Tribeca Film Festival 2011
By Don Simpson | April 24, 2011
Director: David Dusa
Writers: David Dusa, Louise Molière, Raphaëlle Maes
Starring: Rachid Youcef, Alice Belaïdi
Gecko (Rachid Youcef) is a traceur (a practitioner of parkour) and break-dancer who works as a bellhop at a Parisian hotel. Living alone in an isolated apartment within earshot of the roaring sounds of the major highway it overlooks, Gecko spends much of his spare time on Facebook and YouTube. Recently Gecko has developed an interest in traffic, which in turn draws his attention towards the traffic problems in Iran.
It is not without coincidence that Gecko meets Anahita (Alice Belaïdi), a young Iranian student whose parents have sent her to Paris to avoid the repressive fallout from the political uprisings in Tehran. Anahita relies solely upon social media — Twitter, Facebook and YouTube — to keep up to date with her family, friends and the overall situation in Iran; this quickly evolves into a compulsive and all-consuming desire to constantly check the Internet for any and all updates related to Iran.
To serve as a distraction from Anahita’s obsession with Iran, Gecko agrees to be Anahita’s Parisian tour guide. They quickly evolve into lovers, but their relationship is not without complications. Anahita finds herself torn between her life of freedom and happiness in Paris and the extreme guilt associated with running away from the atrocities in Iran. Life in Paris is a constant push-pull for Anahita, and Gecko finds himself stuck in the middle of it all. Gecko enjoys Anahita’s lovingness but also must suffer the brunt of Anahita’s outrage.
Gecko tries to convert Anahita to his personal philosophy — to live in the here and now. Gecko relishes in his “freedom”, which essentially means having no familial or political ties to the world; he wants Anahita to enjoy the same freedoms. Despite Gecko’s countless objections, Anahita cannot resist knowing that constant updates are merely a click away on her smart phone.
Writer-director David Dusa builds Flowers of Evil around the plethora of YouTube videos documenting the (failed) uprising in Iran following the 2009 presidential elections. Dusa cleverly cuts back and forth between Anahita and Gecko in Paris and the YouTube footage of the events in Iran, as if to visualize Anahita’s thoughts and concerns. Dusa illustrates how Facebook and YouTube can expands one’s horizons, providing limitless information, but can also be distractive and destructive to one’s organic relationships.
Named after a compilation of poetry by Charles Baudelaire that deals primarily with themes of decadence and eroticism, Flowers of Evil features multiple instances that Anahita and Gecko recite passages from Baudelaire’s book. Along with several historically significant locations, the mid-19th century poetry serves as a grounding for this otherwise lofty post-modern diatribe on the effects that new media and perpetual connectedness has on people’s relationships. Baudelaire’s words bring Anahita and Gecko closer together, as technology tries to form a wedge between them.
It seems appropriate that I viewed Flowers of Evil via streaming video on my netbook. The film works remarkably well in a small visual format, with headphones on. I suspect the poor video quality of the YouTube footage might have annoyed me if I saw it projected on a theatrical screen and I wonder how much of the minutia of the sound design (such as the stereophonic sounds of traffic) would have been lost in a large arena. That said — my extremely personal experience with Flowers of Evil was an extravaganza of sound and vision. Dusa’s footage — especially of Youcef’s parkour routines — is absolutely incredible, as is the soundtrack; all the while the grainy and blurry distortion of the YouTube adds a certain avant-garde aesthetic to Flowers of Evil. Sure, I wish Dusa’s message was not so politically apathetic (Gecko seems to me to be the more sympathetic character in Flowers of Evil), but he deserves tremendous credit for utilizing visual techniques that perfectly complement the narrative.