Tales

Our favorite theater shut down again though at least this time it is only a temporary remodeling thing, and on the last night we went in to see Tales, another Persian film from our friends at Daricheh Cinema. And by “friends”, I mean, “People whom we’ve never met and who probably wouldn’t like us, but who seem like they might be in the audience at any given showing.” Daricheh doesn’t do politics as far as I can tell—probably wise—but each film (well, okay, not City of Mice 2, which felt sort of subversive to me) tends to remind that me Iran and Afghanistan are possibly the only countries in the world that actually looked better in the ’70s.

I'm joking of course. The Miss Iran pageant ended in 1978.
Miss Iran lineup 1978 (left) vs. Miss Iran lineup 2015 (right). Fun fact: It’s actually the SAME women.

But more depressingly, Iranian movies tend to remind me that the face of totalitarianism is always and everywhere the same: An uncaring bureaucrat ignoring your plea for justice, sanity or anything that might keep him in his office an extra ten minutes. It’s the sort of thing that reminds you that even if the Green Revolution had succeeded, there’d still be some horrible bureaucracy grinding people down.)

Tales is set up by having a filmmaker go through Tehran with his video camera recording various people’s stories. The problem with vignette movies, though, is that they tend to lack punch. Last year’s Wild Tales is a notable exception, and Tales manages to achieve a sense of momentum that eluded The Place Beyond The Pines, but the mind wants a connection between the stories—and that largely isn’t there.

This is still a very watchable film, because the vignettes are intriguing, and care went into the acting and filming, despite the whole cinema verité veneer. We start with a taxicab driver who picks up a filmmaker. This is interesting because you’re sort of expecting the movie to follow the filmmaker, but instead it follows the cab driver, who next picks up a woman with a sick child who tries to solicit herself to him. He’s appalled, but increasingly so as it becomes apparent the two know each other.

Desperate woman, sick child.
You might think an upside of theocracy would be women not having to debase themselves in desperation. Nope.

We then follow the cabbie to his home: His mother is somewhat sickly and his brother is in jail (we don’t know for what). But from there, I think, we end up following the mother to some bureau of something or other, where she’s trying to get the brother released. They’ve given her the old “Fill out form 1234.5” but once she’s done it, they say, “No, fill out ABCDE.F”. A man who is apparently familiar with the bureaucracy offers to help her—

But then we follow him in to the head manager’s office. Turns out old guy is a lifelong public servant who’s recently been ripped off due to being transferred out of network for an emergency surgery—the Persian and American health systems apparently being based off each other—and in order to get his money back, he’ll have to literally drop trou and submit to a most invasive medical examination in the presence of yet more bureaucrats. Meanwhile the head bureaucrat is juggling golf dates and his mistress and his wife and really has no interest, leaving the old guy to take the subway home, where he overhears what sounds like depraved sexual talk from a couple—

Who turn out to be brother and sister, working out a scheme to pretend she’s been kidnapped to get money out of their parents…

And so it goes.

Woman In A Van In Tehran (Tales)
Then there’s this young lady, who helps wayward women, and has one of the weirder flirting sessions I’ve seen. A half-conscious girl mumbles in the seat behind her.

You can’t say the movie isn’t exactly what it says in the title. It’s a bunch of different tales. The filmmaker comes back in the middle, during a labor protest, and at the end, but he’s actually not a big part of it. At the same time, there is a powerful statement there: A guy making a movie about real people in Tehran has to work in secret, and has to accept that his work may be buried, and he may in fact be captured or killed for daring to show things that are not approved of.

As I said, quite watchable, but not packing the dramatic heat of a single story film, and the thread that ties things together is more coincidental than strongly thematic or dramatic—that is, this isn’t a story of how women fare, or the evils of theocracy, or something like that, and it’s also not a story of people whose stories all converge on a common point. (Or if it is about any of those things, I missed it, which is always possible, especially when dealing with foreign films.)

The (largely Persian) audience applauded appreciatively, and I liked it more than The Boy, who was also looking for some common theme.

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