Tales (2014) — Image via nooripictures.com

Tales

Directed by Rakhshan Bani-Etemad (2014)

Eight years passed between the making of Rakhshan Bani-Etemad’s previous narrative feature, Mainline, and her latest, Tales (Ghesse-ha). During that time, reportedly unwilling to submit her scripts to the Iranian government censors, she made several documentaries while also quietly filming a series of narrative shorts. These shorts eventually became the basis for Tales, which takes the form of a chain of vignettes featuring an overlapping cast of characters, many of whom are carried forward from Bani-Etemad’s previous films. The result feels like a taking stock of the director’s work to date, with some hints as to future directions.

Tales (2014) — Image via nooripictures.comAs in Bani-Etemad’s previous efforts, Tales is focused on people on the margins of society, whether out of lifelong poverty, misfortune, or the consequences of their own decisions. These include Touba (Golab Adineh), the protagonist of Under the Skin of the City, who is desperate to get the nine months of pay owed to her by the owner of a now-closed factory; Nargess (Atefeh Razavi), from the film of the same name, now working in a drug-addiction clinic and hiding from her abusive husband; and Reza (Farhad Aslani), an illiterate worker who is jealous when his wife Nobar (Fatemah Motamed-Aria) receives a letter from her ex-husband.

As she follows this assortment of characters, Bani-Etemad also shifts between multiple modes of storytelling. An encounter between an elderly pensioner (Mehdi Hashemi) and an oblivious government bureaucrat (Hassan Majooni) takes an almost slapstick approach as the latter seems maniacally determined to ignore the former. A scene in which Touba and her co-workers are interviewed by a documentary filmmaker (Habib Rezaei) is just as blunt in its social criticism, but more direct, as Touba goes on an extended rant — reminiscent of the closing scene of Under the Skin of the City — over the objections of some of her companions, who are afraid of getting too political in their demands. The scenes between Reza and Nobar, on the other hand, are more intimate, as one feels the weight of past humiliations bearing down on their present.

Tales (2014) — Image via nooripictures.comAnd then there is the magnificent closing vignette. Like so many of the great scenes in Iranian cinema, it takes place in a moving vehicle, in which addiction-clinic workers Sara (Baran Kosari, reprising her role from Mainline) and Hamed (Peiman Moadi) are transporting a suicidal addict back to the clinic from the hospital. Over the course of the trip, Sara, herself a recovering addict, and Hamed, a former engineering student who was expelled for political activity, have an oddly aggressive and at the same time roundabout pseudo-argument about the significance of their work and the influence of their past choices on their present circumstances. And then, as the conversation turns more personal, Bani-Etemad comes out with a sucker-punch, bringing the scene to a simultaneously heartbreaking and optimistic conclusion. It’s not quite the end of the film (the documentarian gets the last word), but it’s the part that sticks.

Back in 2010, Twin Cities film lovers had the privilege of hearing Bani-Etemad talk about her work in conjunction with a retrospective at the Walker Art Center. At the time, she expressed that many of her colleagues had encouraged her to remain abroad but that she was determined to return to her country and continue her work there. Her method of doing so in Tales turned out to be brilliant, and I look forward to seeing whether she chooses to continue developing these characters and their world in future films. In the meantime, Tales can be seen again Apr. 17 at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival.

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Eric Prindle

administers Bad Entertainment. He is also an attorney who leads a team of legal marketing copywriters at FindLaw. He is not Eric Prindle, the mixed martial arts fighter.