In its 8th year, the Persian Film Festival was officially opened by Festival Director Amin Palangi, who gave one of the most engaging and genuine opening night addresses I’ve ever heard. He touched on the current conflict in Iran and the very real impact it had on the festival, given all the films were physically in Iran. Then, as if it were a movie itself, a friend of a friend’s parents were able to smuggle the films out of the country in their suitcase. In a sense, this was the perfect backstory to the festival.
This year’s festival is dedicated to women. More than fifty percent of the films screening in the festival were made by women and more than half have a female protagonist. Uniquely, these women are not presented as victims of their circumstances, instead omitting strength and resilience.
Suddenly A Tree, directed by Safi Yazdanian, is set during the Iran – Iraq War. Farhad (Payman Maadi) is arrested and imprisoned after trying to migrate illegally with his partner, in what proves to be one of the funniest scenes in the film. Years later, after he is freed, he reunites with his love Mahtab (Mahnaz Afshar) and they begin to form a life together. Through conversations with his psychiatrist and interrogations with the police, we are given an insight into Farhad’s life, from the time he was a young boy trying to get out of going to school, to an adult trying to grapple with the realities of whether to abort a pregnancy.
Farhad’s connection to and relationships with women are interwoven throughout the entire film – his mother, his love, his friends young daughter – and the significance of these relationships in shaping his journey. He recounts with vivid clarity his first love from primary school, Suzanne, and how she had the ability to appear interesting and mysterious in a sea of similarity. He recalls his mother’s hands, their nurturing ability as they removed a thermometer from his mouth, and as she held his hand in hers. This emphasis on touch cascades throughout with subtle inferences.
At school Farhad was a soccer goalie and it was while trying to impress Suzanne that he lost a tooth – this would become a running joke throughout the film, with Mahtab years later asking the dentist how much it would cost for a new tooth, as she wanted to give it to him as a present. There are subtle and beautifully depicted cultural nuances throughout and repeated visual gestures connecting Farhad’s childhood memories to his adult recollections. These moments are so delicate you almost need to see the film twice to fully appreciate their significance.
The end of Suddenly A Tree took me by complete surprise and because I desire the same experience for you, I will not reveal it here. What I will reveal is that this film was beautiful and personal, presenting an honest narrative which will leave you intrinsically connected to the characters in a way that is deeply satisfying.
THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The Persian Film Festival runs until 8 December. For more information and to book check out the website.