[…] Through the (seemingly) benevolent amusement with a genre, an entire cinematic tradition is called into question, or transformed, or deformed, or evolved.
[…] In this way, Beloufa seems to want to answer the State manipulations (and censorship) of cultural issues with a subtle manipulative project that uses humour and realism in order to reverse the norms and standards of the realism itself.
[…] Beloufa’s assumptions of the rules of the genre, the clichés of a society and a whole tradition, are meant to equally exercise an internal self-criticism that amounts to a self-exclusion as an enlightened artist, who, as an artist, is finally able to self-include himself again in the society through the rules of the art world.
As always, Neïl Beloufa astonishes us with his intelligent ideas, which constantly intertwine a political and societal topic with a reflection on the medium that he uses. Actually, in his Restored Communication, not only is the medium of film and its representative power at stake, but more precisely a specific genre: reality TV. The genre becomes an ideal object, which here is articulated through the forms of amateurish improvisation, the fake-documentary, and the fake-reality. The “fake” aspect of the representation we see superposes on the “classical” ambiguity of being real/being represented, reality/fiction, which is characteristic of the reality TV genre. This superposition evaporates the ambiguity and puts what we see on the screen on the level of the theatrical, or the purely performative. Whether Beloufa’s actors be playing the reality TV’s actors playing fake-authentic normal people in Iran, or are simply Beloufa’s accomplices of Restored Communication, Iranian friends of his, performing a reality TV show or a film on a reality TV in Iran, the acting performances are completely oriented towards the representation of “normality”. The essence of any reality TV show is nothing but the representation – or presentation – of societal standards and political norms.
The idea of creating (improvising, performing…) a reality TV show in Iran – a country that is in fact experiencing only now the first forms of reality TV – is brilliant, for the simple reason that “realism” has been and still is the cinematic dogma of the religiously inspired regime. Through the (seemingly) benevolent amusement with a genre, an entire cinematic tradition is called into question, or transformed, or deformed, or evolved. Therefore, the question will resound: does the parody of an Iranian reality TV show constitute a step forward, an update of the site-specific film tradition, or an irreverent criticism of the political correctness of the Iranian film scene?
The shrewd social characterisation – and caricaturisation – of the different “types” of people is able to finally create a productive distance from the societal clichés, thanks also due to the use of typical Iranian humour (equally a traditional element in Iranian cinema). In this way, Beloufa seems to want to answer the State manipulations (and censorship) of cultural issues with a subtle manipulative project that uses humour and realism in order to reverse the norms and standards of the realism itself. One of these norms is the rigid distinction of the private and public spheres: in this respect, the closed space of a reality TV set seems to have to benefit from being private, if one wants to make the reality credible; but at the same time this private space has to be publicly displayed – this is the TV rule. The reality TV genre manifests therefore an essential norm that is blatantly in conflict with the norm of Iranian society. If Jafar Panahi’s Taxi Teheran could critically use the private/public ambiguity of the space of a taxicab, Beloufa’s Restored Communication is able to substitute the ambiguity with the contradiction.
If we follow the story of the young protagonists of the reality TV show, we will actually follow to a climax of anarchy where the hard but fair competition between them transforms itself into a global war that explodes after the contenders are abandoned by the organizers of the game. They find themselves trapped between the walls of the house, which becomes the ultimate prison, thereby unframing the game, and the rules of the representation – without a “beyond-the-stage”, there simply is no more stage… This situation cannot help but refer to the isolation that Iran has historically suffered under a long series of embargos, which have always had the effect of reinforcing its tendency towards dictatorship. It is a clin d’oeil to Iranian anti-Western criticism, but at the same time a reference to the fundamental anarchic condition of any revolutionary gesture. Iran is a republic founded on revolution; therefore, the bloody (almost Shakespearian) consequences of the struggle for power between the contenders cannot but mean a sharp criticism of Iranian revolution itself.
Just as for Beloufa’s movie Occidental, his reflections on the medium and the filmic genres escalate into an interrogation of the role of the artist him/herself. The true winner of the reality TV is the artist, rich and hypocritical. He was excluded, and then asked to be re-included, and then he self-excluded himself in order to exploit his self-exclusion to self-include himself again in the group. Beloufa’s assumptions of the rules of the genre, the clichés of a society and a whole tradition, are meant to equally exercise an internal self-criticism that amounts to a self-exclusion as an enlightened artist, who, as an artist, is finally able to self-include himself again in the society through the rules of the art world. The reality is nothing than the setting of this circulation of stepping into and out of a system of rules, standards, and norms that is actually made of this exact circulation itself. The criticism and its object dialectically play together, they function as a system. Does this end up with the apotheosis of the deconstruction of the system or with the triumph of a system that is able to neutralise its ultimate internal criticism?
Text: Giuseppe Di Salvatore
First published: January 17, 2019