Dir.: Keywan Karimi, Cast: Amirezza Naderi, Sara Gholizade; France/Iran 2016, 95 min.
First time feature film scriptwriter/director Keywan Karimi crafts a disturbingly bleak and noirish picture of life in contemporary Tehran – the city’s name being the only concrete reference to its reality. The narrative is opaque, but everyone can decypher the code used. In October 2015 Karimi was sentenced to one year in prison and 223 lashes for defying the laws of Iran. He is still in a state of limbo, waiting to start his imprisonment.
The film opens as a lawyer (Naderi) is visited by a limping man who dumps a parcel on his desk and disappears. Soon afterwards, the lawyer’s flat is searched, and gets a visit from a man threatening with grave consequences if he does not give up the parcel. The harassment continues, and the lawyer is forced to oeave his flat, sleeping rough or taking a room in a hotel where he meets his girlfriend (Gholizade). The only other person he trusts is his best friend, who happens to be a drug addict. Tragedy eventually forces the lawyer starts to wreak revenge.
DRUM is a Kafkaesque nightmare with images worthy of any Bela Tarr film. Whilst the audience is made well aware of the enemy, the main protagonist is stubborn enough not give in to “them”. Tehran is very much a character here, portrayed as a nightmarish vision of never-ending staircases and vertiginous apartment blocks spelling danger, even in the modern hotel where the lawyer meets his girlfriend. Nothing is safe: the bleakness of the day is just a shade lighter than the nighttime, where most of the action is set. DoP Amin Jaferi evokes a world of shadows and doom where interiors are sparsely lit prison cells. Words do not help: they are either threats or enigma, the Farsi language has lost much of its meaning. Without naming the authorities in Iran, Karimi holds up a mirror to them: they have created a world of fear and hopelessness. What remains is individual resistance, the only way to bring light into the madness created by religious fanatics.
This is not the first time that a filmmaker has been threatened by authorities at home, whilst his film is being shown at a film festival abroad. DRUM is a promising debut. Let’s hope Keywan Karimi’s reprieve follows as soon as possible. AS
VENICE FILM FESTIVAL UNTIL 10 SEPTEMBER 2016