Rakhshan Banietemad’s film in competition is notable for a number of a reasons. She is one of the few female directors in competition and  she is Iranian, having made Ghesseha after a self-imposed cinematic exile of eight years. This decision came from a refusal to deal with the various ministerial offices in order to gain permission to film. To sidestep this, she came up with a brilliant idea: make a bunch of short films that require no ministerial intervention and piece them together to create a feature. The result is an intelligent and highly watchable movie.

Ghesseha follows various stories that are all interlinked, the first a taxi ride involving a filmmaker home in Iran after years abroad, determined to make a film in his homeland whilst knowing he is going to come up against numerous bureaucratic hurdles. His cab driver drops him off, only to pick up a woman, obviously on the run from a troubled domestic situation, her feverish child in tow. From here we meet the cab driver’s mother, a woman who recently lost her factory job and is seeking compensation whilst simultaneously trying to get her other son out of jail, where he’s been imprisoned for a year for his outspokenness. And so we go on around the city, meeting factory workers and drug addicts, army veteran doctors and university dropouts, their lives intertwined often without them realising it.

Many of the tales touch on contemporary Iranian life and the audience gets to see a women’s shelter for drug users. We see the effects of Iran’s skyrocketing inflation and the emasculation of the many unemployed men who now rely on their wives’ income, a situation so much harder to swallow in this patriarchal state. We learn of the increased drug use amongst the young and realize that the problems of many modern Iranians are those faced by Westerners but with an extra topping of Islamic dictatorship.

Banietemad has created an eminently watchable movie, thanks to the generosity of her crew and cast, many of them working for free and two of the female leads rushing to film their parts before being banned from working. Against the odds, this director has produced a film with high production values and has garnered some great performances from her actors. In a nice twist, some of the characters in Tales are from the director’s previous films, showing how life goes on even for fictitious characters.

The final scene of two potential lovers arguing with each other as they transport an attempted suicide back to her sheltered housing is the highlight of the film: as the two bicker, with the girl finally confronting the guy as the suicide girl – all red bandages up her arm – groans in the background, we realise that this is not just a political film about people going about their daily lives, fighting for justice against an indifferent and Byzantine state, it is a film about human interaction, about relationships and about love.