Director Pooya Badkoobeh’s first feature is an absorbing coming-of-age story about a complacent teenager who, like a fine dressage horse, has been protected from the realities of life.
Golsa (Negar Moghaddam) hangs with a wealthy, morally indolent group of teens. The film begins as they are escaping, exhilarated, after robbing a supermarket. Their smug sense of accomplishment soon disappears as they realise that no one took the CCTV footage from the shop. Golsa is bullied into returning for it, mainly by self-appointed leader Amir (Yasna Mirtahmasb). The next day she hides the tape in the stables where she goes to help groom a dressage horse. She refuses to give the tape to Amir and so begins an escalating series of events where those around her try to force her to comply.
Moghaddam’s Golsa reminded me of the characterisation of Sofia in Benm’Barek’s movie Sofia (2018). Throughout the film, her face is an impassive mask, hiding from all around her what she is feeling. The only time her countenance breaks is at the stables, with her beloved horse or Milad (Baset Rezaei), the stable hand who is one of the few who doesn’t try to coerce her.
What is slowly revealed is Golsa’s gradual realisation of her place in the world, as a woman and also as a child of middle-class parents. I admire her stoicism and refusal to relinquish her power. It says a lot, I think, about who Golsa is as a person.
The story is well paced and there are some lovely cinematic touches – the blue wall in her room, the sunlit stable, the early morning light through the grass. The secondary characters are convincing, particularly Ali Mosaffa as Golsa’s father, Loffollah Seifi as Norooz, the Afghan supermarket worker, and Amir, who you can imagine becoming just like his father in time.
Overall, an accomplished drama and I look forward to seeing what Badkoobeh comes up with next.
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