Pari (Elmira Rafizadeh) lives in Tehran, that hubbub of modern Iran, where she works as a prostitute to make ends meet since her husband has been imprisoned and she cannot get a job otherwise. Humiliatingly, she must take her young son with her as she turns tricks because there is no one else to look after him as she seeks clients, waiting outside the door or, as today, sitting in the back seat of the taxi as she services the driver with oral sex in lieu of the fee. However, the driver has trouble sustaining any kind of performance, and is suddenly distracted by the sight of his daughter walking along the street holding hands with a man - he's so furious he crashes his cab, and Pari and her son slip away...
Well, it ain't subtle, but that was the way Tehran Taboo began, the second animated feature by Iranian-German animator Ali Shoozandeh who obviously had an axe to grind about the state of his former homeland. As with much of the cinema of Middle Eastern film directors seeking to comment on their origins and what was happening to the ordinary citizen there, it was the women and girls this was keen to promote as beacons of level headedness and magnets for injustice simultaneously, unironically embracing feminism where in the West the subject had become hostage to all sorts of political and social backlash. Here we saw how important female emancipation really was.
The naysayers took one look at items like Persepolis or A Separation and accused them of being hypocritical when the Western standards they held up as a goal were failing women, but the answer to that was that at least women there were able to complain when they were mistreated (and worse), no matter the negative reaction they might receive, mainly from men who didn't like to be accused of being so obnoxious and even illegal en masse. As this film depicted, women don't always get the opportunity to speak out depending on where they are living, and the characters are suffering in their own particular ways - it was not solely the women, either, as one male demonstrated.
He was Babak (Arash Marandi), a musician who finds he cannot get a permit to do anything with his talent other than play weddings or teach the tone deaf children of the rich to pick out tunes on the piano, which is bad enough, but on one encounter in a nightclub bathroom he gets a girl into trouble because he has, she says, broken her hymen and she now wants him to fund a repair operation. Many outsiders to such a community would find such a thing outlandishly bizarre, but with virginity prized in brides in some regions of the world, or at least the appearance of that, these repairs are a lucrative sideline for unscrupulous surgeons, and here they were simply another element to the downright perverse mistreatment of women as ordered by the menfolk who claim to be supported by their religion.
Although we don't see many being especially religious here, we do see the effects of a tyrannical religious regime, so deranged that a bloke can be bundled into the back of a police van for holding hands with his girlfriend. The sense here is not that the authorities wish their citizens to be pure in word and deed, more that they are crazed with power and corrupted with seeking bribes and perks of their position, regardless of how observant of their faith they claimed to be. The third lead character was Sara (Zahra Amir Ebrahimi) who wishes to spread her wings with a career yet has a rude awakening when it hits home she is merely destined to be the domestic help to her husband, along with popping out babies every so often and looking after them. You would like to believe there was a degree of overstatement for artistic effect here, but the further it progressed the more convincing as a portrait it grew, and the rotoscoping allowed the performers to look as if they were genuinely in Iran, where of course a film like this would have to be made in secret, if at all. When it was over the top, as in the ending, it was backed up by an authenticity in the director's vision and how hard hitting this was in its outrage. Music by Ali N. Askin.