Barre’$ Silence

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"The camerawork is rough around the edges but Ahmadpour and Peyda aren't scared to get in the thick of the action and they also show a keen eye for a framing shot."

Documentarians Mehrdad Ahmadpour and Morvarid Peyda capture a side of Iranian life that will come as a surprise to many who imagine the country to be full of nothing but repression and religious zealots. Like Davoud Geramifard's 2009 documentary Iran: Voices Of The Unheard and last year's fictional Kami's Party, they show how secular much of Iran is, focusing in on the bloody sport of bullfighting - Iranian style.

In the northern province of Gilan, men don't confront the animals, but instead buff up their bulls and sharpen their horns to deadly looking points before exhorting them to go head to head with one another in bloody battles. Barre is one of the kings of the ring, having previously gored another bull to death and it's worth noting that Ahmadpour and Peyda don't shy away from violence, so those with an aversion to blood should be wary. This is a cruel but popular sport thanks to the illicit betting that goes on between the men - and it is appeard to be almost exclusively a masculine pastime - before the bouts begin.

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But the film unfolds into something much more complex than a mere 'sporting' snapshot as we see how Barre becomes the centre of a battle for ownership, with the focus particularly on local likely lad and wearer of shirts that are one-size too small, Bahador - a man whose obsession with the animal falls in the middle of the tragicomic continuum. As the backstory of the bull is told, we see how addicted the men are to betting on him - and addictions to other much more harmful things also raise their head.

The camerawork is rough around the edges but Ahmadpour and Peyda aren't scared to get in the thick of the action and they also show a keen eye for a framing shot. They may have limited means but they are inventive in the way they use the camera, with a shot from the bottom of a water trough particularly striking. The sound design from Mohammad Sadegh Tasbihi is also excellent, whether he is capturing the ambient sounds of countryside birdsong, soon to be shattered by the crunch of the bulls, the scrape of a knife on a freshly sharpened horn or the mournful bellow of Barre, that sounds more like the wail of a seal than your average dairy cow.

The film's odd length - at 78 minutes - may be the reason it has only had limited festival play, but if you're looking to beef up your knowledge of what happens at a grassroots level in Iran, this is well worth trying to track down.

Reviewed on: 01 Apr 2014
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Barre’$ Silence packshot
Documentary on bullfighting, Iranian style.

Director: Mehrdad Ahmadpour, Morvarid Peyda

Year: 2013

Runtime: 68 minutes

Country: Iran

Festivals:

Bradford 2014

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