By Dennis Schwartz Ozus' World Movie Reviews
In some respects Mohsen Makhmalbaf's fourth feature draws on his youthful experiences as a political activist who was jailed. In this bleak but almost painfully comical look at a leftist terrorist who becomes martyred for a cause he no longer believes in, there's a chance to see how the director became more enlightened because of these experiences.
Mohsen had an uprooted childhood because his father left his second wife, Mohsen's mother, and his mother took him to live with his aunt and grandmother. He got religion from his grandmother (becoming a strict Islamic fundamentalist), learned to read from his aunt, and from his lawyer stepfather absorbed politics. He was soon working as an activist against the Shah's regime. When Mohsen was 17 he attempted to steal a gun from a policeman and in the process stabbed him and was shot. After his arrest, he was interrogated and tortured. Mohsen served a four year jail sentence and was released in 1979. This experience he clearly used in "Boycott," and that plays a major part in understanding the director's continual growth and ability to change. Mohsen has reinvented himself as a director and has since received international acclaim for his unique films, and is the most popular Iranian filmmaker along with Abbas Kiarostami.
The film is a rambling, action-packed Hollywood style (for the most part), surreal and politically motivated thriller--with car chases and shootouts. It seemed like an apology for a youthful error he made in his personal life that didn't have to turn out with a happy ending. Mohsen could have been shot by a firing squad and falsely made into a Marxist hero just as easily as the film's hero was, Valeh (Majid Majidi-a noted director of "The Father"/"Color of Paradise"/"The Children of Heaven"). The director has currently come to be a thorn in the side of the present Iranian regime, as a voice for women's rights and a continual critic of the state's policies and cultural attitude.
The film opens as Valeh's wife Maryam goes into labor and he disappears to carry out a leftist guerrilla operation with his cohorts Ali and Fatima. But the Shah's Secret Police are ready and kill the couple and capture him. Valeh's tortured in his interrogation and hopes to avoid further cruelty by going along with whatever his jailers want of him, but finds he's caught by those on both sides who won't let go of him and he can't find a way out of his dilemma.
The film's power is in its nightmarish presentment of prison life, where the captive is trapped with brutal prisoners and government police officials who both want to capture his soul. The film gets its title when all the political prisoners Valeh was once friendly with completely ignore him, at the request of their leader, for not still being committed to the Marxist party line. Valeh's also troubled by thoughts of leaving his wife and child alone, and only sees her during prison visits--where their phone conversation is secretly monitored.
The film never convincingly showed Valeh as anything but a political lightweight without guts, so when he explains while in prison how naive he was to join the terrorists--it sounds almost laughable when he says: "I fight, therefore I am. But now I doubt whether I really exist, and therefore I don't care to fight."
Not a very good film in Mohsen Makhmalbaf's opus, but still worth a look to see how much he has developed as a filmmaker. This remarkable director born in 1957, now has an international reputation.
Originally Published November 11, 2001
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