The lives of four individuals in modern day Tehran breaching the morality state laws, find their lives intertwined as they seek a solution out of their woes, under a regime that is forthright uncompromising in sex, art and the equality of women.
Single mother Pari sells herself for sex for so she and hermute child to survive with her drug addict husband in jail. She is in an arrested position without her husband’s authority to be granted divorce paper that the local judge will not overlook. However he can come to an arrangement in exchange for her services.
Housewife and recently pregnant Sara feels suffocated attending to her father in law in their small high-rise apartment block. Her desires for a job are quashed by her husband Mohsen who claims it is not good for the baby, though it is clear that he just wishes to exercise his authority over her.
Student and talented musician Babak’s one night stand with a young pretty woman rebounds horribly when she reveals that she is a virgin on the cusp of marrying and she is in great danger if he finds out. Through fear and guilt, Babak seeks out a solution for her to emulate her chastity and finds a shady looking surgeon who will do the procedure, Babak needs to find the cash to do it. But he can’t get a loan without any assets and his music is not deemed appropriate by the state. He’s left to ponder whether his future lies in Iran and the girl he slept with queries whether it would be safer for her to get out.
Tehran Taboo is Iranian and German resident Ali Soozandeh’s debut feature film as director, writer and animator with Grit Kienzlen as script collaborator. Soozandeh illustrates an Iran with a seedy underbelly of sex, drugs and corruption that makes a mockery of it’s authoritarian state, particularly highlighting it’s enslavement of women. Soozandeh sets the tone off immediately with a bold opening scene as Pari perforrms oral on a taxi driver, whilst her sun sits in the back seat. But with clever witty dialogue, the scene feels more surreal but for the characters not overly abnormal to the ways of life in Tehran. When the taxi driver takes umbrage when he sees his unmarried daughter holding hands with a stranger, it demonstrates the contradiction Iran hides behind. There is plenty of tension throughout the film but Soozandeh is careful in not making this a thriller, the consequences for the characters feel very real but Soozandeh is careful to make these journeys not feel like a unique occurrence. There is a lightheartedness that gives the film an endearing quality.
By rotoscoping the footage, it gives Soozandeh a round about way to fabricate Tehran, in what would have been impossible to film in Iran with it’s strict censorship laws. I would argue this gives Tehran Taboo a more cinematic appeal and marries the tone of the film well. Immediate comparisons can be made with Richard Linklater’s Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly, but the intrinsic character journeys that entwine with one another hark to the works of Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Amores Perros. Sometimes you might forget that there are some real performances behind the characters and Elmira Rafizadeh particularly shines as the fearless Pari and somewhat tour guide to what festers in Tehran’s underbelly. The script is super tight that composes a lightness for viewers to feel engaged but is not shy when it needs to demonstrate tragedy or how dark and harrowing the Iranian regime can be. Tehran Taboo is an impressive debut that serves Soozandeh not only an impressive voice in Iranian cinema but someone who could be an indie darling for years to come.