In its narrative as well as its style, “I’m Not Angry,” the ironically titled sophomore feature from Iranian helmer-writer Reza Dormishian (“Hatred”), captures the frustrations of a younger generation in Tehran that feels at once powerless and robbed of its prospects. This strong, jittery social drama unfolds from the point of view of a 26-year-old Kurd who was expelled from university for his oppositional political activities, his exasperation soon turning to aggression. Further fest play seems assured if the controversial pic is not banned in its homeland.
Before making its international premiere in the Panorama section of the Berlinale, “I’m Not Angry,” subtitled “a free adaptation of Iran,” was a buzzy item at Tehran’s Fajr Film Festival. But in the wake of criticism from hardliners, the film was pulled from the competition section at the last minute; according to online news reports, these detractors felt that Dormishian appeared to “justify” and “normalize” the 2009 protests that followed the hotly contested election of President Ahmadinejad to a second term.
For outsiders, however, one of the most disturbing aspects of the film will be its depiction of a society struggling with sanctions and hyperinflation, where young workers stand no chance of getting ahead without recourse to connections or criminality. The protagonist, Navid (Navid Mohammadzadeh, intense) has barely made ends meet over the four years since he was dismissed from his studies. He is engaged to a former classmate, Setareh (Baran Kosari), but cannot afford a place for them to live, much less the villa or car that her father (Reza Behoudi) deems necessary for his daughter’s future happiness.
Navid shares a slated-for-demolition studio with a manic-depressive motormouth musician named Vahid (Vahid Ghazi Zahedi), who is obsessed with obtaining a permit for a public concert. In his sedated moments, Vahid encourages Navid to seek help for his anxiety and depression. The unseen doctor to whom Navid confesses his barely suppressed rage prescribes medication and tells him to repeat the mantra “I’m not angry.” But as Navid starts to pop pills whenever he feels like it, his life spins further out of control, and his relationship with Setareh looks doomed.
Dormishian uses a restless camera (wielded by d.p. Ali Azhari) and a jagged editing style (courtesy of Haydeh Safiyari) that suits the increasingly nightmarish proceedings. The film jumps backward and forward in time, showing Navid in happier days at school; back in the present, fast motion is used to illustrate the effect of Navid’s self-medication and his sense of feeling like a rat on a wheel, never making any progress. Sometimes, it’s unclear whether Navid is merely hallucinating his desire to thrash the people who frustrate him or if he is actually beating them bloody.
In addition to the tension-inducing lensing and agitated cutting, Mohammad Reza Delpak’s nerve-wracking sound design deepens our sense of Navid’s alienation. Meanwhile, femme lead Baran Kosari (the daughter of distinguished Iranian helmer Rakhshan Bani-Etemad) makes a smooth entree into production and costume design.