Thursday 11 April 2024

Terrestrial Verses [2023]

 The personal couldn’t have been more political, and vice versa, in director-writer duo Alireza Khatami and Ali Asgari’s dry, sardonic and deceptively unassuming film Terrestrial Verses. Through a deadpan mix of episodic form, sparse storytelling, the distinctive flavour of documentary reportage, and biting straight-faced satire, it provided kaleidoscopic glimpses into a society where ordinary and everyday folks must constantly grapple with authoritarianism, lopsided power structures, inexorable patriarchy, religious dogmatism, moral policing, casual misogyny, ham-handed censorship and crushing bureaucracy. Comprising of ten short vignettes shot in static square frames along the lines of talking head interviews, wherein those in positions of authority and/or power are off camera while regular citizens – subjected to the former’s decidedly absurdist brunt – are facing the screen during their one-on-one interactions, we see an obstinate parent of a newborn baby, a carefree little girl, a defiant female school student, an aged woman who’s lost her dog, an infuriated woman cab driver with cropped hair, a perplexed man with Rumi’s poetry tattooed on his body, a harassed female interviewee, a diffident job-seeker, an exasperated filmmaker striving to get his script cleared – which added a mordant self-reflexive touch as both filmmakers, like many of their subversive contemporaries, have faced such a scenario – and an antiquated man who finally witnesses the societal foundations literally crumbling. Made and distributed using subterfuge in order to evade the country’s restrictive censorship laws, the film used dry and bleak humour to demonstrate the lives of people shorn of personal agency and being governed from birth till date with iron-fisted control. The film, therefore, can be considered as reflective of the theocratic modern-day Iran as of any Kafkaesque totalitarian regime across geographies and eras.

p.s. Watched it at the 2024 Bangalore International Film Festival (BIFFES)

Directors: Ali Asgari & Alireza Khatami

Genre: Black Comedy/Political Satire/Social Satire

Language: Persian

Country: Iran

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