On my first full day of San Francisco Film Festival screenings, the first screening of the day is “Goodbye,” the latest offering from Mohammad Rasoulof, the Iranian independent director who was sentenced (along with Jafar Panahi) by the Iranian government to six years in prison (along with a twenty-year prohibition on leaving the country, talking to foreign press, or writing or directing any films) on charges of propagandizing, at the end of 2010.
Rasoulof was released from jail after 17 days, and Panahi after five months, while the charges against them seem to be still wending their way through the courts. Both Panahi and Rasoulof still managed to have new films, made clandestinely, premiere last year at Cannes.
Panahi’s (reportedly smuggled out of Iran in a flash drive buried in a cake) is entitled “This is Not a Film,” a putative documentary of a day in his life under house arrest, and played at the San Francisco Film Society Cinema two weeks before the Festival. His credited co-director, documentarian Mojtaba Mirtahasb, was banned from traveling to the Toronto International Film Festival in September of last year, when the film was screened there.
Rasoulof’s “Goodbye” is his fifth film. I’ve seen two others: “Iron Island,” (2005) an allegorical film about a colony living on a oil tanker in the Persian Gulf under a despotic captain, which felt didactic and eventually tedious to me, and more seductive “The White Meadows,” (2009), in which allegory becomes beguiling myth, as a man travels from island to island, collecting the tears of its inhabitants, in a mysterious ritual.
“Goodbye” is shot in a totally different style: the sunlight and fairy tales are replaced by grim realism, filmed in muted shades of blue and gray. We follow a beautiful young woman, a lawyer banned from trying cases, as she wends her way through Kafkaesque bureaucracy, attempting to secure a visa to leave the country. Her husband, once a journalist, is mysteriously “working in the south.” She’s beset at every turn: conflicted about her pregnancy, harassed by police, patronized by men who only want to deal with her absent husband. It’s a powerful film on its own, but almost unbearably sad given the context of its creation.