English Title: Mainline
Original Title: Khoon bazi
Country of Origin: Iran
Studio: Cinema 79
Director: Mohsen Abdolvahab, Rakhshan Bani Etemad
Producer(s): Rakhshan Bani Etemad, Jahangir Kosari
Screenplay: Mohsen Abdolvahab, Rakhshan Bani Etemad
Cinematographer: Mahmoud Kalari
Art Director: Zhila Mehrjui
Editor: Sepideh Abdolvahab
Runtime: 78 minutes
Genre: Drama, Drug addiction
Starring/Cast: Bita Farahi, Baran Kosari, Bahram Radan, Masoud Rayegany
Sara is a young, middle-class woman, engaged to Arash, a young professional Iranian living temporarily in Canada. But while she awaits his return, the film takes us on a dark journey into Sara’s heroin addiction and her mother’s quest to save her. During this journey, which moves from the wealthy high-rises of northern Tehran, into the seedy backstreets of the city and finally into the countryside near the Caspian sea, Sara’s mother Sima is faced with difficult choices that may compromise her own moral code. To what lengths will she go to protect her daughter?
Mainline is the second feature collaboration between veteran female film-maker Rakhshan Bani-Etemad and Mohsen Abdolvahab (the first was Gilaneh ). Like Bani-Etemad’s film Zir-e poost-e shahr/Under the Skin of the City (2001), Mainline addresses the debilitating effect of widespread drug use on Iranian society. However, unlike the previous film, which was set amongst a homeless community of misfits living on the margins of Tehran, this film features the rising urban middle-class, a sector of Iranian society who have until recently been infrequently represented on screen. Given Iran’s strict censorship regulations, which among other things prevent the depiction of illicit behaviour, such as drug taking and prostitution, the film is daring and confronting, directly depicting scenes of drug taking and strongly suggesting that Sara (Baran Kowsari) sells her body to feed her drug habit.
Mainline also signals a slight departure from Bani-Etemad’s signature style of gritty social realism in preference for what could best be described as ‘artful realism’. Accomplished cinematographer, Mahmoud Kalari who has worked with most of the greats of Iranian cinema including Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Abbas Kiarostami, Tahmineh Milani, Dariush Mehrjui, Majid Majidi and Jafar Panahi has provided this film with a highly unique but utterly contemporary visual style. Shot predominantly with a hand-held camera in almost black and white, Kalari allows just a touch of colour to seep into the image at crucial moments. The rather confronting use of extreme close-ups of Sara’s drug-worn face helps to deeply connect the viewer with her suffering, and with her mother’s desperate attempts to protect her from society and herself. Furthermore, the use of these extreme close-ups are also clear evidence that Iranian censorship regulations, which ostensibly prohibit the use of the female close-up, can and are being successfully challenged by Iranian film-makers. In fact, Bani-Etemad and Abdolvahab brazenly and cleverly flaunt censorship regulations (particularly those prohibiting female dancing and physical contact between unmarried men and women). The opening credit sequence features Arash (Bahram Radan), who after opening the window blinds in his apartment, is seen joyously waltzing to Johan Strauss II’s ‘Blue Danube’ against the backdrop of Toronto’s dense cityscape. His companion, a life-size female doll, is dressed in a white wedding dress, draped with a feather boa, her long dark hair flowing as they spin.
As with many of her other films, Bani-Etemad keenly reminds her viewers of such prohibitions, while creatively working within them. In many ways, this sequence serves as a guide to reading the film. The act of opening the blinds corresponds closely with the film’s aim of exposing the serious drug problems facing Iranian society. The prominent place occupied by the CN Tower in Toronto’s cityscape is reminiscent of Tehran’s own Milad Tower, a small detail that enables a visual parallel to be drawn. This in turn suggestively prompts the viewer to read the act of ‘lifting the blinds’ as metaphorically applicable to Iran, rather than simply in terms of the literally represented Toronto. Additionally, the doll that hangs lifelessly in Arash’s arms foreshadows the fate of Sara, his bride-to-be, who is eventually so ravaged and drained by her drug use that her body bears a close resemblance to this lifeless avatar. This homology is further reinforced as the camera pulls back to reveal that the scene we have been watching is a video played on a television screen. It is watched by Sara, who wears the feather boa, and the same wedding dress can be seen draped across a nearby sofa. Sara and her mother (Bita Farahi) continue the dance until the music changes tempo and the first of many close-ups of Sara reveal a hint of the darkness that will infuse the remainder of the film.