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"Story Undone":
Iranian Masks
By Andy Rector

Story Undone.

A flurry of paper masks flying out of a bus, flying in the wind and hitting the ground with an acute hollow dragging sound. A rickety old bus pulls away from two filmmaker characters in a dust and rock of the Kurdish landscape. The bus, full of illegal immigrants, is trying to leave Iran for Turkey. The onscreen filmmakers, now stranded near the border, must either catch up with their subjects to tell their noble story or find a new subject.

Later they do catch up to the immigrants but this early scene, only 15 minutes into this both neorealist and comic take on illegal immigration, seems like the impetus of the film. One wonders why Story Undone (Dastan Nataman, Iran-Irland 2004) didn't simply end there. For the remainder is a succession of less profound gags punctuated by a slightly flippant self-reflexivity by director Hassan Yektapanah.

Why were masks, literal masks, flying out of the bus window? They were given to the immigrants on the bus to protect their identity from the possible repercussions of being in a film. And it is this scene inside the bus that is most striking. In it there is the slab-like shot/countershot/off-screen sound relationship as in Kiarostami's films, with the added element of real dread, but without the questioning of the benevolence of the filmmakers (on- and off-screen). Unlike in Makhmalbaf's, Kiarostami's, and Panahi's films (the latter two are thanked in the credits) these relationships usually only forward the plot and intensify a hammy drama. In other words it is not total in its approach.

The theme of masks is interestingly explored as the immigrants mask themselves from the police and even must mask their Iranian looks. With dyed blonde hair, with women donning wigs over their headscarfs, with colored contacts to look like Europeans (an old immigrant: "I got to Italy 50 times a year.there is not one blonde head there!") the immigrants dash to the border amidst patrol gunfire, rendered in completely melodramatic slow motion.

Occasionally director Hassan Yektapanah flicks over to a stunning close up or wideshot. For instance, just after the filmmaker characters lose their subjects we have a great empty moment to simply watch the on-screen cameraman film some aggressive dogs. It soon becomes clear that this, even though lovely on its own, only serves the sort of ribaldry to follow. With typical comedic moves the filmmakers are chased into a tree by the dogs. But this in turn occasions another of Yektapanah's flashes: a wonderful wideshot of the filmmakers stuck in a tree, recalling one of Goya's Folly paintings but with the mountains of Iran as background, the ones which cinephiles have come to know and love.

Andy Rector
© FIPRESCI, Viennale, 2004



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Talent Press

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