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‘Terrestrial Verses’ Trailer: The Only Iranian Movie at Cannes 2023 Got Its Co-Director Banned from Leaving His Country

Iran continues to be a site of unrest among dissident filmmakers protesting leadership and government under the country’s current president, Ebrahim Raisi. In 2022, Iranian filmmakers such as Jafar Panahi, Mohammad Rasoulof, and Mostafa Al-Ahmad were arrested over their responses to Iran’s censorship of events including a building collapse that killed at least 41, and later the death of Mahsa Amini, killed by Islamic police for allegedly not wearing her hijab. (Panahi, for one, was released from prison in February 2023 following a hunger strike.)

The only Iranian film to premiere at Cannes 2023, the omnibus satire “Terrestrial Verses” also saw one of its directors, Ali Asgari, banned from leaving his country. You can understand why after you see this probing film about life under the eye of a controlling government.

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IndieWire understands the travel ban on Asgari has since been lifted, though freedom of expression remains an issue in Iran for filmmakers querying the status quo. “Terrestrial Verses,” the film Asgari co-directed with Alireza Khatami, who resides in Canada, is now finally making its way to U.S. theaters. This searing and powerful work premieres at New York’s Film Forum on April 26, and IndieWire shares the exclusive trailer below.

“Terrestrial Verses” incorporates nine vignettes that also double as interrogations of the characters, all living under the authoritarian regime in Tehran. Per the press synopsis, “In Tehran, a new father seeks to register the name (insufficiently Islamic, he is told) of his newborn son; a 20-something rideshare driver caught on camera without a hijab attempts to retrieve her impounded car; a man with poem tattoos applies for a driver’s license; an elderly woman pleads with the police for the return of her beloved dog.” These are just a few of the stories told.

From IndieWire’s review out of the 2023 Cannes Film Festival: “These nine stories give off a powerful cumulative effect as we see the petty bureaucracies and paper-pushing quotidian blocks to working-class life unfold and whittle these people down. Cultural, religious, and institutional constraints wear down everyday citizens in Tehran in stories that may lack a beginning, middle, or end but still arrive at a well-drawn if eerie and ambiguous conclusion that would feel dystopic if the events weren’t so ordinary.

“Iranian directors Alireza Khatami and Ali Asgari joined hands after having their first features, ‘Oblivion Verses’ and ‘Disappearance’ respectively, selected for the Venice Film Festival in 2017. They described in press notes the process of getting their films off the ground as being like characters in ‘Waiting for Godot’ — and the citizens they sketch in ‘Terrestrial Verses’ are similarly caught in a waiting game to nowhere under the facility of totalitarian rule. This film is as muted in its approach to character and drama as its color palette, but the result is devastating.”

Watch the exclusive trailer for “Terrestrial Verses below.” KimStim handles the North American release, which begins at Film Forum on Friday, April 26.

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