AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL 2010
By Don Simpson | October 19, 2010
Director: Hossein Keshavarz
Writer: Hossein Keshavarz, Maryam Azadi
Starring: Ahmad Akbarzadeh, Tahereh Esfahani, Bagher Forohar, Shahrokh Taslimi, Rahim Zamani
Utilizing a guerrilla-cum-cinema vérité aesthetic — probably out of necessity and for style — producer-director-editor Hossein Keshavarz documents the lives of several young people who are attempting to discover personal freedom within the confines of contemporary Iran. Misunderstood by their parents and family elders and feeling oppressed by conservative Islamic society, these young Iranians find ways to rebel against oppression while, at least for the most part, staying under the radar and making enough compromises to safely survive.
Massoud (Shahrokh Taslimi) begins the film as a womanizer with a penchant for whiskey. He is of a generation who, having been silenced by their government, has retreated to the comfort of drinking (“Dog Sweat” is a slang term for a popular black market liquor in Iran) and drug use. It takes an extreme event to wake up people like Massoud — in Dog Sweat that occurs when Massoud’s mother is severely injured in a car accident. Upon snapping out of partyland, Massoud becomes outraged when he realizes just how screwed up Tehran really is (disastrous roads, overcrowded hospitals, moral police who appear to only be interested in harassing teenagers).
Homan (Rahim Zamani) and Hooshang (Ahmad Akbarzadeh) are best friends (there are several obvious clues that they are homosexual, but that is never overtly stated). The two men are inseparable — attending to parties, going to the gym and hanging out at Hooshang’s house — but they are being forced by their families to find wives. (According to President Ahmadinejad, “gays don’t exist in Iran”; so Hooshang and Homan can either live their lives relegated to the margins of society as “bachelors” or they can marry for the acceptance and freedom it affords them.)
Mahsa’s mother wants one thing for Mahsa, to marry a wealthy man; but Mahsa craves independence. Mahsa really wants to be a pop singer — female vocalists are banned in Iran, but she records a song secretly in a friend’s studio nonetheless. Mahsa and Homan are fatefully matched-up by their parents and they decide conspire to use marriage as a way to get their families to quit nagging them. In a strange twist of fate, arranged marriages have become a tool for Iranian youth to achieve freedom.
Katie is a die hard feminist, or so she says… Katie is in love with Mehrdad — an older, wealthy man who is married to Katie’s cousin Mitre. Katie’s brother Dawood (Bagher Forohar) has just returned home from the US where he earned a master’s degree in cinema. Dawood, now a foreigner in his own country, is slowly readjusting to life in Iran. He enters a timid relationship with Katie’s best friend Katherine — who has never had a romantic relationship. Together, Dawood and Katherine roam the streets of Tehran, endlessly searching for a place to be alone together in a city where nosy neighbors seem to keep tabs on everyone else.
By way of Katie and Dawood, we witness the differences in how families treat their sons and daughters. For example: their mother discovers a condom; uncertain of who it belongs to she tells Dawood that she would like to meet his girlfriend and then she locks Katie inside the house at night. Katie (like most young Iranian women) has only has two options to achieve freedom: marry her one suitor (Bijan, who is madly in love with Katie but has become a borderline stalker) or live the rest of her life completely on her own.
Dog Sweat’s only real fault is in its decision to juggle so many different characters — which would have made more sense if their stories were actually intertwined. Keshavarz does give the audience a wide range of characters, but we are never granted an opportunity to develop a connection with any of them. Personally, I really enjoyed the Katie/Mehrdad and Dawood/Katherine plots and I kept hoping that the camera would spend more time with them.
Iran is one of the youngest societies on earth: over two thirds of its population is under 30-years old. This generation was raised to revere the ayatollahs and forced to abide by their parents’ fanatical religious ideologies; all the while they were exposed to American television and discovering ways to have fun while circumventing the moral police (President Ahmadinejad has reinstated the moral police to harass youth who hang out in mixed groups of boys and girls). Dog Sweat intelligently discusses the various clashes occurring in Iran: traditional versus modern cultures; the youth versus its elders; fundamentalists versus revolutionaries. Young people want and — despite the corruption of the recent Presidential elections — still demand change. As the youth of today see it, almost everything in Iran is screwed up. The youth want the freedom to follow their career goals and maintain the relationships that they desire; they also want to have fun. Guys want to drink alcohol and girls want wear make-up, dance and talk about guys; together they want to date and display their affections in public spaces.
Most importantly, via Dog Sweat western cultures are able to see that not all Iranians are like President Ahmadinejad. They do not all want their country to develop nuclear weapons; they do not all want to destroy Israel. Dog Sweat puts a human face on the youth of Iran, revealing the issues that they deal with every day of their lives. A film like Dog Sweat could not come at a more opportune time — as Israel and the United States continue to plot the best way to deal with a nuclear Iran. We may think that the country of Iran is our number one enemy, but we need to remember — especially when the war hawks start singing “Bomb Iran” again — that its leaders do not represent the opinion of the majority of its population (a scenario that many of us can definitely relate to in the U.S. after eight long years of Bush and Cheney misrepresenting us).