From the public space of the street to the private environs of homes, Iranians are photographed by the director. Through the dialogue created by the photo session and the way they pose, the characters subtly reveal themselves and a larger question emerges: How do Iranians see the current political regime? The film sketches a portrait of a society before, during and after the elections, a short period of time during which change seemed possible …

Salaam Isfahan (Good Morning Isfhahan) is Sanaz Azari’s poetic documentary set in the Iranian city of Isfahan, during the controversial general elections of 2009. The film consists of spontaneous conversations with a diverse and randomly selected group of subjects who have agreed to be photographed by Azari. The naturally lilting conversations occur during the photo shoot and seem completely unprompted with a minimal of set-up. Azari sets up her camera in outdoor, public areas and offers to take photographs of passers-by. Some refuse and keep walking, others stop and oblige, becoming part of the film. The conversations span a spectrum of topics.

However, the timing of the film, beginning just prior to the elections and ending just after the results are declared, imbues the film with a political undercurrent. While eschewing overt political comment, the film certainly alludes to the general political climate that exists at the time and, through its choice of subjects and conversations, makes a reserved comment about the political process in Iran. While elections are held more frequently in Iran than other Middle Eastern countries, the Guardian Council, a body of clerics, vets each candidate.

Four candidates contested the 2009 general elections but the real battle was between the incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the reformist candidate, Mir Hossein Moussavi. Pre-election campaigning was marred by violent clashes between the supporters of Moussavi and the state security forces and there were reports of anti-government protestors being beaten to death. On Election Day, a historically large voter turnout was recorded as Moussavi was widely supported by the youth and there was a real opportunity for change. The election results therefore come as a surprise to many of the participants, in the film. The hard-line incumbent wins by a large majority, angering those who witnessed the polls. There is a suggestion of inevitability about the results; the insinuation of election fraud.

Azari’s subjects however, don’t make heated comments or impassioned speeches. Instead there is a dignified conversation with a young man who expresses his disgust about the polls in calm tones while his female companion looks on from her bicycle. Azari takes his photo and they leave to attend a public rally protesting the results. Azari’s gentle approach to the topic means that instead of forcing responses from her subjects, she often uses silence as a tool to elicit a deeper, thoughtful response.

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