Eye For Film >> Movies >> Iran: Voices Of The Unheard (2009) Film Review
Iran: Voices Of The Unheard
Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson
When you picture Iran what do you see? Are you conjuring up images of a backward, ill-educated nation, filled with oppressed women, flag-burning and fundamentalist religious views? Why is that? This last question is asked tacitly throughout Davoud Geramifard's fascinating documentary - shot guerrilla-style in the country and which aims to shake up these Westernised stereotypes. The focus here is not just the plight of the state, but specifically the position of secularists trying to make their voices heard under an repressive regime that seeks to crush independent ideas. "Give my message to the happy-go-lucky people," says the young "Wandering Poet" captured in the third part of this film. "What they see of us has no truth in it. Do they know what it means, when dancing is a crime?"
These are the frustrations of the young, recorded here along with those of a man for whom revolution was an empty promise, but who remains as subversive as ever, and a nomadic tribe, whose way of life and culture are threatened by the regime in Tehran that threatens to wipe them out. Geramifard brings together this triumvirate of radically different personal stories that all paint a picture of a country for whom the revolution 30 years ago has left nothing but a bitter aftertaste and a story of repression that is largely ignored by Western media and governments, too hung up on the issue of the nuclear capabilities of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to spare much thought for the population he keeps in thrall.
This documentary gathers momentum the longer it runs. Initially, it is quite hard to get a handle on the story of "The Teacher" - which tells the tale of two revolutionaries whose lives have taken very different paths over the course of the ensuing decades. The problem is that there is very little scene setting, so that the more you can bring to the cinema with you in terms of knowledge of the Islamic Revolution the more you will get out of these early exchanges. A little more detail here, particularly with regard to what one of the subjects of this segment, Hadi, hoped to get out of the fall of the Shah, would have added an extra dimension. But this is a documentary chiefly concerned with the present and with looking to the future. It is a call to those of us complacent in the West to take an interest in the average 'man on the street', many of whom are forced to lead dual lives, so that while they may hold secular viewpoints, they must always been seen to present the face of Islam to the outside world. It is no overstatement suggest that Iranians must accept Islam Ahmadinejad-style or die.
Outside of the cities, the tribal communities are faring no better. Working to their own rhythms, the Ghashgaii suffered greatly during the revolution which saw their lands seized and their existing feudal system decimated. Now they face the hot-button problem of climate change and are left to live or die at the whim of the weather with little or no assistance from Tehran.
The strongest segment of this documentary, however, is surely its latter stages spent with Babak the "poet" and his young friends. They are angry with the status quo and with the apathy and perceived misrepresentation of the Iranians by the West. "Even the International film festivals celebrate this stereotype," says one of them before despairing at the content of, one presumes, Voices Of Bam. These latter observations are coupled with images of the Iranian election protests of 2009 during which Neda Soltan - whose first name, ironically, means "voice" or "divine calling" in Persian - was brutally slain.
Not always easy and a little historically confusing, this is nevertheless a very powerful and brave work. Geramifard will not be able to return to his homeland at any time in the foreseeable future after this defiant film but he has certainly achieved the remarkable feat of documenting those who are rarely seen. The voices may be unheard no longer but the question now is - will we listen?Reviewed on: 20 Mar 2010