Admittedly not a huge film nut, I Am Nasrine managed to pass me by for quite a while. Or maybe I passed it by? Anyway, I went down to the film’s first performance in South Shields – parts of which form the background to the plot – to see what it was all about.
Set in the summer preceding 9/11 (it’s difficult to say that and not instantly arouse certain connotations, many of them unhelpful, but the early Noughties timeframe feels more and more apt as the film progresses) I Am Nasrine tells the story of brother and sister Nasrine and Ali, Iranian refuges seeking new lives in Britain after Nasrine is punished and sexually harassed by the local police for riding gleefully, freely, on the back of a boyfriend’s moped. After recrimination from not just the law, but their stern father, Nasrine and Ali are ordered to leave Tehran, to avoid future confrontation. The action and setting then very swiftly moves – an assertive, smart decision on director Tina Gharavi’s part – allowing the authoritative father figure and what could have been more simplistically-rendered power dynamics between the state and the individual, to recede, ultimately giving room for what feels to me a far fresher narrative.
The contrast between the busy-ness of Tehran, somehow captured liberally and humbly in the opening sequence, is quickly contrasted with a very different vista: that of post-industrial Tyneside. I’m about as far away from a cinematographer as you could get, but I appreciate aesthetics and I know when I see them done well. The shift in colours, tones and lighting between the departure scene – which, for reasons of both texture and narrative, reminded me of the scene in Star Wars when R2-D2 and C-3PO trek through the deserts of Tatooine – are superbly weighted against the dull greys, browns and greens of Nasrine and Ali’s first glimpse of the North East. Rarely does the region look so alien; the Angel of the North so…well, angelic!
I Am Nasrine is a film about exile: about starting again, and again. But it doesn’t burden the viewer with that knowledge, nor does it make us feel guilty. Dealing as it does with some classic Daily Mail fodder – immigration, refuge, travellers, homosexuality, race, ‘yobs’, the list is not short – the film, to play on a lot of its sumptuous equine imagery, takes us to the water, but it doesn’t ask us to drink. It doesn’t even ask us if we’re thirsty.
I Am Nasrine is concerned with snatches of lives; lives on the periphery; lives that could cave in and lives bursting at the seams with potential. If it has a flaw, it is that its ambition, its scope of vision in showing us so many of these things, is not fully realised in its hour and a half running time. The sub-plot, about Ali meeting and falling in love with another man – which in itself felt like it could have been another, equally interesting 90 minute feature film – ends up being a little marginalised. Perhaps this was Gharavi’s intention, I’m not sure; it could be argued that the film broadly is about marginalisation, but I really wanted more of this: the scene in which Ali and Tommy lust after each other at the fairground is superb – so accurate, so tender, so true.
That the film only tangentially deals with 9/11 is a huge relief. Films like Zero Dark Thirty, which feel so sentamericanal, [not sure that one will catch on, Jake] they almost hit you over the head with the constitution, are very much not what this film is about; certainly not in a post-9/11 narrative sense. In fact, the only overt 9/11 scene, in which Ali watches the twin towers smoking away on a tiny TV in the corner of a shop, is more than enough. It is what follows this, and I won’t spoil the rest of the plot, which allow us, as intelligent, emotional viewers, to more realistically engage with some of the vast nuances and stigmas that still pervade the lives of those who are even vaguely connected with the Middle East.
Instances of humility and humanity like this are to be found throughout I Am Nasrine: heartfelt sketches of ordinary lives – sometimes genuinely ordinary lives (Nichole isn’t an actress) – and characters rubbing up against each other, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse, to remind us that we are all still trying to figure this whole thing called ‘life’ out.
I Am Nasrine was recently nominated for a BAFTA, which it ultimately lost out on to The Imposter, but it is scheduled for wider distribution in June and the DVD is available to pre-order. I urge you to try and see it. Take a deeks at www.iamnasrine.com for more