Tuesday, 7 October 2014

REVIEW - MANUSCRIPTS DON'T BURN (MOHAMMAD RASOULOF)


In cloistered cars and apartments, buried in anonymous city streets in a Tehran drained of its character, reside the solemn figures whose existences are so oppressed by the regime under which they struggle. Some experience prosperity, and rage against the privileges they are denied; others graft day and night to achieve it, serving a state that refuses to recognise their need to be served in return. Mohammad Rasoulof's Manuscripts Don't Burn is a pointed drama, its pointedness enhanced by its relevance, and its sensibilities are strong, but it is an inert piece of cinema. His sole argument is made convincingly, yet undermined by curious characterisation choices which straddle a border between realism and theatricality with unease, when ideally they might be permitted to perform their purposes within Rasoulof's polemic. Though his decision to present the potential antagonists as the very opposite, subversively querying how we might act in their position, with so few options, is admirable, to present the intellectuals with whom they are juxtaposed as a collection of overly-verbose, bumbling, ineffectual fantasists dilutes the potency of his message. One suspects, given the screenplay's didacticism, that Rasoulof did not intend to belittle these men nor their cause, but he does just that. It has the unintentional effect of rendering Manuscripts Don't Burn as an examination of the origins and the outcomes of futility in a society at the cruel behest of an unjust political system, a quality that inspires little more than respect in the viewer, between bouts of boredom, but it's an interesting case nonetheless. Would that Rasoulof were not so keen to befuddle and belabour his points - only increasing the boredom, and not to such idiosyncratic ends - Manuscripts Don't Burn would be a leaner, stronger essay piece from an artist with a little too much to say, in this instance.