Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Negar Nemati deserves praise for costumes that look spectacular and also have a good deal to say." | Photo: Courtesy of Berlin Film Festival

One of the great pleasures of working as a film critic over the past decade has been seeing the way that Iranian cinema has opened to make room for new kinds of stories and new kinds of imagery that were previously forbidden. There was a time when critics joked that Iranian films were technically brilliant and beautiful to look at but that nothing ever happened in them. Now all that talent has somewhere to go - but there are still boundaries, lines that keep moving but can't be crossed, and some filmmakers still find themselves banned. This is what has happened to the hero of Pig, Hasan (Hasan Majuni). As a result, everything he values is slipping away. Former fans are losing interest. His favourite actress is thinking of working with another man. And perhaps worst of all, the serial killer picking off the country's greatest directors seems to have completely overlooked him.

Mani Haghighi's playful satire features numerous scenes that censors would have been ruled off-limits a few years ago and there's a joyousness to this that helps give it a surprisingly buoyant atmosphere for a film about death, despair and suicidal tendencies. There is also that same sense of relief that has accompanied the gradual erosion of taboos in Western cinema: now we are finally allowed to look at society as it is instead of pussyfooting around various subjects. Yet Mani Haghighi's gaze is a sidelong one and there are plenty of jokes here at the expense of other filmmakers - sometimes in the form of direct caricature, sometimes in his imitation of their styles. Hasan is particularly aggrieved that the actress her adores (played by Leila Hatami) has taken up with a director whose whole approach to filmmaking he despises, and which is ridiculed in a scene where he visits the set. Yet Hasan himself is not a character we are expected to take seriously. Whilst he's endearingly put-upon, his whining and (literal) running to his mother are somewhat at odds with the image he tries to project of himself.

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To enjoy the film, one has to be able to relate to this character and simultaneously enjoy the laughs at his expense. The devoted attention he receives from women - his wife, his mother, heretofore the actress, plus a stalker whose behaviour inevitably draws suspicion upon her - is plainly unrealistic, but Haghighi is quite aware of this. The comedy is beautifully composed and although Meysam Molaei's editing packs in more cuts that a BBC programme trying to be hip, the actors display great chemistry and comic timing which keeps things together. Handsome framing and a vibrant colour palette add style and energy. There are some gorgeous set pieces, not least the dance number that runs over the opening credits and later emerges as part of a commercial that Hasan is helming. Negar Nemati deserves praise for costumes that look spectacular and also have a good deal to say.

Dealing with the issue of censorship at the same time as it gently mocks Hasan's conviction that the security forces are always the enemy, the film is rich in absurdist humour and intermingles character-based comedy with sharp observation. Bitter though Hasan may be, the whole comes across as a love letter to a changing industry - served with a side-helping of artfully presented blood and gore.

Reviewed on: 01 Feb 2019
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Hasan, a blacklisted filmmaker, starts to sulk when he isn't bumped off by a serial killer.

Read more Pig reviews:

Amber Wilkinson ***1/2

Director: Mani Haghighi

Writer: Mani Haghighi

Starring: Hasan Majuni, Leila Hatami, Leili Rashidi, Parinaz Izadyar, Mina Jafarzadeh

Year: 2018

Runtime: 108 minutes

Country: Iran

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