Sundance Review: 'The Green Wave'
Animation and cell phone videos spice up this story of Iranian youth
PARK CITY - On Friday (Jan. 21), world powers completed a second day of Istanbul-based negotiations aimed at convincing Iran to pull back from its nuclear program.
At the same time, I was in a movie theater in Park City watching a documentary that makes the compelling case that by obsessing over fears that the Islamic Republic may go nuclear, Western nations may be overlooking, or at least under-condemning, human rights violations and the repression of dissident opinions, particularly in the aftermath of the 2009 Iranian election.
Ali Samadi Ahadi's "The Green Wave" manages to be powerful and emphatic without necessarily ever feeling revelatory or issuing a clear call-to-action for viewers.
Despite an 80-minute running time, the Sundance World Cinema Documentary competition entry makes the same indisputable points over and over and over again -- things are *really* bad in Iran, especially if you're a young person who isn't a fan of the dominant regime -- but at least it takes a unique technical approach that's certain to win some fans.
More on "The Green Wave" after the break...
Ahadi was not in Iran during the 2009 election. He couldn't film the Iranian youths who composed the so-called Green Wave revolution, which built up around Mir Hossein Mousavi and then faced government ire when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was returned to power.
In lieu of the filmmaker's presence and immediacy, Ahadi's approach is to document the Green Wave, after the fact, through their very 21st Century primary source materials. Instead of showing the pre-election optimistic rallies and the post-election violent protests through widely circulated network news footage, Ahadi uses jittery, pixelated cell phone camera captures. For the shocking headlines, Ahadi relies on missives from Twitter, typed across the screen in the same way news would have come across a teletype in a different generation. For his heroes and heroines, Ahadi has selected posts from various Iranian bloggers.
The bloggers begin with the hopeful belief that Mousavi's rise to power might lead to actual tangible change, but soon they're disheartened and eventually they face the worst of all horrors, incarceration, usually uncharged, in lawless prisons. Since there's nothing inherently cinematic about reading a blog post, Ahadi has actors reading the blog posts, which are then animated by Ali Reza Darwish and Ali Soozandeh.
Because of the animation, "Green Wave" is likely to draw comparisons to Ari Folman's "Waltz with Bashir," though without the singularity of artistic vision. At times, the "Green Wave" animation has a rotoscoped, heavily outlined look that holds close to reality, but the more extreme the circumstances get, the more the animation tends toward a pop art approach, with stylized, nearly comic-book-style violence and shocking bursts of red blood that contrast the earlier greens of the revolution. The animation expresses the unrepresentable, but it's better in individual moments than a cohesive whole. I'm also not sure I understand the decision to have the blog posts, presumably written in Farsi, read in English with rather inconsistent accent choices.
Also, while Ari Folman had the confidence to let "Waltz with Bashir" rest on the animation, Ahadi isn't able to rest on his animation, first-hand crude video and Twitter messages. An assortment of more traditional talking heads are also included, with lawyers, clerics bloggers and even a Nobel Prize winner all just chatting to the camera, presumably as refugees outside of Iran, with a polished style unconnected to the rest of the film.
"Green Wave" is ultimately both very dark and disturbing, but also theoretically uplifting. I think the movie's take-away is supposed to be that even though this youth movement failed to bring about tangible change in this instance, the mobilization of voices can't be undone even by political corruption and sadistic law enforcement. That message, plus the stylistic originality, should help "The Green Wave" resonate with many, even if I felt a bit worn down.
[The screening "Green Wave" was preceded by Oliver Percovich's "Skateistan: To Live and Skate in Kabul," a documentary short about the first skate park in Kabul. I could have done without the on-camera interviews with kids explaining how they come from a war-ravaged country and the skate park gives them a place to be normal and be kids. Percovich could have trusted the rather gorgeous imagery of kids trying to be normal and take pleasure in skating in the midst of a war-ravaged country and I think it would have made the same point, without the thudding statements of theme. But "Skateistan" *is* beautifully filmed.]