dir. Bahman Ghobadi
TIFF 2012 - Special Presentation
Starring: Behrouz Vossoughi, Monica Bellucci, Yilmaz Erdogan, Belçim Bilgin
Review By Greg Klymkiw
Artists have always been prime targets in power-hungry repressive regimes. To destroy a nation, then rebuild it in a new image, the first line of attack is to decimate its existing culture. During the 20th Century, the world experienced this again and again in every Totalitarian regime - Nazis, Fascists, Communists, Fake Democracies fuelled by corporate dictatorships and religious fundamentalism are but a few instances of this war on art.
Given that the world is on the precipice of complete collapse, works like Bahman Ghobadi's film Rhino Season are more important and vital than ever. That said, I do wish to temper this statement, since such an assertion can be a dual edged sword - relegating a work's importance to the picture's backdrop and subject matter can also place it in a lofty enough position so as to render its considerable aesthetic gifts as the sum total of its merits. Therefore, in declaring that the film is essential, I wish to also stress that the film's political and thematic necessity is not the only reason it holds a fundamental place in the world.
The picture is, quite simply, dazzling - an original voice that yields a deeply moving, artistically daring and consummate demonstration of how cinema can work at the highest levels of the medium. In the case of Rhino Season, the medium is simply not the message, nor the message it conveys, but how the medium is pushed over the usually accepted boundaries. However, in so doing, the film provides its important political stance and challenging aesthetic framework in a manner that, if properly presented and distributed to wider audiences, has considerable potential to affect cinema-goers the world over.
The tale director Ghobadi relates is as simple and ages-old as time itself - a love story that spans decades - replete with suffering, longing and passion that knows no bounds. Behrouz Vossoughi, a mega-wattage Iranian movie star now exiled to an America that has little to offer a great actor like him from a Hollywood that is so bereft of ideas that the only roles he is asked to play are those of terrorists, is the star of Ghobadi’s film.
Vossoughi plays Sahel, a Kurdish writer who specializes in poetry. In spite of the fact that his writings are not political, he is arrested, tortured and interrogated until he receives an inhuman 30-year-long prison sentence.
Not content to destroy Sahel's life, the authorities do the same to his wife Mina (a heartbreaking performance by Monica Bellucci). She is incarcerated for 10 years and upon her release, she is told that Sahel is dead. He most certainly is not. Ghobadi then delivers the unforgettable scene of Mina making her way through a forlorn graveyard devoted to the burial of "heathen" and finally weeping before the weathered marker of her husband.
Sahel serves all 30 years of his sentence and devotes the rest of his existence to tracking down Mina.
If this tale doesn't move audiences to tears, nothing will. What contributes to rendering this simple, affecting narrative in the richest and most artistically complex mise-en-scène imaginable, is how Ghobadi peppers the tale with voiceovers reciting Sahel's clearly humanist (not politically didactic) poetry which contrast the horrendous words of his torturers. Blended with images of sublime beauty that convey resplendence of the most exquisite kind, they too provide a contrast to the visual realities of the dank, foul prison Sahel spends 30 years in.
Rhino Season accomplishes the extraordinary. It achieves the highest level of cinematic poetry, tells a great story and, by virtue of Ghobadi's approach, it achieves its goal of exposing us to the plight of artists in Iran whilst gently and metaphorically delivering the most powerful plea of all - that artists have no place in prisons for simply expressing themselves (politically or not) and that finally, this should extend to all people, of all walks of life, in all countries.
Expression is who we are. It is what defines our respective cultures and most of all, who we are as a species. Humanity IS expression. What places Ghobadi's great film on a pedestal of truth is that expression includes love.
Love is what drives his picture, his characters and by extension, the human race.
Love must be protected and sanctified at all costs.
When that ceases, so do we.
"Rhino Season" received its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF 2012). For ticket information, please visit the TIFF website HERE.