Year Released: 2007
Running Time: 8 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: G
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: The Circle [Jafar Panahi film], The White Balloon
-This was a part of a compilation called Persian Carpet which featured short films from Iranian filmmakers. Any other shorts I come across will be reviewed separately.
-The main character is a solider, but did you know that creator/director Jafar Panahi also served in the military? He was active from 1980 to 1982 and was on active duty during two wars and was a POW during one of them.
-Untying the Knot is one of the few films that Jaraf Panahi filmed that didn’t get banned or censored in his home country. If you know anything about his filmography or have read the most of the films I’ve covered from him, this should be a shock to you.
We meet again, Mr. Panahi.
That name should already be familiar to those who’ve been following Iridium Eye for most of this year. If you’re new to this blog, Jafar Panahi is an Iranian director that specializes in neorealistic films that tend to sheds light on various human issues in his plots. I’ve reviewed his acclaimed docudrama This Is Not A Film which was a diary of his life when he faced punishment for his films. The next film of his I covered was Taxi which was a brilliant film that is a fictional project that happens to be filmed as if it was a documentary where fact and fiction almost converge in an amazing fashion. The third film I reviewed from Jafar Panahi was Offside which got North American distribution from Sony Pictures Classics of all things. It dealt with a group of drag kings detained for trying to watch the 2005 World Cup qualifying match in Tehran and it was filmed while the real game went on.
So now, I thought I would check out some of his short films.
Untying the Knot is about a soldier who goes into a shop with his sister who’s about to be married off to some man. The soldier needs the money to pay his sister’s dowry, so he tries to loan out a Persian rug for an hour to help pay the costs of this aspect of the wedding budget. He meets the owner Mr. Asadi who is a bit reluctant to have the rug loaned out at his establishment. The soldier has to fast talk his way as he wants to be sure his sister’s wedding dowry can be paid for.
Going into this film, I knew it would have Panahi’s penchant for organic filming and shot composition. I was certainly proven right, but the way the Untying the Knot was filmed was very creative in it’s own right while still looking realistic. The lighting was muted and a bit on the dark side while still making everything visible enough. It’s not so much gloomy in the presentation, but the colder colors in the saturation add some grittiness to the piece. What I found to be very impressive was the camera work. This film was done with one camera and it must have been either shot in one take or carefully edited to look seamless. The camerawork goes all around the shop and it looks as though the viewer is walking alongside the other characters as they go all around the store. The finale involves the camera rotating to where it’s being filmed from behind the clerk’s desk as it faces the soldier and his sister as they leave. It was as if the viewer becomes a part of that store’s workforce at the end in such a creative fashion. As I’ve said or implied in previous reviews of Jafar Panahi’s filmography, you don’t need to have a huge budget to make a film look good.
The soldier himself certainly has the most personality compared to all the other characters. He’s busy trying to convince the employees that they can use the rug for an hour or two while getting a bang for their buck while they pay him and his sister. He becomes such a sycophant in the process as he kisses Mr. Asadi and some of the other higher ups in the store (this is meant as respect in that culture and it something straight men do all the time in Iran in these situations) while trying to land some kind of deal. Mr. Asadi, the main businessman often gets annoyed by the soldier’s nagging. That man is also by the book while trying to make sure everything is on the level with the transaction and also examining the quality of the rug. They do have an interesting chemistry as they interact with each other as they try to come up with a fair price for this rental of the Persian rug.
Untying the Knot was a good watch, but it was a bit underwhelming. Much like an issue I had with Offside, I was confused with how most of the characters aren’t named. There was Mr. Asadi and the tertiary character Hajj who’s Asadi’s relative that examines the rug, but I don’t know the names of any of the characters. It would’ve been nice to know who everyone is despite there not being a huge cast. The sister felt more like a plot device than an actual character. I understand that women don’t have a lot of say in their marriage dealings in Iran, but she was such a non-presence and had no personality. It was a shame since I know Jafar Panahi is much better than this when it comes to female characterization such as Offside with all the female protagonists and with Taxi such as his female passengers, his real-life niece Hana or the cameo of human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotodeh, but this felt like a downgrade compared to those other films. The plot itself is also very cultural to something in Iran, so from an American perspective, not everyone will actually get the point of the story at large or the ending.
This short film was a painless watch and it was good although not spectacular. Untying the Knot has some great filming with the constant one take shot that dominates the film. I certainly was pleased in that regard. There is a good sense of conflict and it’s something I can actually believe happening in Panahi’s home country. However, the inconsistency of named characters and the complete absence of agency from the sister character really hampered the filming experience. Also, not everyone would get the point of the plot given the huge cultural elements that would be lost on people in Western countries. This was a fine watch although it’s not one of Jafar Panahi’s best works.
Adjustable Point System:
Add 1 point if you’re a Jafar Panahi fan
Add 1-2 points if you like realistic films
Subtract 2-3 points if foreign cultural elements really confuse you.
-Creative filming and panning
-The soldier/Mr. Asadi character chemistry
-Believable setting and plot
-Some subtitling errors
-The sister is a plot device and barely a character
-Lack of named characters
Final Score: 7/10 points
Content Warning: This is a very tame short film, but the subject matter may be lost on children. People not familiar with Middle Eastern cultures will be thrown off by the soldier kissing Mr. Asadi and some of the other employees and misconstrue it as him being gay, but it’s a culture of respect even though the soldier is clearly trying to be on his best behavior to get a deal on loaning the rug.
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