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TALE OF THE SEA gets 6.5/10 Gravity waves

Directed by Bahman Farmanara

Starring Bahman Farmanara, Fatemah Montmed-Arya


Iranian cinema sure knows how to do drama, and Tale of the Sea is certainly of this mode. A handsomely shot film, Tale of the Sea casts everything into a pall of black and blue tones, granting a very sombre attitude to the proceedings, reflective of the depressed state of the central protagonist. It is a meditative piece, as a man in trouble looks back over his life and the mistakes he has made, the primary of which is in isolating the woman that he loves, and once loved him.

Released from three years of institutionalisation, due to sever depression and the onset of schizophrenia, writer Taher (Bahman Farmanara) struggles to reconnect to the world and his life. His main attachment to the world, the relationship with his wife Jaleh (Fatemah Montmed-Arya) is also under threat, as unbeknownst to him she has decided to seek a divorce and live a quiet life in her remaining years. Over the course of a few days, Taher’s professional, political, and personal life are tested, while his sanity teeters at the edge of the precipice.

Despite Tale of the Sea‘s beauty, the slow contemplative pace and somewhat plodding narrative doesn’t quiet pay off. Characters exchange dialogue in a stilted line and response format that lends the proceedings a remarkably staged feel, robbing Tale of the Sea of some of the affect that it deeply craves. Impressively written as that dialogue may be, stylistically the film never seems to sit comfortably with itself, finding its ground between realism and surrealism (brought about by the occasional hallucination by Taher, as he slips further into the symptoms of schizophrenia). If it had leaned heavier into one of these directions, perhaps the result would be more potent, but by straddling a line it lessens the work.

Yet there is still a lot of worth here. Tale of the Sea certainly captures the feeling of regret and the lamentation of loss. Both Taher and Jaleh mourn what has been left behind with the passage of time, but approach it from different ends of the spectrum. Jaleh sees it as a call to change, while Taher finds it crippling. Both struggle, both suffer, and it is questionable who has the right of it. Even with the somewhat confusing tone of the piece (blown out by a surprising conflagration of events in the final act) there is still a lot that is emotionally impactful.

Which is testament to Bahman Farmanara’s commitment to the character of Taher. He conveys the melancholic writer with compassion and humanity, even as he is unaware of the burden he places on his wife. Fatemah Montmed-Arya, also grants Jaleh a quiet dignity, and a strength of purpose. The couple may be living in the ashes of their relationship, but you can certainly see the ghost of what once was.

The result is an interesting, albeit flawed bit of cinema that provides a window into a world we don’t often see on the big screen.

Tale of the Sea is showing as part of the 8th Iranian Film Festival Australia (November 2-7) at the Luna Leederville. Check website for details.


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