Written by Reem Saleh, New Media, DFI
Film: Flowers of Evil (or ‘Fleurs Du Mal’, the original French title)
Director: David Dusa
Stars: Alice Belaïdi, Rachid Youcef
Genre: Art House, International, Drama
Following the 2009 uprisings that took place in Tehran, Iran, the young Anahita, otherwise referred to as Miss Dalloway (Alice Belaïdi), is forced by her overprotective parents to land in Paris, the “City of Light”. She soon engages in a relationship with Parisian bellhop Gecko (Rachid Youcef), a break-dancer who tries to pull her out of her obsession with social media and YouTube. However, she is not able to fully commit to this love when all she thinks of is the revolutionary movement her friends are part of in her homeland. Gecko is a free man, malleable to all colours of life, while she is imprisoned by the internet videos portraying the actualities that might shape the future of Iran.
We have mentioned social media quite frequently in our reviews lately, so it is not surprising to see a rise in adopting this powerful medium into motion pictures. It is true that sometimes the quality is not what we hope for in terms of clarity, perhaps, but it surely serves the purpose of credibility and style.
There is history in the story. Director David Dusa mixes powerfully real footage of the ‘Green Revolution’ in Iran, which he collected from the Internet, into a fictional love story: one is the consequence of the other. It is not a documentary, or else we will have a counter-opinion. It is the reflection of the ‘Green movement’ through the eyes of Dalloway in a free Paris, versus an oppressed Iran (according to the film).
Dusa also uses opposites in order to highlight friction between characters, identities and cultures. The most obvious are Iran versus Paris, and Galloway versus Gecko. Galloway is an upper class young woman staying in the fanciest hotels and apartments of Paris, owning the latest in technology, from a laptop to smartphone, mastering 3 languages and quoting ‘Les Fleurs Du Mal’ (hence the title of the film). Gecko, meanwhile, is her less-sophisticated lover, who literally dances on every step of the road, flies in all directions and enjoys the simplest forms of life. But what brings them together is what she describes best in her own words: “I met a Gecko in Paris: he has the freedom of our dreams”.
The ‘Green Revolution’ footage used has managed to add a personal dimension to the videos, as well as, quite possibly, a platform to the outside world. We identify with what we see, and want to follow up on the stories of those young people beaten in the streets. The very fact of this being ‘reality’ adds a strong emotional link to these images. The shift between reality and fiction is very smooth and credible, maintained through a strong build-up of events. Even the music, which mixes from western to Iranian, says a lot about the details mastered in creating this picture.
Inspired by the videos of the revolution, Dusa has adopted a similar angle in his fictional romance with a lot of close-ups and tight locations, stressing the apparent suffocation and obsession of Dalloway. While walking in the streets of Paris, her close-ups confuse us and make us wonder whether we are actually in Tehran with the crowd. It is a new way to introduce the story and visualize what haunts her thoughts. The narrative of the film is based on social media, and what makes it even more relevant to recent historical events is that chat messages with friends and family back home are displayed on our screen, only emphasising the suspense and events to come.
Finally, the film wouldn’t have been as poignant without the gifted cast – or should I say, discovery of talent. Both main actors are first timers on a feature film, and both managed to convey a reality of emotions worthy of a seasoned professional. Youcef, who has been a dancer since a very young age, captured the attention of Dusa in a previous short film, while Alice Belaïdi, a young woman from Avignon, has been acting for the theatre since 2003. Famous for a monodrama entitled ‘Confessions to Allah’, she has finally had her chance to show her talent on screen.
A disturbing yet engaging film, ‘Flowers of Evil’ is a must see. DFI met with Dusa at the Tribeca Film Festival 2011, and you can hear more of what he has to say here: