There are no shortage of Iranian films, most of them of high merit, that take issue with the injustices and systematic repression in Iran since the fall of the Shah and the Islamic Revolution (1979). They are typically low-budget, realistic or symbolic films, shot under difficult circumstances or outside of the country. Many of the directors have had to go into exile, fearing both censorship and incarceration. Bhaman Ghobadi's "Rhino Season" makes a complete break with Iranian realism thanks to a big budget and the backing of Martin Scorsese.
Based on a real life story, the poet Sahel is sentenced to 30 years in prison for his political views; his wife Mina is sentenced to 10 years. They are allowed one conjugal visit during their incarceration, but they have to remain hooded. Akbar, Mina's former chauffeur, fiercely jealous and in love with her, interrupts the love-making and rapes her. She later gives birth to twins. In order to win over Mina, Akbar tells her that Sahel is dead, which is a lie. When Sahel is released, he goes to Turkey (where the film was shot) to find her. But the story is only half the movie. Its lush cinematography, its dreamlike sequences, its haunting landscapes and brilliant colour dissolves are what make the viewing nothing less than hypnotic: the last scene by itself deserves an award. Throughout the film the colours are so thick and saturated we can almost touch (à la synesthesia) what we see: the stony cold, damp, lightless place that is the prison. Without ever speaking of it, the specific gravity and inky drip of the greys and blacks tell us to what degree the protagonists are held captive to their pasts and respective guilts. The unspoken recriminations and regrets are so heavy they take on the weight of water, as in watery grave or an instrument of torture. And then there is the magic realism: turtles fall out of the sky; Akbar takes a run at a herd of rhinos with his car. The facial expressions of Monica Bellucci, in the role of Mina, and Yilmaz Erdogan, as Akbar are worth the price of admission, as each in her/his own brooding fashion tries to make sense of the accidents of life that have left them both life-weary and disconsolate.
"Rhino Season" is a film for all seasons.
by Robert Lewis,
"Arts & Opinion", Vol. 10, No. 5, 2012