Reel Life: Nazarbazi-A game of glances

Iranian film ‘Nazarbazi’ that won Ammodo Tiger Short Award at IFFR, is a poetic celebration of rebellion against proscription. With physical contact prohibited, glances would stroke, fondle and caress

Reel Life: Nazarbazi-A game of glances

Namrata Joshi

Some films dawn on you serendipitously. Like artist-filmmaker Maryam Tafakory’s short Nazarbazi that I chanced upon at the recently concluded International Film Festival of Rotterdam (IFFR). It would perhaps be better to describe the film’s unique form as video art. Snatches of text run like a thread to seamlessly knit together assorted film clips and images into a cinematic fabric with a distinct texture and vivid feel. Ironically, the subject of this patchwork quilt like film is the denial of touch on screen.

After the revolution in 1979, Iran had prohibited filmmakers from showing men and women touching. This official forbiddance paved the way for creative ways of circumvention of censorship. The undercurrents and tensions, the discreet and the implicit replaced the explicit. Directors got inventive in their portrayal of desire. Often eyes replaced hands; in the absence of physical contact, the glances would stroke, fondle and caress. A look could replace a warm hug. All you needed to make love on screen was a gaze.

Nazarbazi, that literally translates as a game of glances, is a wondrous, fluid collage of several such cinematic moments, a homage of sorts to the proxy evocation of intimacy, desire and longing. Shots of fire, water being sprinkled on a face, lights switched off, doors closing, hands reaching out yet not quite—all of them are resonant with meaning. A piece of paper held at the two ends by the hero and the heroine becomes a playground for passion, even as the lush, sensuous, inserted text asks: “Where is the line between feeling and being felt? Touching and being touched?”

Tafakory culls and curates, compiles and harnesses from hours of footage of looks and gestures, which might be unique to Iranian cinema, but the associated spirit of resistance is universal and transcends countries and cultures.

Nazarbazi is a poetic celebration of the rebellion against and subversion of proscription and suppression in the world of arts, culture and entertainment. It cocks a snook at the Establishment with lines like: “In order to show you where your desire is, it is enough to forbid it to you a little.” But there’s more. Unwittingly, it also mirrors some of the despondency, ache and anguish emerging from the lack of human touch and warmth that have come to define these Covid-induced times of social distancing. It wasn’t a surprise then to see the film walk away with the Ammodo Tiger Short Award at IFFR.

Another winner in the shorts section, Pedro Neves Marques’ Becoming Male in the Middle Ages is an ingenious contemplation on the confines of gender and a breaking up of these constraints. Appropriately, the Portuguese film begins with a shot of lab grown meat that “looks more like meat than meat itself” and goes on to pose a question: if we begin creating our own artificiality, will the fabricated begin to be regarded as real?

The film follows two couples as they deal with issues of reproduction—a heterosexual couple (Mirene and Andre) is battling with infertility, a homosexual couple (Carl and Vincente) is bent on having a biological child with one of the gay men deciding to implant an ovary in his belly. The futuristic gets grounded in medical science and endocrinology but there is the larger framework of debate in the film on reproductive rights and ethics, essentialization of masculinity and femininity and the defining of gender roles. Most of all it is about stretching the limits of what constitutes a family, seeing it as wider, more enveloping and encompassing entity than just the basic building block of society.

Interestingly it’s her own eccentric kith and kin, household, village and community that is the fulcrum of Morgane Dziurla-Petit’s off the wall Swedish film, Excess Will Save Us, that was declared the joint winner of IFFR’s Special Jury Award. An extension of her own short film by the same name, it has Dziurla-Petit return to Villereau, her quiet and sleepy village in the North of France. A village where nothing ever happens, where there is no train station, no shopping mall, no cinema, no swimming pool, no pharmacy and no hairdresser, is feeling the threat of a terrorist attack. As she goes about filming her own family and interviewing its members—her uncles, father, grandfather and young cousin—there is an almost over the top, comic rendering of the terror scare (was it to do with the hunting season or an argument between two drunkards) and a banter underlying the deliberate otherisation of the cousin’s Moroccon boyfriend as “Arab”. The filmmaker mines her life and probes her own upbringing in this fold.

The unique hybrid form mixes the real with the fictional elements to give intimate feel of the family dynamics—its loud humour and laughs, candid revelations and unguarded moments. The vignettes are showcased in defined chapters. The hybridity also reflects the position of the filmmaker herself: she is at once an insider in Villereau by birth as well as an outsider, having stayed away for very long. Something that the young cousin and the old father want to replicate—to get away. It’s this contradiction of having escaped a constricting, oddball world and the strong urge to still belong that gives the film a unique bittersweet tug and a beguiling charm.

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