By Angelo Muredda
“I want to do something but I can’t,” ex-filmmaker Farid (Mirsaeed Molavian) tells his estranged wife early in Achilles, Farhad Delaram’s road-movie fable about breaking through political repression and administrative corruption in present-day Iran. Delaram’s directorial debut takes its title from Farid’s self-styled nickname. Like his mythological namesake, the aloof orthotist who has abandoned the fraught work of filmmaking due to the pressures of working under the regime finds his weak point tested when he encounters a young political prisoner named Hedieh (Behdokht Valian) being held against her will in the psych ward of his crumbling hospital, where she has injured her arm from banging on the walls. Snapping out of the apolitical haze of the past few years, where he’s retired to the hospital to “suffer with” those in pain rather than make (and be sanctioned for) political art, Farid decides to break her out and drive her as far as the Turkish border.
As the title and the extended conceit of wailing against implacable walls suggests, Achilles is not especially subtle about its thematic project, even going so far as to explicitly annotate the metaphor in the epilogue. Yet Delaram’s has a rich way with imagery—including the mouldy ceiling in Farid’s office, which one bumbling administrator promises is “on the hospital’s agenda” after three months of his complaints—and a novelistic attention to how the smallest actions and gestures reveal character. And while his script sometimes feels overwritten, as when secondary characters like Farid’s wife and father go out of their way to define our protagonist’s personality and political hangups, seemingly for the viewer’s benefit, Delaram’s penchant for symbolism and command of imagery align nicely in the audacious and powerful denouement, where Farid finds his way back to the heady world of filmmaking through direct action, not by turning away from the world but by putting his body into his art.