KVIFF 2023: Iranian Love Story ‘Empty Nets’ by Behrooz Karamizade
by Alex Billington
July 9, 2023
There are a growing number of compelling, young Iranian filmmakers that are reinvigorating and rethinking Iranian cinema. It’s exactly what Iranian cinema needs now, and I’m glad they’re making such interesting films. They’re also films that I’m happy to talk about and recommend, which is vital to their success outside of film festivals. One of the most well known is Panah Panahi, son of Jafar Panahi, who won over everyone with his feature debut Hit the Road (from Cannes 2021). One of the next new filmmakers to make his mark is Behrooz Karamizade, who was born in Iran but moved away with his parents, eventually growing up in Germany. His feature directorial debut is an Iranian love story film called Empty Nets, which premiered at the 2023 Karlovy Vary Film Festival in the Crystal Globe Competition section this summer. It tells a tragic story, as usual for Iran, about how painfully harsh and unrelenting society is there. The characters even talk about this at one point, but they still try so hard to live the best life they can & focus on what really matters.
In Empty Nets, what matters is the love between two youngsters. Hamid Reza Abbasi stars as Amir, and he’s in love with a young Iranian woman named Narges, played by Sadaf Asgari. We don’t get to see how they fell in love, but that doesn’t matter. Their chemistry in the first few scenes is off the charts. It’s uplifting to see, especially in an Iranian film where this is usually taboo. It’s so wonderfully believable and palpable, I was actually wondering if they’re together in real life outside of the film and the director chose them because they are perfect on camera, too. Whatever the case, they’re deeply and madly in love and they seem perfect for each other. Alas, Amir is poor and doesn’t have a good job, and Narges’ family only cares about money and finding a wealthy husband for her. This is where the story begins its downward spiral. Amir, desperate for any job that pays well, decides to work for a sketchy fishing company. His boss is an asshole, but there’s not much he can do. He dives in and starts working and loses himself in this world of greedy men. At least his co-worker Omid, played by Keyvan Mohammadi, is a good guy and tries to keep his head above water.
What started to bother me is the score, credited to three different people: Saba Alizadeh, John Gürtler, Jan Miserre. It’s actually a really lovely score, but it’s laced with such tragedy and endlessly somber sounds that I knew something bad was going to happen. Even during the love scenes at the beginning, the score would kick in with ominous “just wait until something ruins this beautiful relationship” vibes. It’s uber-depressing because I wanted to watch a film that finally had some hope to it, that finally leaned more on optimism than pessimism. Too many Iranian films are so gloomy they’re hard to watch, and by the end it feels so hopeless that I wonder why even tell this story. What does it change? What’s the point? Yes, for sure, it’s bad in Iran and oppressive, and revealing this is important. But so much tragedy and little positivity doesn’t encourage the optimism that is needed to build a better world. This film creeps closer and closer to that point, then jumps in full on and never turns back. Hope gets tossed overboard and it makes the rest of the film so sad…
It’s tough to talk about this film, because I really want to praise it and recommend it. However, the ending is just so downbeat and tragic it wiped out all my good feelings. I would love to recommend half of this film, the first half, to see what a beautiful relationship can look like in Iran. And yes, of course, they need to work through the challenges that are a part of Iranian society and arranged marriages and greedy people (be they fishermen or parents). However, it would be so much more fulfilling and surprising and refreshing to watch them spin this back into the realm of hope by the end. Turn that boat around, get it back on the right track. Even if this means it will end up as a “fantasy” that doesn’t align with the reality of life in Iran. I believe this is the optimism in storytelling that can make a difference, that reminds us love conquers all. At least it’s supposed to… The love between Amir and Narges is so powerful that it really could move mountains, topple regimes, and change the world. We just need to make sure that it lasts long enough to make all that a reality.
Alex’s KVIFF 2023 Rating: 7 out of 10
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