Film Review: Terrestrial Verses | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Tuesday, May 21st, 2024  

Terrestrial Verses

Studio: KimStim
Directors: Ali Asgari & Alireza Khatami

Apr 21, 2024 Web Exclusive
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Ali Asgari and Alireza Khatami’s Terrestrial Verses relies on short-form storytelling to gently yet powerfully evaluate a political system centered around the idea that all flaws come from the individual, rather than the society they are a part of.

Terrestrial Verses is composed of nine, extremely short vignettes set in a different location within the Iranian bureaucratic system. Each vignette employs the same narrative and stylistic set-up. Asgard’s and Khatami’s camera remains static, capturing characters as they plead to an authoritative figure, placed just outside of the frame and the audience’s view. The content of their disputes varies from short to short. The opening vignette follows a new father fighting to name his son “David,” an impossibility given that the name is too Western. As the character notes, ‘Davood,’ the Farsi pronunciation of David, is perfectly fine for use. A long series of bickering commences between the two.

This kind of deadpan satire, driven solely by conversation, drives and illuminates the film from start to finish. Another vignette follows a ride-share driver being held at a police station for not wearing her hijab in her car, which, because it has windows that other people can see into, is not considered to be private property. The film’s most meta vignette follows a film director fighting to get the Ministry of Culture to approve his film script. The only problem: the Ministry requires the removal of massive chunks of his script to rid the film of anything that could make the regime look bad.

Balancing all these stories, especially within the confines of a 77-minute film, is a tough task. Asgari and Khatami’s sharp script and commendable stylistic choices make each story feel distinct and compelling. The decision to keep the camera static and the authoritative characters out of frame, solely capturing the space the subjects occupy and little more, is extremely smart. Not only does the lack of camera movement highlight the content of the dialogue, but it also makes it easier to note changes in the characters’ actions and movements.

In one of the film’s most scorching scenes, a man applying for a driver’s license is forced to remove his clothes to show his tattoos to the officer interviewing him. The character slowly standing up marks such a distinct visual difference from the seated position he’s been occupying throughout the vignette, furthering the sense of discomfort that his character (and by extension, the audience) feels. On top of that, because the audience and the characters are essentially positioned face-to-face, there’s a constant feeling of horror watching the subjects as their faces slowly lose hope, realizing that there’s no escape from this system. Their words become useless; so do their actions. All of their fates have already been decided well before they even entered their current situation.

It’s clear why the directors chose to center around multiple short stories instead of one narrative, and that approach largely works. Bite-size stories allow the film to ruminate on a variety of society’s flaws without ever feeling too chained to one aspect in particular (a feat helped by the relative equivalency of the vignettes’ running times). Even so, the sheer number of stories, as well as the way the film abruptly transitions from one story to another, leaves something to be desired. The themes are evident, but it’s easy to imagine that, with more time to explore the characters and their journeys, the film could bolster its critiques, better leveling their diversity with their power. (

Author rating: 6.5/10

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