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2015年3月31日 星期二

Ghesse-ha (Tales) (德克蘭人間傳奇)

My 6th film at the HKIFF is again different from all the other films seen so far. It's “Ghesse-ha”(Tales) (2014) by Rakhshan Bani-Etemadby, the first lady among Iranian female directors with a whole string of films under her direction from 1986 on : Kharej az Mahdudeh (1986 aka Off-Limits), Zard-e Ghanari (1988, aka Canary Yellow), Pul-e Khareji (1989, aka Foreign Currency), Nargess (1992), Rusari Abi (1995, aka The Blue-Veiled), Banoo-ye Ordibehesht (1998,aka The May Lady), Baran-O-Bumi (1999, aka Baran and the Native, a short), Zir-e Pust-e Shahr (2001, aka Under the Skin of the City), Ruzegar-e ma (2002, aka Our Times , a documentary), Gilane (2004,)Khoon Bazi (2006, aka Mainline) and We Are Half of Iran's Population (2009).

Part of the Tales is supposed to be the work of a video-journalist just returned from abroad who enjoys documenting on his small digital camera whatever he comes across he finds of interest in his real everyday life. He shoots everything from the window of the taxi whose driver complains that he never feels the urge to shoot him and is given the wry response that the taxi driver never asked him to! But the most important of such videos is the one he took  in a mini van full of half a dozen unhappy people from all parts of Teheran each with his own complaints against the Iranian government for failing to help: an old woman (the taxi driver's mother) seeking to recover her unpaid wages from her boss whose factory closed down because of Chinese competition and whose workers have already lodged a futile protest to the government official who was seen more interested in talking to his mistress than of dealing with their problem  and which when he does, take the form of asking the security guards to drive them out; another complains of rising food prices no longer matched by  wages; a third, a retiree who easily breaks into tears complains that he is not reimbursed his hospital expenses under his medical insurance long after they were due; a fourth complains about taxes being too high and a fifth, who has been out of job for two years because of a work injury and is now forced to rely upon his wife to support him, something which constitutes a terrible shame and humiliation for a man in Iran, complains about the bureaucratic delays in giving him the relevant employee compensation.

There is a second line which follows a day in the life of a fully recovered drug addict who had previously committed suicide but is now helping the very same Centre for addicted women which previously helped her. Through her, we meet some of the people she encounters including first, the conversation she overhears on her subway journey to the Centre between a young married woman meeting her lover behind her husband's back and toying with the idea of a fake kidnapping on her subway journey; secondly a woman whose face was burned by boiling water thrown at her by her husband and who is seeking free medical treatment at the Centre on the pretext that it was caused by an exploding boiler. We are shown how her husband made a big fuss outside the Centre because he wanted her back and who when met by workers from the Centre said, tears in his eyes, that apart from her wife, he's got nothing. Then we see how another full time employee deal with an old woman who wants financial assistance to get bail for his son put in jail a year for speaking out against the government but was rejected because that was not covered by the scheme at the Centre. When we follow that employee home, we see how she gets a letter from her former husband who is about to die saying that as his last wish, he wants her to have his house and how suspicious and jealous his illiterate husband is, her husband being one of the protesters in the mini-van on their way to demonstrate against the red tape and bureaucratic delays of the relevant Iranian government department to pay the overdue employee compensation. We also see how on their way to lodge the protest against the government, their van was stopped by some government agents and the ensuing altercations and scuffles between them.The link to all the different stories are skilfully tied together as passengers of the taxi driver as he goes about his work.

A third line concentrates on the relation between the recovered suicidee and the taxi driver, a university dropout which takes the form of the dialogue/argument between them whilst the taxi driver was driving the van hired by the Centre to take home another middle aged drug addict who has just received some medical treatment at the Centre after she slashed her own wrist. We hear the tortuous verbal exchanges between the taxi driver and the obviously sharp and quick witted young volunteer worker around the question whether he has feelings for her and she for him. In the end, the taxi driver was forced to admit that he does but is told point blank that his feelings for her are not reciprocated. The intense exchanges last for about a quarter of an hour without a break, as the camera constantly switches to and fro  between the face of the taxi driver and that of the young volunteer worker. In the meantime, as the taxi continues its journey, life continues as usual in Teheran with all its social, economic and domestic problems, just like in any other modern metropolis.  

Because in Iran, one must get ministerial permission before one can produce a long feature film, Rakhshan Bani-Etemadby has skilfully evaded the restrictions by weaving together half a dozen different short documentaries, which do not require such permission,  into one long  Tales which gives us a taste of what it's like to live as as a small potato in present day Teheran. That taste is delicious: it creates a rich tapestry of some of the problems faced by  contemporary Teheran: its economic tensions, its changing social mores, conflicts between the government bureaucracy and the people and the shifting but subtle changes in the traditional relations between men and women in Iran: the women in the film being generally portrayed as much stronger than the men. The film feels authentic because many of the "actors" in the quasi-documentary are amateurs doing so for free. And the final sequence of exchanges between the young taxi driver and the volunteer worker documents exquisitely the kind of shy, evasive and round about way many Iranian men have to resort to in letting the woman of their dream have an idea of how they truly feel about her and give us the full flavor of the subterfuges engaged by the taxi driver for such purpose.

Credit must be given to Rakhshan Bani-Etemad and Farid Mostafavi the wonderful script they have written together for this film and for the brilliant "candid camera" approach to create that sense of flesh and blood feel of social reality portrayed through the pretext of the same being done by a returning video journalist, masterfully captured for us by cinematographer Koohyar Kalari. It's not just a social quasi-documentary, it's also a documentary about a subject of universal interest: the changing relations between man and woman in a rapidly developing world. It is not for no reason that the film got the Best Screenplay Award at the last Cannes International Film Festival. At the time she got her award at Cannes, Rakhshan Bani-Etema said that many people are suffering in present day Iran because of the UN sanctions against her country and asked: "When will people realise that it is the people who suffer the consequences of international decisions?” Certainly food for thought.