This film was viewed at the 49th Seattle International Film Festival
Synopsis: Iman and his family flee Iran and try to establish a home in Sweden. However, Iman's return to the sport of wrestling begins to uncover his mysterious past, bringing his family into a world of danger and betrayal.
Last year I raved about the introductory 15 minutes or so of All Quiet on the Western Front and how it was an intense, gripping beginning to an incredible film. Well, fast forward to this weekend at the SIFF and I got a very similar feel out of the beginning five minutes of Opponent. Milad Alami's written and directed feature film thrusts your body into the back your chair with a breakneck speed introduction of Iman (Payman Maadi) sprinting from some unseen enemy. Multiple paranoid peeks over his shoulder and ultimately, hiding behind a tree reveal he is avoiding being seen by a number of people. As one man speaks up, Iman runs over and viciously beats him into silence.
And so it begins.
What transpires after this incredible set of events is a 119 minute marvel of a film. Alami's writing and direction gives you enough to keep you hooked, while not decoding his entire message or plot.
Throughout the film you're guessing at who Iman was running away from, why he was running away, and who is this person he beat to terribly? After this violent bout, Iman and his family escape from their home in Iran and flee to Sweden. Living as refugees in a refugee hotel, he and his family are searching tirelessly for ways to become Swedish citizens and build roots in their new home. Along with his wife Maryam (Marall Nasiri) and two young daughters, the fear of being sent back to Iran is apparent across the whole family with the reason to fear being a mystery to the viewer.
Alami's script has moments throughout the film where little pieces of information are revealed to us. Illuminating the dark pits of Iman's past and resulting in clarity to his family's situation. Of course, each morsel of information sews more doubt into our mind into Iman's intentions especially with joining the wrestling club in an effort to wrestle for Sweden to get citizenship for his family. Not to mention, outside of Alami's writing, his direction is astounding.
Our first glimpse into Sweden is this beautiful landscape shot, focusing on a wolf prowling in the snow. The symbolism of the wolf throughout the film is a changing idea of what we think is after Iman and his family and what fate this may bring. What predator is out there searching for Iman's family? As Iman continues to get mysterious calls, he begins to lash out demanding to be left alone. But his subtle lies to his wife alters our belief in what's really at play here.
Thomas (Björn Elgerd), one of Iman's wrestling teammates, mentions that the wolf prowling about will soon be shot. Is this an indication that Iman will soon be safe? Or is there a shift in our perception of who the predator is and is Iman actually in more danger in Sweden than we expected?
Aside from the wolf the artistry and intricate writing of Iman being a professional wrestler is jaw-dropping. An escape from Iran, traveling far from his unknown enemies to Sweden to create distance between them, only to return to a sport that possibly got him in trouble in the first place. Maryam protests Iman's decision to return to wrestling by referencing past events, but he does so anyways. Engaging in a sport where proximity to one's opponent is required is an amazing juxtaposition to Iman's predicament - a phenomenal source of tension.
As the wolf closes in on Iman, he does too with his wrestling opponents.
Ultimately, all is revealed in an astounding way. The viewer is given all the clarity they might need yet the pacing is perfectly executed. Like I mentioned, the film is 119 minutes in duration but never feels long as you're transfixed on Iman's situation along with feeling attached, empathetic to his family.
In the back half of the film Alami slips in a dream sequence that is as beautiful as it is gutting. After all the trials and tribulations, the deception and mystery, to have such a heartwarming moment be ripped away as we see it's a dream is downright amazing filmmaking.
Overall Alami's writing and directing are fantastic and are brought to another higher dimension by Maadi's outrageously good performance. He's subtle, powerful, vulnerable and- I'm not quite sure what other adjectives I should use other than saying I adored his performance. One of, if not the best, I've seen at the SIFF thus far!
Taking place in the frigid snowscape of Sweden, a cold IPA is the proper refreshment to have in hand. As Iman flies through the cold frozen forest, immerse yourself in the setting through a nice sip of Lucky Envelope Brewing's Ice to Meet You Cold IPA!
A collaborative beer with Vice Beer in Vancouver Washington, the Ice to Meet You is a wonderful balance of the classic IPA citrusy bitterness along with the malt profile of the lager yeast used in brewing it. What you get is a symphony of flavor and complexity unlike other Cold IPA's you may have had. The Cold IPA may be living a double life, attempting to have one foot in the IPA world and one in the Lager world, much like Iman, but the end result is stupendous. Enjoy this refreshing beverage while watching what was my favorite film out of the Seattle International Film Festival!