Of Faded Memories
Hamseyeh, First Films World Competition
by Elizabeth Johnston
Women often bear the burden of childrearing and community-building while men absent themselves physically or emotionally. In Hamseyeh (The Neighbor), this universal phenomenon, and much more, is explored from the perspective of Iranian immigrants in Vancouver.
The film opens with grainy home movies of a woman wearing a hijab, walking dusty, empty streets, watering the garden, or pushing her way through gossamer sheers. It’s a low-budget aesthetic that suits the themes of dislocation and isolation explored so poignantly by first-time American writer and director, Naghmeh Shirkhan.
Shirin, a single, middle-aged Canadian woman, watches the television as the muted pastels of faded memories fill her small, starkly-lit apartment. At the same time, she listens to the many phone messages from her mother, in California, complaining in Farsi that Shirin never calls or visits. Meanwhile, the old woman in the home videos proffers clichés: “Life is short; so be happy.” It’s advice that Shirin doesn’t follow very well.
After an unsatisfying rendezvous in an expensive hotel with her long-distance lover, Shirin pulls into her parking space in front of a non-descript apartment building. A woman’s pair of stiletto boots appears in the rear view mirror. Shirkhan’s eye for detail is precise and economical in this framing. The boots are tiny in the mirror, almost an afterthought, but they foreshadow that sexualized Leila will walk into Shirin’s life and change it.
Later in the apartment hallway, Shirin introduces herself to Leila in Farsi. The young woman clearly wants nothing to do with her neighbour from across the hall. But, when Shirin realizes that Leila has a young daughter, Parisa, that she leaves alone while she goes out, Shirin finds herself unable to mind her own business.
Once Leila realizes that Shirin is willing to look after her daughter, she takes advantage of this kindness to hang out with Randy, a young, blond folksinger who considers Parisa unnecessary baggage. But at the coffee house, everyone sings songs Leila doesn’t know and drinks Sleeman’s beer while Leila drinks a Stella beer. The difference in beer choice says it all about the native/foreigner dichotomy that both Leila and Shirin seem to be caught within.
Even though both women have grown up in the West, they paradoxically live lives limited by their culture. Neither here nor there, they are mired in a no-man’s land. Indeed, the landscape is curiously lacking in male figures that are there for anything other than sex. Director Shirkhan cleverly conveys this lack of commitment in two separate shots that show both Randy and Shirin’s lover sleeping soundly after sex while the women remain awake and worried.
Abandoned by men and unable to integrate in either the immigrant Iranian or the mainstream Canadian communities, both women struggle with the grand question of how to be happy when the richness of life seems denied them. It’s a testament to Shirkhan that she doesn’t give any easy answers in this film. Instead, she lets the images speak for themselves: Shirin’s expressive face shaped by years of unrequited dreams; Leila’s gaze set on some faraway place; and then Parisa, with her insatiable appetite for Cheerios, dress-up, and her mother.
Note: This film is in Farsi and some English with French subtitles only. However, an intermediate understanding of written French should be sufficient to enjoy the film.
First Films World Competition
HAMSEYEH , 2010 / Colour / 104 min, Dir. Naghmeh Shirkhan, Canada – United States.
August 28, 2010 • 19:20 • CINÉMA QUARTIER LATIN 17 • L17.28.5
August 29, 2010 • 12:20 • CINÉMA QUARTIER LATIN 17 • L17.29.2
August 30, 2010 • 17:00 • CINÉMA QUARTIER LATIN 17 • L17.30.4
August 31, 2010 • 14:50 • CINÉMA QUARTIER LATIN 17 • L17.31.3