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Ma dar Behesht - Discontent and its many children

Ma dar Behesht - Sina Ataeian Dena

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It’s difficult to believe that Ma dar Behesht (Paradise) is a first feature. Conceived as the inaugural chapter in a trilogy on violence, it is much more than a promising start. An undeniable achievement of emotionally potent and intelligent storytelling, it was made possible by a complementary trio of producers: Yousef Panahi (Jafar’s brother and production partner), Amir Hamz (also behind Concorso Cineasti del presente entry Der Nachtmahr) and the film’s director himself, Sina Ataeian Dena, whose knowledge of animation and comics must certainly be thanked for the film’s gorgeous visual compositions and elegant dynamics. Gifted with an equally sharp sense of narrative structure, he knows how to welcome us into a film (an unsettling intro leaves no doubt on the irony of the film’s title) and let us go with our breath suspended.

The beautiful Dorna Dibaj, an artist and first time actress, is Hanieh, a 24-year-old schoolteacher obliged to undergo a strenuous daily commute from Tehran to her workplace in the suburbs. Her request for a transfer to the city center has been dragging on, and this experience in administrative hell is adding to the usual pressures an Iranian woman must suffer.

As a teacher she occupies a key position in the intellectual shaping of a new generation of girls, still full of potential and energy. But out of sheer exhaustion and despite micro acts of rebellion, Hanieh seems to be losing the capacity to see how her own behavior feeds into the monster that causes her torments. The subtlety of Sina Ataeian Dena’s storytelling is such that he doesn’t need male characters to paraphrase an underlying sexual terror that their female counterparts appear to have integrated as the norm.

Aurélie Godet
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