Nov 14, 2021
Deana Taheri, Bobbi Johnson
Transplant takes audiences on a metaphorical and metaphysical tour of multi-culturalism and the challenges of belonging, led by its English-Iranian writer and star Deana Taheri and director Vanessa Vivas.
The short follows Mahasti (Taheri) as she navigates various mental states which leave her questioning her own reality. In some she sits across from a therapist (Bobbi Johnson) who bombards her with questions about her personal life and relationships. In others she receives visions of faraway lands, that come to her with a surprisingly familiar feel. Making sense of the montage becomes increasingly stressful, and Mahasti yearns for something that feels like home.
Transplant provides heavy doses of symbolism and visual metaphor which makes it a stimulating watch, but in turn also makes the short seriously inaccessible and difficult to connect to emotionally. The piece is clearly a passion project of Deana Taheri’s, and her personal story and experience of living an international life, torn between cultures, is essential knowledge for viewers. Without this understanding, the film is otherwise barely legible from a storytelling perspective. Cinema should not be bound to hold the hands of audiences at all times, and the very best films usually come from a deeply personal place. But there is also a reasonable expectation that some semblance of story can break through.
It’s a shame Transplant does not really communicate it’s point or it’s heart, because upon understanding it is an interesting portrayal of internal divide. Mahasti’s inability to place herself is a battle even she does not seem to know she is fighting, and the impact on her is well-portrayed by Taheri. The frantic and stressful pace in the therapist’s office contrasts effectively with the relaxed, zen-like calm when imagery of faraway cities and life are overlayed with a controlled and tranquil voiceover. Coming to terms with different homelands and heritages, and therefore coming to terms with yourself, is at the film’s heart – and these techniques relay this brilliantly.
These scenes are further enhanced by excellent use of sound effects such as a throbbing heartbeat from an unknown abyss, or the sharp and piercing sonic strikes that impact the viewer as much as Mahasti. It’s these techniques that grab audience attention and implant them in the protagonist’s place. Director Vanessa Vivas also provides some brilliant visual innovation, and the use of camera placement for example does portray the stories of the scenes well. It is just a shame the story itself could not have knitted together these stimulating scenes a little more accessibly.
The personal story at the heart of Transplant makes it an endearing and admirable short film. It’s just a shame that a creative and innovative project, which clearly puts great value of symbolic storytelling, could not have been a little more coherent with the themes that drive it. Films should intrigue and leave audiences wanting to find out more without leaving them totally perplexed. Transplant is too elusive for its own good, which is a shame as it is well worth the background reading.