Achilies (Farhad Delaram, 2023) Iran France Germany

Reviewed by Sebastian Muniz-Massa at the 2024 Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

‘Achilles’ (2023) written and directed by Farhad Delaram, is a painfully honest criticism of the current political power held in Iran. The movie takes place in its country of origin, Iran , and showcases the beautiful landscapes and city life in Tehran reminiscent of Abbas Kirostami’s films. Enthused performances enhance the visual experience as the leads, Mirsaeed Molavian and Behdokht Valian, deliver eerily sincere emotions and contribute further to the films authenticity. Producers include Saeed Shahsavari an Iranian writer, producer, and director with many credits to his name for films and TV series centering around Iranian and middle eastern stories. In addition to Shahsavari, three others helped produced this film; Caroline Nataf, Frieda Oberlin, Johannes Suhm, all of whom have produce films and TV series outside of Iran. The range of producers goes to show the lengths it took to create a film critical of the current regime that controls Iran, a theme explored by the protagonists as they come to grips with their place and complicity within a dictatorial Theocracy.

Farid Achilles, is an ornithologist at an understaffed and overworked hospital, struggling to maintain itself under corrupt leadership. Exceedingly restless, Achilles is at odds with himself and his relationships, creating an atmosphere of distrust and anger toward the people around him, so instead he confines himself to the hospital. His anger is directed at his ex wife who has given up her dancing career and, toward himself for also succumbing to the censorship and infringement of his freedoms. His internalized pain and anger toward the reality of his freedoms is projected onto the those around him. After a chance encounter with a woman in the psych ward, a piece of him reawakens to the complexities of resistance. In an attempt to help this woman have a taste of freedom away from her confines, he unwittingly steps into a act of rebellion, as his morals and naturally lead him back to a worthwhile cause. Through this chance relationship with Hedieh, a known political prisoner, we learn of not only their pasts, but the affect of the dictatorship over the people of Iran. Their stories are left to much ambiguity, allowing for the message to transcend past the characters and tangle with ideological symbolism.

The story culminates in a transition away from aimless longing for change and reconstitution of Iranian society, to an active and forthright call to action as the closing title card reads “This film is dedicated to the people of Iran who can no longer tolerate the walls”. Throughout the movie a key piece of its story telling comes form the mise en scene using both the location and scenery of Tehran and the hospital, and also the the tight confined spaces in which the film is shot. Walls being a big theme in this movie, they are heavily featured as being claustrophobic and limiting feeding into the feeling of being trapped. As the two main characters grow in this partnership and their will to carry out this spontaneous act of resistance, the scenery shifts to more open landscapes and wide shots of small towns and fields. Showcasing the beauty of the country that they are in and the spirit of revolution that sits with its people. Supporting characters stand as symbols of Iranian society. Achilles’ father plays the role of a bittersweet homage to past generations and their inability to recognize the faults and mistakes of the past. The story incorporate surrealism into it’s narrative with certain scenes that seem out of place or dream like, either to reminisce about the joys of the past or to show the dangers that come with challenging authority. ‘Achilles’ is unlike any film I have watch before, both in its narrative style and to its commitment to nontraditional styles of editing and visual story telling. This film breaks barriers that the conventional western style ties itself too, and makes for an intriguing and worthwhile watch. in one scene, Delaram, uses layered images to create a parallel between the two main protagonists perhaps to demonstrate how male and female struggle in unified in Iran. His choice to decorate the set before and after with mundane colors to vibrant scenery shows the possibility of change and reminds an audience that what we take for granted when in our countries when we do not fight to protect it from corruption.

Though this story is married to the struggles of Iranian life, it is a beacon to all those who feel as though their power has been taken. The message at the end of the film is a powerful statement against the Iranian government, and inspires all to continue to break down the walls that confine us. I love this film, as it awakes the revolutionary spirit in me. Not only is this film crafted with such delicacy and attention to detail, it is also more that just a story. It is a siren alerting us all to the dangers fascism and theocratic domination. This film could be used as a call to action for so many people across the world who feel that their freedoms are being infringed upon. I hope this film reaches more people, and the message that reads changes the hearts of many.

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