Capturing the energy and potential of the Internet and social media in an innovative and powerfully visceral way, ambitious experimental drama “Flowers of Evil” organically incorporates YouTube documentation of Iran’s 2009 post-election demonstrations and the government’s brutal reprisals into a tender love story set in Paris. Premiered at Cannes under the auspices of film directors’ association Acid, this edgy, youth-oriented two-hander from notable new filmmaking talent David Dusa has been making the European fest rounds, and looks to land a prestigious Stateside showcase in the near future. Eventual niche exposure and ancillary seem likely.
An attraction blooms when footloose Parisian hotel clerk Rachid (Rachid Youcef) meets Anahita (Alice Belaidi), a Tehrani college student exiled to the City of Light by overprotective parents who fear her political participation. But Anahita’s worries over the rapidly unfolding events in her homeland, which she follows obsessively on her computer and smartphone, and which prevent her from participating wholeheartedly in the relationship.
Helmer/co-writer Dusa uses the Internet as a narrative, structural and emotional tool. From the opening moments, Rachid spends considerable time online, posting videos of his wild, athletic dancing on Facebook, and surfing for information about the world.
As the apolitical Rachid’s knowledge of Iran is shaped through the anonymous YouTube footage and his lover’s response to it, the abstract images are transformed into something intimate and involving for both him and the audience. One of the film’s most exhilarating moments shows Rachid and Anahita on a Parisian rooftop, shouting “Allahu akbar!” in sympathy with the nighttime chants of her compatriots (featured in multiple YouTube clips that went viral).
Dusa manages to create a compelling emotional continuity across the pic’s three visual strands (Rachid’s performances, the citizen-journalist digital videos from Iran and the couple’s love story). This achievement owes much to convincing performances from his two attractive young thesps and the eclectic and resonant music track.
Youcef, of Algerian Kabyle ancestry, is a barely contained ball of energy as he moves from place to place in parkour fashion. Although Belaidi is of Algerian and gypsy descent rather than Persian, she nails the nuances of a sophisticated upper-class Iranian, and is especially enticing when introducing the poetry of Omar Khayyam and Charles Baudelaire (hence the title) to her less-educated new beau.
The love story is shot on expressive digital — mostly in closeup, often at night and in enclosed spaces — exploiting the artistic aspects of the medium without looking glaringly different from the other strands. Meanwhile, intelligent cutting mimics the near-ADD way people click through the Web, and allows the various sections to effectively bleed into one another.
While working on the film’s screenplay, Dusa also adapted it as a cinematographic performance piece for the stage under the title “The Riot of Emotions.”