Every structure is organized on acts of exclusion but what is repressed and excluded does not disappear but always returns to unsettle every construction. - Jacques Derrida
The Green Wave (2010) by Ali Samadi Ahadi is a poignant documentary that chronicles with urgency and displacing sincerity the unfolding dramatic events of the Iranian elections of 2009. The film shapes itself around several audiovisual and narrative genres. Within the basic structure of a classic documentary that uses a series of interviews, we also find animation, bites of cellphone videos, blog entries and tweets. These elements introduce powerful self-narratives against the backdrop of violence and hope during the days before and after the elections. The confessional tone is both moving and urgent; digging deep into the bites of cries released on the web by the people, the director creates an effective and delicate space for the viewer to get in touch with the violent universe of those dramatic days.
The vantage point created by these un-homogenous materials render the horror and the brutality of the Basij in an ever more displaced manner. Within a context of a claustrophobic sense of hopelessness, the movie juxtaposes its gentle touch to the horror of torture and death. It is here that the movie comes to life and finds its strength, in juxtaposing these two things that are ostensibly not in dialogue, giving us a point of entry into the enigma of senseless brutality and by extension inviting us to face our own responsibilities. Ali Samadi Ahadi succeeds in this domino effect. It gives us a breathless dirty story, pieced together in visual and narrative fragments and nails us where we are. We are left trying to make sense of these bites of suffering and loss of a “nation that has been searching for its lost voice for a 150 years” as the narrator announces early on. A deep pain that asks to be touched and felt and in this sense breaking the distance that the multiplication of information, especially on the web, seems to create. The documentary engages in a sort of philology-archeology of disappearance; going deep in the web and bringing back to life little pieces of poor quality video, tweets and blogs. Ali Samadi Ahadi thus counter-intuitively fights back the numbness and anonymity of the overload of information found on the internet using the very familiar tools of the web. Editing together whispers and cries he opens an effective space of reflection fighting the drama of forgetfulness pulling us into a short circuit made of torture and hope where the texture of dreaming coincides with life itself.
The tender beginning permeates the movie and carries on with a gentle introspection that echoes the intimacy of Japanese manga while all along addressing the brutality and ferocity of power. The movie opens with its beautiful animation that introduces a series of intense reflections and self-examinations and by extension becomes the drum of the film, beating the tempo to the other audiovisual materials; it is here that the movie succeeds with grace in the arduous task of releasing us into the opening of a genuine space of compassion.
Here many critics missed the point, some like the Hollywood Reporter, painfully underlined the lack of new information (“An arresting visual style cannot make up for lack of new information or viewpoints about the Green Revolution in 2009 Iran”) missing completely the point of the film and by extension of what it means to make a documentary today, again in an era of stuffed and overwhelming information. It is the intimacy of experience, the actual quest to understand as opposed to explain that opens up the vital sense of awareness, a deep and compassionate awareness that is a key tool to unlock not only the meaning of isolation of the Iranian Green Revolution but the meaning itself of pain. In this sense, the tears of helplessness of a young man in exile with his crude realization become emblematic and displacing: I get out in the streets on Saturday and I see people my age and I wonder: do they know? Do they even know where Iran is?
The film seems to be a scream coming out of the void of failed hopes. Politically grounded into the essence of human rights beyond the larger movements of politics, it digs deep into the tentative to retrieve the unshakable humanity of hope. This documentary does not offer the sterile awareness of facts but the inner movements of historical consciousness, the choice-less awareness of the daily experience of oppression as a first, if shaky, bridge to freedom.
As viewers we are left with the painful mantra of a blogger, haunted by our own void when confronted by it:
Where is this place? Where is this place where every door is closed? Where is this place where people are simply calling God? Where is this place where the sound of Allah-o Akbar gets louder and louder?
I wait every night to see if the sounds will get louder and whether the number increases. It shakes me. I wonder if God is shaken.
Where is this place that where so many innocent people are entrapped? Where is this place where no one comes to our aid? Where is this place that only with our silence we are sending our voices to the world? Where is this place that the young shed blood and then people go and pray -- standing on that same blood and pray. Where is this place where the citizens are called vagrants?
Where is this place? You want me to tell you? This place is Iran. The homeland of you and me.
This place is Iran.
Flavio Rizzo has a Ph.D in Comparative Literature from the City University of New York and an Italian Laurea in Cinema Studies. He is also a filmmaker. His latest work was a documentary on the Coca Wars in Bolivia.