Hassan Nazer crafts a passionate, meta tribute to the cinema of his native Iran
Dir/scr: Hassan Nazer. UK. 2022. 85 mins.
Scotland-based Hassan Nazer (Utopia) has crafted an homage to the fabled — and persecuted — directors of his native Iran in the decidely meta Winners, a cine-literate piece about an impoverished young boy who stumbles across an Oscar statuette in the dust of remote Padeh Village on the edge of the Kavir desert. The spirits of Jafar Panahi, Majid Majidi and, ultimately, Asghar Farhadi inhabit Winners, literally in some cases. Ostensibly a film in the vein of Cinema Paradiso — which it references on several occasions — this is a curio for cineastes and festivalgoers, especially given the presence of Reza Naji in a lead role.
It may be too much for Nazer to pull off, but it’s certainly valiant and more than a little touching
Outside of Iran, where it would enchant crowds should it ever be shown, those who aren’t familiar with Naji, Majidi’s The Song Of Sparrows (2008), or the Berlin Silver Bear may be cast adrift in the beautifully shot Semnan Province and Tehran. Still, given the imprisonment of so many figures in Iranian cinema, the picture — which was fully financed by Scotland, where Nazer arrived as a refugee in 2000 — is a good reminder of how much their success has meant in their home country. Visually, Winners also harks back to the distinctive work of the Iranian New Wave; to Kiarostami and Makhmalbaf and everyone who came before. One thing is for sure: Nazer, and everyone in his film, loves Iranian cinema.
Winners starts in Tehran, in the back of a cab which is moved along by police as it waits for its occupant to return. She has left an Oscar statuette in the back seat, which, in the post-Trump era, is finally being delivered to its owner. It ends up in the Garmsar post office, where an elderly worker decides to bring it home to his village — Padeh — for the night for some photo opportunities. Unfortunately, a bump in the road means he loses it along the way.
Jump to young Yahya (Parsa Maghami), a refugee from Afghanistan who lives with his widowed mother and is obsessed with cinema. In fact, the very opening scene of Winners involves him watching Panahi’s 2015 Golden Bear-winning Taxi long beyond his bedtime. Obviously he’s destined to find Oscar, but less predictably, Nazer has inserted a subplot where Yahya works scavenging plastic from a huge local dump to be brought to a Fagin-like set-up for cash. Running the scrapyard are Nasser Khan (Sparrows’ lead actor and Silver Bear-winner Naji) and his sidekick Saber (played by Hossein Abedini, who broke through in Majidi’s The Father). The twist is that they really are Naji and Abedini, but in disguise, trying to evade the attention of audiences and the authorities.
This is a whole load of plot, meta or otherwise, over 85 minutes including credits and shot in a remote part of Iran, for a director to take on board. It may be too much for Nazer to pull off, but it’s certainly valiant and more than a little touching. His reverence for his country’s considerable cinematic heritage courses through Winners, right through to the very fabric of his compositions. In particular, there are moments of golden-hour joy in a gang of urchins running through this dust bowl brandishing what looks like colourful pillows in the squinting sun. When it turns out they’re sacks in which to scrounge the plastic rubbish from the dump which dwarves them, he gets his image to stand up with the best of them.
Production companies: Sylph Productions, World Film Productions, Edge City Films
International sales: DigiCult, email@example.com
Producers: Paul Welsh, Nadira Murray
Cinematography: Arash Seifi Jamadi
Production design: Mohammad Mohammadi
Editing: Hassan Nazer, Dave Arthur, Reza Jouze
Music: Mohsen Amini, Mohammad Saeed Shayan
Main cast: Reza Naji, Hossein Abedini, Parsa Maghami, Malalai Zikria, Mahmoud Jafari, Leyla Mohammadkhani