AAAFF 2015: “Atomic Heart”: a review

“Atomic Heart” by Ali Ahmadzadeh is an Iranian film centered around two late somethings whose night of partying and hanging out in the streets of Tehran takes a dark turn when they find themselves in debt to a stranger who may literally be the Devil.

This surreal road film is absolutely sensational and is made to thrill as it takes the viewer right to the edge of what is and is not reality.

This film centers around Arineh (Taraneh Alidoosti) and Nobahar (Pegah Ahangarani), two young women with wild hair and a complete disregard for road laws as they drunkenly ride the streets of Tehran. During their usual route home driving the wrong way down a one-way street after a long night partying, they run into their friend Kami (Mehrdad Sedighiyan) who is walking along the side of the road. He hopes in after the berate him over walking in the pollution and they dive to a hillside to look at a view over the city as they talk about irrelevant things like the history behind western toilets. Soon he tells them of a dream where he looks for a light for his cigarette when a nuclear bomb dropped in the middle of Tehran and the flames of the blast lit his cigarette. This nightmare soon sets the mood for the dark turn this film takes soon after.

This nonsensical fun shifts after the girls end up in a car accident while again driving the wrong way down a one way street. Wanting to settle this manner before the police show up but not having any money to pay the man they hit, they let a suave stranger, Toofan (Mohammad Reza Golzar), pick up the bill. He is gone as quick as he came until he shows up later asking for help since they are indebted to him. He hops in the back seat and leads them down a dark and dangerous path with filled with dead dictators, parallel universes, and no way out.

Photo courtesy of www.berlinale.de
Photo courtesy of www.berlinale.de

The acting in the film is superb, especially that of Golzar who commanding portrayal of Toofan becomes more and more manic as the film goes on until it’s absolutely suffocating. While this film deserves the attention of film academics in order dissect all its hidden messages and commentary, this character especially lead me on a fruitless search for an academic analysis of this film in order to try to understand this character. While many have simply labeled him as being the Devil, I suspect that due to some political aspects of the film that he may be representing something closer to home.

Even though the film mostly takes place in a car, visually this film is electrifying. The use of color especially was interesting with the film beginning with warmer colors which instantly cool with the entrance of Toofan. The witty dialogue is also something to marvel in this film especially since it expresses much of the divide between the youth and the establishment. For example, they run into a police officer who accuses them of being Satanists for being unmarried and for listening to “Satan’s music.”

Photo courtesy of www.berlinale.de
Photo courtesy of www.berlinale.de

The only place this film fails is in its ending. The director decided to take a Sopranos approach to the ending and simply cut to black leaving the audience with no resolve. This dissatisfaction in the ending was evident when there was a long silence as the credits began to roll that remained until the lights in the theater went up signaling that the movie was really over.  The stakes were just way high to cut to black. This is a case where cutting to black and letting the audience decide on the characters’ fate and the fate of reality as we know it was just a lazy cop out rather than anything insightful.

While I can almost guarantee that anyone watching this film will be disappointed by the ending, the journey there is more than worth a watch. Not only is this film’s otherworldly and thrilling storyline like something I’ve never seen before, but this film is also a good glimpse into Iranian cinema. As an American, it’s rare to come across a view of Iran that isn’t through a Western lens, so it’s important to take a glance at a country and culture from the view of its own people.

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