Adding to the growing body of films about the Kurdish people, “Black Tape: A Tehran Diary — The Videotape Fariborz Kamkari Found in the Garbage” is a courageous fictional work of some sophistication, written and directed by the Iranian Kamkari. Its harrowing account of an 18-year-old Kurdish “trophy wife” married to her former torturer pulls no punches as a drama, becoming increasingly anguishing as story unfolds. Kamkari, in his first feature, adopts the sometimes awkward device of shooting the entire film from the p.o.v. of the woman’s camcorder, conveying the idea of the circumscribed world — actually, a prison — in which she lives cut off from her family, people and language. Profoundly unsettling, it was the strongest Iranian feature screened at the Venice fest this year, and should be well-appreciated by auds who connect to films like Bahman Ghobadi’s “A Time of Drunken Horses.”
It is significant that the director, who grew up in Iranian Kurdistan, appends his own name to the title (mistakenly referred to at Venice as “Blank Tape,” which it definitely is not). Any idea that pic is a documentary, however, is misleading, for it uses the power of fiction and acting to tell its story. The DV camera, used in most ingenious ways, acts as a spy to collect horrible “evidence” about the heroine’s life and its painful truth. Sometimes it works as a distancing device to tone down raw emotion; sometimes it becomes a ball and chain on a story that could have been more lithesome.
Goli (Shilan Rahmani) is introduced at her 18th birthday party, where she insults the drunken middle-class guests of her much older husband Parviz (Parviz Moasese). He obviously dotes on her (the camcorder is his gift, first despised, then accepted) and Goli at first seems like the spoiled wife of a rich man. This impression is overturned on her visit to a Tehran slum where homeless Iraqis, Kurds and Afghans have taken shelter. There, to her joy, she finds some of her long-lost family. She brings her sick father back to their luxurious home, but Parviz soon whisks him away to a “hospital.” He makes fun of the old man’s unfamiliarity with modern conveniences, and reminds his wife that she stank when he took her in.
Ever more desperate and alone, Goli visits a handsome, despairing cousin (Farzin Saboni), her childhood sweetheart, in the junkyard where he works. Just as she is more a slave than a wife, he is treated as slave labor by Iranian society. Though never stating explicitly what happened between them, the film drops hints that at 9 years of age, Goli may have been sold by her partisan father to his captor Parviz, an army officer fighting Iraq from Kurdistan. He tied her to chairs and burned her with cigarettes; even today, after leaving the army, bondage is part of his sexual fantasies.
Far from being a cowering, cringing victim, however, Goli returns home wrathful and rebellious, meeting Parviz’s anger with her own fury at being kept away from her father and sister. Discovering she’s pregnant, he imprisons her in the house and disconnects the phone, TV and computer. From being a bird in a cage, Goli becomes a battery hen waiting to deliver his child and then, perhaps, be killed. Instead she escapes to prevent her little sister (Shokhan Ghafari) from being sold into prostitution and to clandestinely end her pregnancy in a dramatic finale.
Headlining the non-pro cast, Rahmani is a natural fighter of spirited beauty. Though not frequently on camera (she is nominally shooting the video), she gives the film a strong center. Looking like an over-the-hill Foreign Legionnaire, Moasese swings from loving hubby to cold torturer with sinister unexpectedness. Also well cast is Saboni as the cousin who has lost his ideals along with his homeland, and who expresses himself in a dance of despair.
Cinematographer Toraj Aslani does a conscientious job of finding excuses to have the vidcam on during the most dramatic scenes and, though occasionally fake-looking as a device, the DV (blown up to attractive 35m) doesn’t make the story suffer. Editor Amin Aslani wisely doses out the surprises in this strong material, keeping the biggest shocks offscreen, where their effects are more subtly powerful.