Iran | 83 MINUTES
Director Mohammad Shirvani, whose short films have won acclaim, pushes the limits of what we know as Iranian cinema in Navel. This exciting experimental work, shot with a nervously moving DV camera and superimposed images, has a contemporary look closer to the work of New York-based filmmaker Amir Naderi than Iranian models. But its transgressions aren't just stylistic: its "taboo" subject matter regards four men and a girl rooming together in a Tehran apartment. Hardly a story at all, Navel is mainly concerned with bringing its characters up close to the viewer in a series of claustrophobic nighttime settings. Chista (Mana Rabiee) has returned to Iran after living in the United States. She's not perfectly fluent in Persian and her viewpoint is also familiarly American: teasing, anti-smoking, eager to remove her headscarf. She also has a lover who has left her broken-hearted. Mani (Ali Hooshmand) owns a DV camera and is supposedly taping everything we see. Khosrow (Khosrow Hassanzadeh) is a good-looking divorced father; Reza (Reza Hassanzadeh), who wears a beard, is a former cleric who clings uncertainly to his old beliefs. Amazingly, they talk freely about sex and sin in a way at once Western and exotic. Underlying their words is a poignant sadness and a familiar urban loneliness. Unusual in an Iranian film is the use of symbolic images to build atmosphere: a baby being "unborn" back into its mother's womb; a naked man floating underwater. The cast is composed of non-pros without previous acting experience, although Rabiee has appeared in a New York stage work by Shirin Neshat.