Updated: Dec 8, 2020
Directed by: #AliMoazen
Ali Moazen’s short film The Return is a stylistically courageous undertaking. It refrains from all the things that we associate with films - close ups, tracking shots, background score. The Return, through a confident use of minimalism, tells the story of Amir Ali (Mahyar Pourbabaei) who returns to Iran for a short trip after having spent the last seven years in Germany. He visits his old friend Mahyar (Kiarash Dadgar), who lives with his sister Mahsa (Negin Tahamtan) as well as Keivan (Pouyan Fereidooni), an aloof lover who has been dating Mahsa for the last six months but finds himself unable to commit to her.
Rather than a warm reception full of revelry and catch-ups, it’s clear that there’s a fair level of tension, secrecy and nuance between the four characters, which Moazen and cinematographer Soroush Hazrati highlight in the use of a severe, unmoving camera. Each scene consists of only a single, long-enduring shot. This physical deadpan is reminiscent of early Jarmusch and the recent work of Joanna Hogg, in which human interactions, recollections, and departures are all rendered awkward, somewhat cold, somewhat distant. This element of distance is what makes The Return an interesting, albeit imperfect film. Moazen hasn’t taken up time establishing the characters, building up who they were in order to have it contrast with who’ve they’ve become. The secrecy that comes to structure the characters’ relationships seem to place the viewer in a similar place of unnerving distance. In The Return, a reunion is an uncanny experience, where you see friends and family with a mix of familiarity and unfamiliarity (stressed in a scene where Mahyar muses over his relationship with his long-time friend, ‘He’s changed… we’ve been friends for a long time’).
The film’s primary source of interest resides more in Keivan’s mysterious departure (which perhaps eclipses the dramatic stature of Amir Ali’s return). Though Keivan excuses himself on the basis of having to resolve a work issue, his departure is clearly unusual considering that he doesn’t tell anyone he’s leaving apart from Amir Ali, who he barely knows. The viewer is left to speculate over the real nature of his absence. It’s perfectly timed that when Keivan leaves, Mahyar tells his sister that Amir Ali always had a crush on her. After all, The Return seems to focus on the inarticulate nature of relationships - thoughts that are unspoken, perhaps because they’d prove detrimental, and yet despite all this reluctance to communicate, these people share the same space together; the static camera truly supports the unfolding of the film (perhaps a blessing and a curse for Moazen). Conversations continue in the screen’s periphery - we witness phone calls where we don’t know who’s on the other side, and arguments are only half-listened to. Relationships become crippled by this sense of partiality, perhaps obscuring the premise of the film - when Amir Ali returns, it’s not quite clear what he’s returning to.