Categories: Arts Movies and TV

‘Tehran Taboo’ takes realistic view of modern life

Rotoscope animation and social realism prove a vital match in “Tehran Taboo,” a drama about forbidden pleasures and freedoms, and about the double standards that allow men and not women to engage in such experiences, in today’s Iran.

Written and directed by Ali Soozandeh, the film (screening at the Roxie) vividly and without exploitation depicts Tehran’s sex-related underground and condemns Iranian society’s hypocritical and oppressive treatment of women.

The Germany-based Soozandeh, who grew up in Iran, opted for animation in this feature debut, as to shoot the movie in Iran, given the film’s content, would have been impossible.

Like the Tel Aviv-set “In Between,” the film features three rule-breaking women, though, in this case, they’re contending with not only fiancés and family but Iran’s Islamic laws.

Pari (Elmira Rafizadeh), a prostitute with a young son, visits a judge (Hasan Ali Mete) at the Islamic Revolutionary Court to obtain a divorce from her incarcerated addict husband. The judge offers to sign the divorce documents if Pari becomes his mistress. Pari figures she has little choice.

At the apartment complex where her arrangement with the judge has landed her, Pari meets Sara (Zara Amir Ebrahimi)), a pregnant neighbor. Sara wants to get a job, but this being Iran, her husband must consent to it, and that won’t happen.

Babak (Arash Marandi), a musician, works at an underground club where sex and substances fuel 24-hour parties.

He shares some quick sex with a stranger named Donya (Negar Mona Alizadeh), who soon informs him she lost her virginity during their encounter.

Donya plans to marry her religious fiancé in a week, and if she can’t “restore” her virginity by then, things could get ugly for Babak. Desperate, Babak tries to come up with the money to pay a sleazy doctor to perform the necessary surgery.

Grace and subtlety aren’t Soozandeh’s strengths. The film can clunk when infusing its serious material with comedy. Some of the more dramatic developments feel heavy-handed.

But the movie, which touches on everything from divorce to porn to abortion to illegal satellite dishes, is socially substantial and highly enjoyable female-focused adult-geared animated entertainment.

The animation style — in which actors are filmed, and drawing is placed over the footage — isn’t of the caliber seen in Richard Linklater’s “Waking Life” or the 2016 documentary “Tower,” but it has produced thoroughly believable characters.

There are numerous worthy moments, some joyful and some unusually tragic for animated fare.

The presence of the morality police generates impressive suspense. The altar-bound Donya, knowing that any freedom she has enjoyed is about to vanish, is touching when she takes a photograph without her headscarf.

Expect to find contagious the camaraderie shared by Sara and Pari, the latter of whom is a wise, life-embracing, wonderful character.

Tehran Taboo
Three stars
Starring: Elmira Rafizadeh, Zara Amir Ebrahimi, Arash Marandi, Negar Mona Alizadeh
Written and directed by: Ali Soozandeh
Not rated
Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes

Leslie Katz

San Francisco Examiner’s arts and entertainment editor Leslie Katz has been assigning, editing and/or writing news stories about the Bay Area’s rich cultural scene since 1997. Reach her at (415) 359-2727 or

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