Saturday, June 22, 2024

Oakville ’24: One Must Wash Eyes

The CCP is not the only oppressive regime engaging in the extraterritorial harassment of their critics. Iranian agents have already been indictment for the attempted kidnapping of democracy advocate Masih Alinejad—on American soil. She is a prominent activist, but the brutal Islamist regime has also targeted average people too. Consequently, Sahar has good reasons to worry about herself and her family when she is photographed at a Canadian demonstration in support of the Woman, Life, Freedom movement in director-screenwriter Sepideh Yadegar’s One Must Wash Eyes, which premieres tonight at the 2024 Oakville Film Festival.

To remain in Canada on her student visa Sahar must pay her overdue tuition. Unfortunately, her mother has been unable to transfer the money, because her Uncle Hekmat has yet to buy out her late father’s share of their business. Her mother is trusting, but Sahar is justifiably suspicious. Things go from bad to worse when she is clearly and identifiably photographed at a Woman, Life, Freedom demonstration.

Immediately, her boss at the Persian grocery store fires her, fearing his association with her will jeopardize his frequent visits home. (Frankly, his shocking lack of sympathy for the democracy cries out for fuller exploration.) Shortly thereafter, Sahar gets a call from her mother, informing her the family received a threatening visit from the Basiji morals police.

Even though rational people would consider Sahar the smallest of small fries, viewers need to understand there nothing far-fetched in Yadegar’s screenplay. In fact, the authoritarian regime comes after everyday people like her all the time. If anything, Yadegar shows tremendous restraint in her depiction of their extraterritorial repression.

Despite the necessarily heavy political themes,
One Must Wash Eyes (an awkward title, almost guaranteed to change that refers to Persian poet Sohrab Sepehri’s verse) is still more of a character study, examining the impact of extreme stress and alienation on the increasingly desperate Sahar.

Pegah Ghafoori (from
From) is terrific as Sahar. She is an almost painfully realistic character, who makes a lot of mistakes, but they are all only too believable. Throughout it all, Ghafoori keeps her performance honest and grounded. Remember when you finished your degree? Now try to imagine going through that time while fearing for your safety and that of your family, but not trusting anyone enough to ask for help.

Likewise, Sean Depner is also very good as Matt, her half-potential love interest, who understand a little, but not nearly enough. Mitra Lohrasb is also quite poignant as Sahar’s warm-hearted “Mamam.” The entire cast shows the commitment and sensitivity this story requires, even though some of the dramatic subplots feel somewhat extraneous.

Clearly a lot of passion and urgency went into producing
One Must Wash Eyes—and rightly so. All the Sahars risking their lives for change deserve our support, so can we please stop unfreezing the regime’s assets? There is so much that is beautiful about the Iranian people and Persian culture, both of which are at odds with the Ayatollahs. One Must Wash Eyes reminds us of that. Highly recommended, it screens today (6/22) at the Oakville Film Festival.