, Blue Note France releases the soundtrack, because it is terrific.

Without question,
The Siren is overflowing with sympathy for the Iranian people. It also unambiguously depicts the ways the Ayatollah curtailed free expression and women’s rights. For some reason, Biden and Jake Sullivan remain determined to unfreeze more of the regime’s funds and make them a nuclear power. However, The Siren clearly shares the reformist concerns of the Woman Life Freedom movement. Very highly recommended, The Siren screens Sunday night (1/28) as part of Animation First.