Tuesday, January 08, 2019

IrFFNY ’19: Pig

They say when you are on the outs in Hollywood, you can’t even get arrested in the company town. The outlook is even worse for blacklisted Iranian director Hasan Kasmai. He can’t even get murdered. Somebody is ritualistically executing Iran’s most prominent filmmakers and it is killing Kasmai that nobody is killing him in Mani Haghighi’s Pig (trailer here), which screens during the Iranian Film Festival New York.

Kasmai cannot work, so as far as he is concerned, nobody else should either, especially not his actress mistress Shiva Mohajer. He might be a victim of Iran’s thought police, but the entitled egomaniac is a hard man to like. Nonetheless, Mohajer and his wife and family put up with him. His self-image was already bruised, but when less talented directors are found decapitated, with the word “pig” carved across their foreheads, he cannot help feel jealous of all the attention they receive. Add in a stalker of Kasmai’s own and you have quite a stew of trouble.

Frankly, Pig would be a pretty gutsy satire if it were Hollywood-set and made. As an Iranian film that so explicitly addresses the sort of filmmaking bans that have been imposed on Jafar Panahi, it is bold to the point of inviting trouble. Obviously, the use of the word “pig” adds an additional charge to the film. Mostly, it offers up some razor-sharp social observations, but there are some legit genre elements to Pig as well.

Hasan Majuni out-everythings Tim Robbins in The Player as the ragingly self-absorbed, utterly obnoxious Kasmai. Yet, there is something about his sad hound dog persona that maintains our unlikely audience sympathy. It is also deeply compelling to watch the great Leila Hatami put up with one darned thing after another as the long-suffering Mohajer. Ali Mosaffa is hilarious (not a word often associated with Persian cinema) as Sohrab Saidi, Kasmai’s shallow but infinitely more politically shrewd rival, while Ali Bagheri is weirdly, ambiguously disconcerting as Azemat, the lead investigator of the “Pig” murders.

It is hard to believe this film exists at all. Although it depicts some pretty extraordinary developments, it features plenty of telling details. Regardless of the circumstances, it is highly problematic when a witness of interest is brought into a police station for questioning blindfolded. Just about everyone takes it on the chin during Pig, including the Iranian film industry, the cops, and social media. Some of the dream sequences look a bit cheesy, but the film’s reality is so hyper-real, it will blow your mind. Highly recommended, Pig screens this Friday (1/11), as part of the 1st IrFFNY, at the IFC Center.