Credit: IFFR
by Morris Yang Film

Mitra | Kaweh Modiri

February 7, 2021

Mitra was a daughter and a revolutionary. In 1982, during the aftermath of the Iranian Revolution, she was among the thousands arrested by the authorities and executed. As erstwhile allies of the Ayatollah found their pro-democracy ideals divergent from and indeed diametrically-opposed to the regime’s theocratic establishment, they chose one of two paths: to stay and fight, or to flee abroad. Haleh, Mitra’s mother, forged a successful career in the Netherlands as an academic along with her grey-haired investor brother, Mohsen, who left for Germany. They are comfortably settled, away from the political turbulence of their home country and resistant to the global networking of “the Organisation” (likely the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, one of the remaining bastions of anti-clerical dissidence), until members of the latter turn up at Haleh’s doorstep one day to break the long-held silence: the woman responsible for her daughter’s death has surfaced in town.

The ghost of the past haunts Kaweh Modiri’s political thriller, concurrently voicing conviction and sowing doubt as to the veracity of the woman’s identity. Based on the director’s own life (his sister, also named Mitra, was executed before his birth) and straddling past and present, Mitra explicates themes of the personal within its broader contextual politics. Hence, the designation of political thriller; like the films of Christian Petzold, elements of ideological and historical conflict are embroiled in the lives of their characters who seek, but fail, to escape them. Modiri is no Petzold, however; Mitra, for all its musings on revenge and reconciliation, absents itself from the slippery ontologies and chimeric identities of The State I Am In and, more prominently, Phoenix. Yet, despite its comparatively rote and by-the-books nature, the film delivers an unassumingly candid examination of enduring tragedy.

As Haleh approaches and slowly befriends Sare, the woman she suspects of having betrayed her daughter some thirty-seven years prior, she and her brother contend with differing views as to their next move. Mohsen, effectively rendered impotent from the regime’s torture, resigns himself to an unquiet peace, whereas Haleh — a lifelong advocate for democratic reform in Iran — will not rest until justice has been served. The presence of Sare’s young daughter complicates their moral considerations in what promises to be a thematic parallel drawn between victim and aggressor, honor and complicity. While lacking in novelty, Modiri’s ambiguous conclusion at least admirably defers the wishful promises of catharsis and closure assured by many a film in the genre.

Published as part of IFFR 2021 — Dispatch 2.