Analysis Saturday Matinees Preview

Saturday Matinees Preview: The Hole (2022)

Director: Farzad Ranjbar

Writer: Farzad Ranjbar

Cast: Mohammad Berahmani, Farzam Ranjbar, Amin Esfandiar, Sajaad Bagheri, Milad Faraj Zadeh

Film festivals aren’t cheap. Many depend on donations on top of submission fees just to break even. That makes granting fee waivers difficult. As a result, filmmakers who already struggle to have their voices heard are often further marginalised.

Stories told by artists from low-income backgrounds, opposition groups hit by censorship, or individuals in nations hit by international sanctions still need a platform though. That’s why Indy Film Library’s Saturday Matinees have returned for a second season.

The latest six-part series of Saturday Matinees will showcase work from India, Iran, South Africa, and other places where monetary and legal constraints have prevented the free communication of political and social issues.

The second film in our free-to-view programme comes from Farzad Ranjbar, a filmmaker based in Semnan. In Iran – as in a great many other countries, it should be noted – women continue to fight for their basic freedoms of expression in the face of a strict totalitarian regime policing their minds and bodies in the name of male-defined ‘respectability’. While it might or might not have intended to have a say on that matter, The Hole does provide a searing evaluation of men – and particularly men with power – and skewers the idea that any of them ought to provide any kind of irrefutable blueprint for respectability!

Written and directed by Ranjbar, the film follows Siavash (Mohammad Berahmani) as he takes a surprise trip into nature with some people he very naïvely describes as ‘friends’. Sia is down on his luck – a skilled filmmaker who for one reason or another is currently making ends meet as a masseur in a holiday resort. A former acquaintance from his school days happens to recognise him, and invites him on a lads’ weekend away.

Initially, Sia cowers in the corner of the frame – terrified that he is imposing himself on the other men, who each exude a brand of crass unearned self-confidence many of us will be uncomfortably familiar with – the energy of that guy leaning into every argument at a house-party, endlessly ‘explaining’ things that are either common knowledge or about which he has no idea but due to his social station is sure he could take a stab at.

Ranjbar, though, does well to feed us gradual hints that these men are a long way from the go-getting alphas they see themselves as. From letting slip that “Dad will be upset that I got his car dirty” after a testosterone-fuelled off-roading session to their red-blooded games with an air-rifle clearly too small for adults – and their swift delegation of fire-building duties – we and the initially timid Sia are shown that he has no reason to be intimidated. Steadily, then, he grows into the picture – and credit should go to both the performance of Berahmani and the cinematography of Pooria Heydari for emphasising that shift in power.

As the dynamic of the group changes, some of the men get a sense that they may have misjudged Sia. At the same time, the true motives of his ‘old friend’ – to belittle him for the sake of a decades-old grudge about Sia’s wife – come to light and, feeling the ground shift beneath him, the friend becomes increasingly desperate to maintain a position of superiority. That complex eventually manifests itself in spectacularly petty fashion – the use of what is evidently a child’s toy underlining exactly how infantile it is.

The film’s opening and closing monologues from Sia might have been forgone. As poetically as the filmmakers might have felt it bookended the story, they make for a fairly clumsy segue, one unbefittingly didactic for a story that was filled with subtlety. This is a minor issue, though – and more broadly, The Hole should still be celebrated for its intent and execution. It is a film which takes unflinching aim at the phenomenon of toxic masculinity – in a world which still venerates it – and deals a far more severe blow to the concept than the pathetic air-rifle wielded in its climactic sequence.

The film will be available to view for free in full from 09:00 UK time on Saturday the 11th of February, until the end of the weekend, via our Saturday Matinees theatre page. As the film is still trying to gain access to other festivals, the page is password protected. Use the code IFLMATINEE2324 to access the film.

Stay tuned for another film next week!

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