Monday, November 22, 2021

The Musician (short), on Paramount+

The Kamancheh has a delicately mournful and expressively sensitive sound that aptly reflects the emotional tone of Persian (and Kurdish and Armenian) history, both ancient and contemporary. It is what the titular character plays in the 13th Century tragedy and it perfectly suits his own life experiences. The music speaks for him in every sense during writer-director-animator Reza Riahi’s animated short film, The Musician (a.k.a. Navozande), which premieres today on Paramount+.

In 1279, a blind musician (the “Navozande”) has been summoned to play at the stronghold of the Mongol conqueror. For the revelers, he merely provides background music, but his playing clearly touches an elderly servant deeply. It turns out her fate was at one time profoundly entwined with that of the old musician, as well as the senior warlord.

We see their heartbreaking decades-old encounter unfold in black-and-white flashbacks that are somewhat more abstract and expressionistic than the later, richly detailed (almost byzantine) time-frame, featuring the characters in their advanced years. Yet, in either period, the stop-motion paper animation is arrestingly beautiful, even when depicting the ugliness of humanity.

Riahi does it all without any dialogue, but his imagery and the body language of his haunted characters convey the narrative with sufficient eloquence. He also has the benefit of Saba Alizadeh’s wonderfully elegiac Kamancheh score, which says everything his characters need to express.

Anyone in their right minds would much prefer to live under Genghis Khan than say, Xi Jinping. The legendary Mongol actually pioneered policies of religious tolerance and the prohibition of torture. His grandson Kublai was maybe not as progressive. Regardless, setting this tale amid the Mongol invasion seems like a shrewd way to address the oppression of Iranian artists without jeopardizing Riahi’s collaborators based in the country (fortunately, allegorical symbolism has usually been lost on the current regime).

Having contributed character, background, and art design work on Nora Twomey’s masterful
The Breadwinner, the France-based Riahi clearly shares a humanistic perspective and a deep love of Persian and Middle Eastern cultures. Indeed, you can see both in every handcrafted frame of The Musician. This is one of the most sophisticated animated films of the year and it sounds great too. Very highly recommended, The Musician starts streaming today (11/22) on Paramount+.