Have you ever wondered what types of short films catch the eye of Canadian filmmakers? When they’re not busy making a short film, which ones are they watching? This week’s guest post by Katy Swailes should shed some light on these questions. Katy was recently invited to screen the short films to be shown at the Jayu Human Rights Film Festival, which runs from December 10th to the 13th in Toronto. One narrative short is screening at the festival, and Katy has kindly shared her exclusive review with Short Film Fan.
More than Two Hours – a short film with big impact
The short film form often lends itself to the funny, the satirical, and the downright absurd. But once in a while a narrative film comes along with a tough story to tell—and a big issue to tackle—and ventures to do it in fifteen minutes or less.
Bishtar az do saat (More than Two Hours) is one of those films. From Iranian director Ali Asgari, the Persian-language film follows a nameless young couple as they drive around Tehran at 3 a.m., looking for a hospital that will treat the young woman (Shahrzad Ghasemi). They’ve committed the crime of premarital sex—punishable in Iran by lashes, imprisonment, or worse—and the woman requires surgery to stop excessive bleeding. But without proof of marriage, no hospital will admit her; so they find themselves back in the car, desperate and alone.
Beautifully executed by Asgari, the film is a slice of Iranian life that paints a tragic picture of a complex issue. Pre-marital sex is on the rise in Iran, where more than half of the population is under the age of the 35, and young adults are increasingly choosing to delay marriage. In More than Two Hours, lead actors Ghasemi and Taha Mohammadi (who co-wrote the screenplay with Asgari) are entirely believable as the young couple caught in the tension between hardline policies, family pressure, and a new wave of youth rebellion. Strained exchanges and nuanced looks, combined with the careful subtleties of the dialogue, draw you into the characters’ shared ordeal, and offer insight into their individual conflicts.
The story moves primarily between two settings—from the quiet intimacy of the car, to the cold starkness of hospital rooms, where the woman is barred from a potentially life-saving operation because she is unwed. In one such scene, the young man argues with the hospital clerk about the woman’s lack of options, while the woman sits, slightly out of focus, silent in the background. She has lost her virginity and her parents must know, the female clerk insists, matter-of-factly. The message is clear—decisions about her body are not hers to make. She has no voice in this discussion.
The tension comes to a head in the final moments of the film. Confined to the car, the couple has exhausted all options and face the reality of having to tell her parents. In an especially emotional and powerful moment, the young woman says something most young girls have uttered, at least once or twice: “My father will kill me!”
“It’s better than dying like this,” her boyfriend fires back, underlining the literalness of her comment, and the grave consequences for women when female virginity is considered a measure of worth.
The ending is all the more heartbreaking—and affecting—in its utter lack of drama. It’s a reminder that this small story about two young Iranians represents thousands more, nameless, silently slipping away into the night.
More than Two Hours premiered at Cannes in 2013 where it competed for the Palm d’Or for Best Short Film. The film has gone on to receive more than 20 awards and has played at festivals around the world. Audiences in Toronto can see it this Saturday, December 12, as part of the Jayu Human Rights Film Festival at Bloor Cinema. The festival opens Thursday on International Human Rights Day. Schedule and tickets at Jayu.ca
Katy Swailes is an independent filmmaker and an associate producer with CBC Radio. Follow her on Twitter @katyswailes.