‘I Hate The Dawn’: SBIFF Review

Courtesy of Long Take Films
Charms with a refreshing lack of affectation.

Ali Karim’s independent Iranian film features a cast of non-professionals recruited to enact the shooting of an independent Iranian film

In the continuing tradition of contemporary Iranian dramas leveraging ordinary daily events in the service of oblique social and artistic commentary, I Hate The Dawn offers a glimpse of the tentatively emerging role of social media in the lives of Internet-engaged urbanites in contrast to the more traditional social structures that remain culturally dominant. Ali Karim’s absorbing sophomore feature is likely to continue gaining recognition on the international festival circuit and potentially build support for upcoming projects in a similar type of vein.

The film’s opening scenes introduce writer-director Babak Sepehri (Babak Karimi), who is in the middle of shooting his new independent film, which involves a budding romance between two high-functioning, developmentally disabled adults. He relies on his assistant Amir (Amir Azizi) to take care of many of the production details, including making all of the arrangements for the crew and cast to meet at the location for the day’s shoot, a public park. On this particular morning, however, Amir is distracted, telling his boss that he’s been up all night working on the scenario for a new script.

As Amir drives to the day’s location, sixty-ish Babak probes for more details regarding his developing idea, which involves social media, a topic Babak doesn’t have much expertise with. Amir describes a situation in which a young man contacts a woman on Facebook, believing that she’s single based on the status indicated on her profile, but after a promising first meeting, the woman claims she’s married, throwing the now-smitten man into utter conflict and confusion. Amir’s account continues as they stop to pick up Masoud (Masoud Zarif), who’s responsible for looking after his twenty-ish mentally handicapped younger brother Hossein (Hossein Eskandari), who will appear in the film.

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As they resume the drive, a police cordon forces them to detour and Masoud explains that a local youth has just killed himself after posting a farewell video on Facebook, another anecdote that becomes a topic of the day’s conversation on the shoot. After they arrive at the location, Amir rounds up Masha (Mahsa Zarif), a developmentally disabled young woman to perform opposite Hossein. Their scene is meant to involve Hossein inviting Masha to go to the movies, but he’s suddenly so taken with her that he’s convinced they’re about to get engaged and repeatedly fails to follow Babak’s direction. With heavy cloud cover approaching that could shut down his shoot and Hossein constantly going off-script, Babak is beginning to despair that they’ll ever be able to make their day, much less complete the film with two unpredictable actors in key roles.

I Hate the Dawn may draw some initial comparisons to Jafar Panahi's Taxi, recently awarded the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, with its reliance on a simple scenario that involves shooting scenes in a car as it travels the city streets, as well as its cast of ordinary citizens. Unlike Panahi, Karim of course isn’t constrained by a personal ban on filmmaking, but nevertheless he scrupulously avoids broaching political and economic issues in the film. Instead, his deceptively straightforward script operates on a number of different levels of gentle social commentary.

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Throughout the principal narrative, Karim demonstrates how difficult it can be for a film crew to complete a day’s pages when attempting to wrangle non-professional performers who may have more of an interest in fleeting minor celebrity rather than taking direction. On another level, the subplots involving events and discussions taking place on Facebook illustrate the challenges a younger generation faces to remain emotionally connected in an increasingly interconnected online environment. 

In addition to alternating the emphasis of the narrative, Karim also varies the visual style throughout the film, beginning with long static setups in Babak’s apartment as he prepares for the day’s shoot with Amir, then switching to brief, alternating shots of the two men as they drive to the location. Once onsite, Karim favors continuous, handheld takes as the camera follows the actors around the “set,” which really isn’t much more than a row of park benches.

With selective blocking, Karim and DP Morteza Hodaei transform the unremarkable location into a type of visual gallery by layering the actors and crew throughout their shots and creating a sense of fluidity with a frequently roving camera. The visual variety helps alleviate a bit of tedium created by the primarily non-professional cast requiring repeated adjustments for retakes, although overall the performers’ lack of affectation remains a distinct asset. With this engaging slice of contemporary urban life, Karim nicely sets himself up for more ambitious projects, once such opportunities develop.

Production company: Long Take Films

Cast: Babak Karimi, Amir Azizi, Masoud Zarif, Hossein Eskandari, Mahsa Zarif

Director-writer: Ali Karim

Producer: Ali Karim

Executive producer: Saba Kamkar

Director of photography: Morteza Hodaei

Production designer: Vahid Jafari

Costume designer: Vahid Jafari

Editor: Behzad Mosleh

 

No rating, 110 minutes

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