By Daniel Nelson

Tehran Taboo is as bleak a view of life in the Iranian capital as you are likely to see.

The publicity blurb sets the scene: “

Tehran Taboo

Tehran Taboo

Image by Tehran Taboo

When prostitute and single mum Pari moves in to an apartment with her mute son, she unintentionally befriends her new neighbour Sara. Sara … seemingly has a perfect family life but who, too, hides her own secrets; and so the company of Pari comes a welcome escape. The lives of the two women become further intertwined with that of a struggling musician who is trying to raise money for an illegal operation for the girl who gave him her virginity. As stories of sex, drugs and corruption unravel, the lives of the unlikely allies prove more alike than one might think - perhaps the consequences of the restrictions Iranian society has put up upon them.”

The film’s religious characters are unremittingly hypocritical, almost all the men have shockingly reactionary attitudes to women, virginity is on a pedestal but the “respect” it is accorded leads to appalling misbehaviour and crime, and many of the educated characters want to escape the confines of their society and go abroad.

Iranian-born German animator and filmmaker Ali Soozandeh has said his aim was to inspire social change in Iran but many viewers may feel he piles on the desperation, double-standards and corruption of Tehran life too thickly and that the evils are part of cities everywhere. However, it’s always worth taking a hammer to disparaging attitudes to women and the sanctimonious yet lustful behaviour of religious officials.

Because it would be crazily dangerous to make a film like this in Iran, Soozandeh has used a technology called Rotoscope – animation using live actors. Weirdly, it looks both artificial and real. The device also means that some scenes, such as a taxi fellatio while the woman's young child waits in the back seat, look less salacious than if filmed live.

I have no reason to doubt the reality of such lives in Tehran, as elsewhere, and it's useful to be reminded of the frustrating viciousness of the combination of piety and cruelty, but the desperation is pitiless, relieved only by flashes of humanity amidst the carnage.

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