TEHRAN TABOO is a gorgeously ugly look at hypocrisy and misogyny
This may sound like a strange recommendation for a Valentine’s Day movie (the theatrical release is February 14th), but Tehran Taboo is a V-Day recommendation from me, especially if you’re having a girlfriends-only night out. I don’t say that flippantly…this film is a timely reminder of the fact that not all women are afforded the freedoms we personally enjoy in America.
Tehran Taboo follows three main stories: Pari, the prostitute who is forced to bring her young son along on jobs; Sara, the young but well-educated pregnant wife who has been (legally) forbidden by her husband from working while pregnant; and Babak/Donya, a young couple who gave into hormones while at a club but are now trying to buy Donya’s virginity back before her marriage to another man. Although Babak is a male primary character, the stories revolve around the hypocrisy of a male-dominated society (example: while Pari is servicing a cab-driver client, he crashes his car in a rage when he recognizes his daughter holding hands with a guy on the street).
The film itself is gorgeous, without a doubt. Real actors were recorded and then translated into animation and beautiful backgrounds via rotoscope, a process which also allowed the action to be transferred to Tehran (thereby skipping the virtual impossibility of actually filming there). The film is in Farsi, but the subtitles are supported easily by the action and it shouldn’t deter viewers. The personalities of the actors shine through easily: Pari is almost frighteningly sassy, Sara is quietly rebellious, Babak is somewhat beaten-down and Donya grows progressively more desperate.
Where Tehran Taboo falls short is in actually making the viewer feel the omnipresent sense of danger that all of its characters are skirting along. There are a few mentions of Donya’s fiancé hunting Babak down, but it’s a mentioned threat rather than a visceral one. There is a scene of a public hanging, but it’s brief and with little emotional impact. Pari regularly tells her johns how impotent or useless they are, then goes on her hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold way without any repercussions. There’s a subplot involving the dangers of prank-calling people, but it feels more forced than frantic.
I’m not saying that I wanted to see abject terror and horror in this movie, but I think that Western audiences needed to see an actual consequence of all of these actions. Yes, there is a final scene involving a kite and drugs, but it’s more sad than horrifying. What is the actual consequence of a wine-fueled prank call in Tehran? That may have driven the impact home with a bit more force.
Is this film worth a watch? Without a doubt. Is it an eye-opener? Not to the extent it could have been.