IFFR 2021 :: Limelight Review: Mitra A tense and involving piece
by Davide Abbatescianni, Cineuropa 09/02/2021
Kaweh Modiri helms a tense, involving piece about a traumatic loss and the perverse role of revenge
37 years after her daughter was executed in Iran, Haleh (played by Jasmin Tabatabai) finds the woman who betrayed her. The traitor, now a loving mother herself and just arrived in the Netherlands, does not recognize Haleh and trusts her as an older and wiser countryman. While Haleh is plotting her revenge, she gets to know the perpetrator better than she would like to.
Dutch-Iranian filmmaker Kaweh Modiri’s sophomore feature, Mitra, was world-premiered in the Limelight strand of this year’s International Film Festival Rotterdam.
An alumnus of the University of Amsterdam and of the Gerrit Rietveld Academie, Modiri released his first feature in 2016, a crime-thriller entitled Bodkin Ras (also premiered at IFFR).
The story of Mitra, penned by the director himself and inspired by his own family’s vicissitudes (as clearly stated in the opening credits), is mostly set in 2019 and revolves around an old Iranian scientist, called Haleh.
The woman, who now lives in the Netherlands, had a daughter who was executed in Tehran in 1982, following the betrayal of one of the girl’s best friends, Leyla (Shabnam Tolouei), whom she’s never seen but would still be able to recognise by her voice. Almost 40 years later, an opportunity arises for Haleh to avenge her daughter’s execution as she finds out that the traitor also lives in the Netherlands.The woman, now known as Sare, is trying to get by with her daughter Nilu (Avin Mashadi), and Haleh slowly sneaks into her life by offering her some much-needed help.
Meanwhile, Haleh’s brother Mohsen (Mohsen Namjoo) comes over from Germany and repeatedly discourages her from seeking revenge. Here, Namjoooffers a good portrayal of an old man both physically and mentally devastated by many years of prison and his fight against the regime; he feels constantly under threat and tries to make a living from trading short-term options. The stark contrast between the Mohsen living in 2019 and the younger one appearing in the numerous flashbacks set in the early 1980s effectively highlights the process of disenchantment that he went through. This is also visible through several small details – for example, the way his stride and the speed and prosody of his speech have changed over time. Besides, Haleh must live with a pain that consumes her from the inside and pushes her to pursue one irrational, irresponsible choice after another. Through the flashbacks, viewers will find out – little by little – the series of events that led up to Haleh’s experience with loss.
Thus, the themes of motherhood and the perverse value of revenge gradually take centre stage within the plot.With simple tools – in particular, some neat direction and compelling acting – Modiri’sfilm gains appeal and credibility.Overall, the feature is a tense, involving piece. The last third of the picture is highly emotional, and the final “reckoning” between Haleh and Leyla/Sare offers food for thought on the role reversal between victims and perpetrators.
More subtly, the movie also touches upon the theme of integration, in particular by showing the different social statuses and approaches to life chosen by Haleh, who is able to gain recognition through her professional achievements, Mohsen, who spends his days in a modest apartment, often alone, and Leyla/Sare, who feels unable to provide a bright future for her daughter and even struggles to speak Dutch.
Mitra was produced by the Netherlands’ BALDR Film, Germany’s IGC Films and Denmark’s Snowglobe. Amsterdam-based outlet Nine Films is in charge of its international sales. Cinéart Netherlands is distributing the drama in the Netherlands.