Bending the Rules (Ghaedeye Tasadof): Tokyo Review

Noori Pictures
Ashkan Khatibi, left, and Amir Jafari
The dialogue-heavy movie is as stage-like as the theatrical performance central to the story.

Behnam Barzadi's film centers on an Iranian theater group about to depart for a performance in Europe.

Bending the Rules begins with its opening credits appearing over close-ups of bags being packed: over bed sheets of different colors and textures, hands and rucksacks moving to a wide range of sounds – traditional Iranian music, classic rock'n'roll, the ambience of an empty room. As it later emerges, these are the film's young protagonists readying for their upcoming trip to Europe for a theatre performance; the varying depictions is perhaps a sign of their differences, a harbinger of the diversity which will later bring them together and then tear them apart.

Multiplicity is the key in understanding Behnam Barzadi's second feature-film, which premiered on Oct. 18 as a competition entry at the Tokyo International Film Festival to an audience which included a sizeable number of the Japanese capital's Iranian diaspora. Perhaps reacting against many a commentator's simplistic view about Iran  -- the easily digestible conservative and progressive binary – Bending the Rules attempts to straighten these caricatures by offering the different perceptions about life as held by the country's new generation, as they straddle the middle ground between the extreme poles of obedience and rebellion.

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And Barzadi himself has also taken to an alternative approach in unveiling the delicate camaraderie, tense exchanges and rapid mood swings which threaten to overwhelm the collective. Deploying long takes which follow the characters around labyrinthine but confined spaces – the house they rehearse in, an underground parking lot in which a character engages in a verbal duel with her father – it's as if the filmmaker is enacting that old Shakespearean chestnut of life being as a stage, with these young people merely players of diverse pasts and futures.

With a screenplay which keeps on revealing new schisms within the group and the tightly-controlled settings suggesting the invisible hands of authority and power lying just outside the gate, Bending the Rules is potent in offering some gripping drama. The film should find some currency in the indie-film festival circuit, but the rawness of its approach certainly diminish the possibility of a an independent arthouse release beyond its fest appearances.

The challenge of young people finding a voice is signaled by the very first shot, when Shahrzad (Neda Jebraeeli) appears to be speaking about her fascination with ways of killing herself. (Her ideal way of dying is to walk until she falls dead from fatigue.) Only later is it revealed that she's just running through her lines in the show she and her friends will be performing in an overseas festival in a few days' time. But later, when she confronts her father (Amir Jafari) for having secretly taken away her passport, it is revealed that she has indeed tried to overdose on sleeping pills, with the parent and the child disagreeing in what actually saved her from death. (The father says it's parental guidance, while the daughter says it’s the creative outlet of the theater).

Shahrzad's well-being is the pivot for the story, as her father threatens the group that he would bring their foreign venture to a halt. But this relationship is itself more nuanced than it suggests. Hints are dropped at how the father (who has remained nameless) also struggles with conformity to norms and his way of pushing it on his child. The film also provides an opportunity for the youngsters to discuss their very different parents, ranging from the open-minded (a supportive one actually brings money over and wishes everybody luck) to the parochial (the play's director, Ashkan Khatibi's Amir, said he was excommunicated by the family for his artistic pursuits).

It's a dialogue heavy movie: the theatre production they are to deliver – which isn't mentioned that often – is more of a macguffin, and the "action" – of Shahrzad's father skirmishing with some of the young men – is just an oddity deployed to add to the tension which would eventually reveal the varying levels the young people are dedicated to in terms of staying loyal to their art and to their principles. All this represents the conclusion of the many strands Behzadi has introduced to the story as it moves along.

The film's finale poses the young characters with a question: will they sell out their friend – and in a way, their souls – just so to fulfill their own desires? The same goes for Shahrzad's father, who learns how he has ruined these young lives because of his need to instill the control. With all these shattered hopes, Bending the Rules offers insight into a very complex situation beyond the news headlines.

Competition, Tokyo International Film Festival

Production Company: Noori Pictures

Director: Behnam Behzadi

Cast: Amir Jafari, Ashkan Khatibi, Baharan Bani Ahmadi, Neda Jebraeeli

Producer: Behnam Behzadi

Screenwriter: Behnam Behzadi, based on an original story by himself

Director of Cinematography: Amin Jafari

Editor: Behnam Behzadi

Music: Martin Shamoonpour

International Sales: Noori Pictures

In Farsi

94 minutes