Art And Culture

Berlin Honoree ‘Dressage’ Dramatizes Moral Dilemma

Berlin Honoree ‘Dressage’ Dramatizes Moral Dilemma
Berlin Honoree ‘Dressage’ Dramatizes Moral Dilemma

Director Pooya Badkoobeh’s debut dramatizes the moral dilemma and class divisions a young woman faces after getting mixed up in a robbery, Variety film critic Alissa Simon wrote in a review on the Iranian film ‘Dressage’ that received Special Mention at the Generation 14plus section of the 68th Berlin International Film Festival (aka Berlinale) during Feb. 15-25.

The review further said it’s an ethical tale for a new era, wherein the youth drama powerfully illustrates the consequences of growing social divisions within contemporary Iranian society and indicts a middle and upper class that have lost their moral center.

Badkoobeh’s debut feature centers on an alienated teen, from a family of modest means, who breaks with her group of wealthier, amoral peers after they all commit a thrill-seeking crime.

The action takes place in Mehr-Shahr, a green suburb of Karaj, west of Tehran, where fancy private villas mingle with the apartment blocks of the less well-off. Pretty, stubborn and not especially likeable Golsa (played by Negar Moqaddam) is the only child of middle-class professionals (Ali Mosaffa and Shabnam Moqaddami) who want to give her more opportunities than they ever had, including the chance to ride at a local stable.

Although Golsa’s parents maintain that they want the best for her, the nuclear family barely interacts. Dinners are silent affairs, followed by time in front of the television.

Golsa is so tuned out of her sterile home life that she is constantly depicted wearing earphones to listen to music and cut out the drab reality, as well as that teen essential, the cellphone. She comes and goes without her parents knowing her friends or where she is headed.

  Bad Company

Leaving the house whenever possible, Golsa hangs out with a group of spoiled, privileged classmates who look down on her family background.

One night, out of boredom, they all rob a small grocery store. After injuring the Afghan clerk (Lotfollah Seifi), they forget to remove the security camera footage that could incriminate them. The gang, particularly the spineless bully Amir (Yasna Mirtahmasb), son of the richest man in town, forces Golsa to go retrieve it.

Smarting from hurt pride at the way her so-called friends turned on her, but also, slowly, feeling some pricks of conscience, Golsa hides the camera footage at the dressage stables. Her refusal to destroy it or hand it over to the gang escalates the tensions between them and between her and her family.

The screenplay by Hamed Rajabi (whose own directing debut ‘A Minor Leap Down’ was screened at the Berlinale in 2015) comes out of, but also contrasts with, the tradition of cinematic moral tales of Iran.

The main protagonist is far more antihero than sympathetic. She functions as the outsider who exposes the shallow, materialistic values of her friends, their parents and even her own mother and father. But without a friend or family member with whom she is willing to discuss her moral quandary, this headstrong character winds up making many mistakes that damage the lives of those less well off than her.

Golsa is almost always on the move and the stable is the one place where she feels happy and at ease. Unafraid to feature unlikable characters, director Badkoobeh harnesses Golsa’s sullen, restless energy to keep the film compelling.



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