Director Niki Karimi tackles Iran’s sociopolitical and gender issues in this brave, incredibly relevant film set against the 2010 World Cup. Presented on a print that crackles and fizzes, Final Whistle may follow a couple at the forefront of their own technical revolution, but the vintage glaze portrays the themes in hand as genuine concerns for the ages.
Sahar (Niki Karimi) and husband Mazdak (Shahab Hosseini) have put hard-hitting, important films on the backburner in favour of commercial work to secure a brand new home in a much sought-after, up-and-coming neighbourhood. While working on her latest film, Sahar becomes tangled up in the life of one of her actresses, Malineh, whose mother is facing death for murdering her husband.
Desperate to raise the Diyya (compensation for the victim’s family that would see her released), Malineh’s plight soon affects Sahar to the point of questioning her need to pay such a large deposit for her dream house. Already battling the system’s rules at work (forced reshoots due to the sensitivity of filming a suicide scene), the director realises her privileged, celebrity position should be used for the greater good – no matter how much it frustrates her husband.
An almost comic juxtaposition is witnessed as Sahar and Mazdak discuss life-changing situations in their dressing gowns. But this, along with the backdrop of the 2010 World Cup, anchors Karimi’s third feature in reality. Their loving, jokey relationship also boasts a rare (and very refreshing) example of a hardworking husband existing somewhat in his wife’s shadow; though the need for him to sign the papers on their flat makes it clear that this is still very much a man’s world.
Though not completely blind to Malineh’s hardship, Mazdak favours her as the subject of a documentary rather than interfering. But Sahar’s opposite, almost maternal approach (the couple are childless, something that is never explored) slowly drives a wedge between the pair. Directed by and starring Karimi, her role appears to be a personal stream of consciousness woven into the narrative to question both the media’s responsibilities regarding their subjects, as well as deeper, underlying issues the country needs to address.
Flipping from busy roads to relaxed living room settings, Final Whistle is paced just right aside from a few stumbles in a slightly mopey third act that also sees some of Malineh’s hysterics verge on soap opera territory. But it also showcases moments of pure magic, most notably in a light-dappled scene filled with talk of rape that is totally at odds with the subject at hand.
Final Whistle understandably takes itself rather seriously, aside from comic grace notes delivered by lovesick, Bruce Lee-obsessed scooter driver, Moradi. Its central character’s committed directorial nature is shared by the woman playing her, but the film never delivers its expected political gut punch. Sahar desperately wants to construct something that successfully addresses Iranian politics: Karimi has, for the most part, achieved her character’s dream.