Director: Alireza Barazandehnejad
Writer: Alireza Barazandehnejad
Cast: Rahim Mehrandish, Milad Moayeri, Setareh Safa, Alireza Barazandehnejad
Running time: 16mins
Two friends bicker about the meaning of a mysterious painting in this meandering short by Alireza Barazandehnejad. The film brings up questions of narrative subjectivity, artistic intent, who truly authors meaning in any work. Unfortunately, it does it in a way that leaves you nursing a day-long migraine after. It is a strangely humourless film, that seems to be actively setting out to frustrate its own audience.
For the record, terming your film as ‘experimental’ and having it vaguely address what it really means to create or be in art, does not excuse you from basic credit practices. The end credits are written so that while the characters featured in the film have names, who actually played whom remains a mystery. This is not helped by the fact the Barazandehnejad has submitted a cast list of four people, for a film predominantly only featuring two.
To the credit of Rahim Mehrandish, Milad Moayeri, Setareh Safa, and or Alireza Barazandehnejad, the individuals on screen are thoroughly convincing as passive aggressive frenemies – whoever they are. The issue is that in the world of independent film – in Iranian independent film even more so – individuals who may not be household names can excel as actors, and catch the eyes of casting agencies and directors. But if you don’t properly name-check them, you are undermining one of the few reasons they probably agreed to be in your film in the first place!
It also makes trying to give a synopsis of the film utterly excruciating, and I apologise in advance for it. The plot sees Friend 1, sporting a plaster-cast on his foot, call on Friend 2 – who also limps on a crutch – for help. The former enlisted the latter to help resolve a dispute he was having with a third man, who never appears. This faceless individual claims to be the subject of a painting – which we never fully see either – but the man with the foot-cast is convinced that it is about him.
The artist, who is also mostly absent from the film, is a woman who both quarrelling men seem to have imagined some profound connection with. The painting in question apparently depicts two individuals walking together in the rain, one taking shelter under the other’s umbrella. Each of the two arguing men asserts that he is the man walking ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with the artist, and feel deeply honoured that she placed enough importance on the memory to commit it to canvas.
The man who is not present took such pride in the image that he photographed it – reproducing an independent artist’s work without consent – so that he could hang it on his wall; and smoke in front of it each night. Meanwhile, Friend 1 feels that he has personally been wronged by this, as it is the theft of his memory – and enlists Friend 2 to break into the house, to steal away the ill-gotten image.
Friend 2 succeeds, only for the artist to find him arguing with the third man – and instantly disproves everyone’s theory, by destroying the copy and the image she was said to be so fond of. She declares “it’s over”.
Friend 2 angrily relays this information to Friend 1 – having injured his own foot in his bid to steal an image for his ally that actually had none of the emotional importance he claimed. But Friend 1 simply cannot accept this – the pair argue until they exhaustedly resolve to obtain their enemy’s phone, which has the last existing image of the painting, for a better look. Unbeknownst to them, however, the phone and its image have come into someone else’s possession – and in a deserted room with the conspicuous space where a painting was staring back at the camera, we see a woman’s hand delete the final image. Clearly, it was more trouble than it was worth.
This final shot is beautifully realised, and Babak Abarghani deserves a great deal of praise for conveying so much subtext with so little to work with. The cinematography here does more heavy lifting than 15 minutes of dialogue manages to convey.
At the same time, the story deserves some credit, not least due to its pertinence in Iranian discourse. It features two men resolved to commodify the work of a woman in the way that best suits them, regardless of what her hopes or intentions were. They trample all over whatever feelings she might have hoped to address with the work – it is mentioned a desire to ‘escape’ the male figure may even be in the centre of the piece, by Friend 2 – and insist on making everything about them, in service to them. As the protests across the nation continue to try and finally give voice to the women who Iran’s status-quo has been determined to silence for so long, the film’s core motifs have an added importance.
But there is not nearly enough for us to get our teeth into here, to relate to, to help that message really resonate. These are petulant and ultimately boring individuals, with whom it is difficult to identify. And if we are going to take anything away from this, and reflect on our own lives through their short-sightedness, identifying with them is something we must do. There were windows of opportunity where this could have been realised – two friends comedically conversing can open the window for some heartfelt reminiscence to humanise them, as well as some colourful rapport between two individuals painfully aware of each other’s shortcomings. We get precious little of that though.
What we do get instead are some rather rickety nuts-and-bolts special effects (such as having the camera watching the friends blink – as if it were a pair of eyes) and horrific clanging sound-effects drowning out or distracting from the dialogue. Bicycle bells ring, rain pours, the wind blows, and the migraine develops further. Meanwhile, the faces of both men are obscured at various points – and some of the most horrendous tin-can ADR is imposed over proceedings. This might have been performed as a means to clean up some of the dialogue drowned out by the real wind – but the audio replacing it is so poorly recorded that it becomes difficult to distinguish who is speaking, so drastic are the changes to the voices.
There are things to enjoy about There is no item to show – particularly in its deadpan conclusion. But many more things seem to be working against us taking any enjoyment from the film as a whole. In the end, you are simply grateful to escape its company, much like the faceless artist who was keen to get away from whichever man in the rain.