With At Night, the Red Sky, the independent Iranian author of cinema and theatre Ali Razi, known for his works dealing with totalitarianism and democratic freedom, has created a sublime cinematic analysis of a political revolt. His experimental short film on the mass protests of 2022/2023 in Iran will have its premiere at the DocLisboa 2023.
Woman, life, freedom
File rouge: an image of a woman. Shot from her back, black trousers, black vest, black backpack on the shoulders, thick black hair tied in a ponytail with a white hairband, her white naked right hand clenched into a fist and raised to the sky, facing the dense mass of protesters in a distance at the other end of the street, two spots of fire on the road in front of her, cars parked on left and right, framed by city buildings, modern constructions of glass and concrete, and some trees under the grey sky. This image is one among many images documenting the events that took place in 2022 in Iran after the 22-year-old Mahsa Amini was detained by morality police on charges of not wearing a hijab as required by the Islamic Republic’s regulations and, a few days later, died due to the injuries. The fury over the killing took people to the streets and soon evolved into «an uprising movement against the mandatory hijab, against gender apartheid and ultimately against rules to which people no longer want to submit.» These were the biggest protests seen in Iran since 2009, explains the director in the introduction. The screams demanding «Woman, Life, Freedom» were heard all around the country.
These were the biggest protests seen in Iran since 2009
Anatomy of a revolt
The images of the recent protests in Iran bring to mind another image: the one of a man blocking a line of tanks in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. The photographer Jeff Widener took the photo on June 5, 1989, one day after Chinese troops began violently cracking down on pro-democracy demonstrators who had been in the square for over a month. This photo, dubbed «Tank Man Photo» by international media, became an iconic image of how one man defied brutal state power and is considered a symbol of resistance today. In his film At Night, the Red Sky, Ali Razi invites us to follow a more elaborate investigation into the phenomenon of revolt. Overwhelmed by the «images of men and women who brought the mountains of their dreams to the streets,» Razi suggests two lines of reflection along the film’s two protagonists, a woman and a man, and their travels through time. The man remembers his recent visit to the elementary school he attended during the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988) with a desire to «forget the past and remember the future.» The woman remembers her theatre role of Antigone and her endeavors to understand the anatomy and physical movement of a woman who says «No.»
The first reflection, the diachronous one, explores the reasons and consequences. It concerns protesters’ dreams and memories and asks how they get there. The protagonist condemns the futility of the war because «The war is over, but the coffins of veterans are still arriving.» And shows how the students protesting today learned as schoolchildren to chest beat in their prayers for Imam Hossein and to condemn the USA. The second reflection, the synchronous one, ponders on the finality of the decision taken by Antigone, the decision that changed everything. Continuity and change.
History is politics
Although structurally different, both lines of reflection simultaneously rely on what is communicated through the first-person narration and on the purely visual cinematic means. Thus, in the episode on the schoolboys of today and tomorrow’s revolutionaries, the children’s praying gestures are juxtaposed with the gestures of protesters. In the episode on Antigone, the image of a woman that can be Mahsa Amini is juxtaposed with the recordings of the movement of the protagonist in the Antigone theatre play. The director’s approach is intuitive and analytical at the same time, formally emphasising that the reasons for revolt might be multiple and the outcomes unknown.
The elliptical narration and stress on the travels in time resemble Chris Marker’s La Jette. «History is always contemporary History, that is, politics» by Antonio Gramschi is the film’s motto. A hybrid of animation, still and moving archival images by unknown photographers and videographers, documentary film and theatre recordings, and techniques of experimental cinematography such as multiple exposures, accompanied by found sounds and piano score composed by Payman Yazdanian At Night, the Red Sky is a unique and engaging experimental documentary short.