"Cold Breath" by Abbas Raziji is the story of a transgender person
living in a world in which they are forced to conform to survive. The
film was shot in the Islamic Republic of Iran, by a brave group of
filmmakers who seek to point out that societal constraints which label
people male or female do not ultimately encompass the entirety of human
Raziji uses symbolism that relates to Islamic law in the opening shot
of the film. We hear a slow drip, and see blood (number five on the
law's list of Impure Things), as it mixes with water in a bucket. The
mixing of blood and water furthers the religious symbolism of impurity.
Next, baby chickens are dumped into a container and covered in blue
paint. Paint covered hands lead us to a room where multi-colored baby
chicks are frantically running around. The perpetrator, wearing a
rainbow-colored garment, looks on. The colorful chicks appear to have
been transformed into something unnatural.They no longer blend in.
Raziji uses the symbolism of the chick's transition in color to
illustrate how unexpected changes in appearance affect perception.
His cinematic use of desaturation illustrates a stark existence within
strictly defined gender roles. This, in an oppressive place, where the
color has been drained from everyday life. The toneless environment is
a stark contrast to the characters in the story who wear colorful
clothes and have equally colorful personalities. The only person who is
drab is Raziji's protagonist, who is actively working to assimilate
into the environment. This person cannot show the world their true
colors because it would alter outward appearances and expectations.
The protagonist seems androgynous. They appear more female than male
when they are out in the world, and more male in the safety of their
home. However, it isn't until thirty minutes into the film that we are
offered a glimpse into their inner struggle. The camera angle tilts on
its side. A vertical image in an otherwise horizontal format forces the
viewer to wonder if something has gone wrong with the video; only to
realize that this is a message about the skewed existence in which this
person is forced to live. We hear their voice, barely making out the
words as they repeat "man, man, man". Here, Raziji uses the unexpected
tilt of the camera to describe the gender dysphoria experienced by a
man who was assigned female at birth. We come to realize that his
entire life is based on a lie.
The fact that there is no music track except for the scenes in which he
is alone and contemplating his true identity speaks to the fact that
there is no real joy in his life. Other than dialogue, the sounds that
are prominent throughout the film are the crowd in the marketplace,
dogs, chickens and other animal and an occasional vehicle driving down
a dirt road. The lack of music and the other sound choices mirror the
monochrome environment, adding to the feeling of oppression.
It is interesting to note the story that Raziji chooses to present.
Compared to Amazon's award-winning series "Transparent", in which the
main character struggles to "come out" to their family and is
ultimately able to live as a woman (though they experience their own
set of dangers), "Cold Breath" instead shows us a person who is trying
to walk the tightrope as both man and woman because there is not even a
small chance anyone will understand. And there is a very real danger
that he would not survive.
As a woman, he leads a life as a mother, which holds its own set of
challenges. He must dress as a woman for work and hold female
designated jobs that ensure him living in poverty. His daughter is
critically ill and he cannot afford to get her medical treatment. His
employer wants to have an intimate relationship. He has female troubles
on the surface - yet the most troubling part of his life is hidden.
Still, he moves through life with dignity and steadfastness about the
truth of his identity.
To me, the heart of "Cold Breath" is universal. As humans, we all
struggle to conform to society's expectations, and we have expectations
of others which aren't always correct. Trans people suffer a much more
difficult challenge because of long-held societal beliefs, no matter
what part of the world they inhabit. They are faced with the very real
possibility that they will be harmed for being who they are. The
compassion and consideration that were taken in producing this
groundbreaking drama are admirable. It is what filmmaking is all about.
Filmmaking is an opportunity to tell stories that people may never hear
otherwise. Raziji's "Cold Breath" does just that.
Helen Wheels/Cult Critic/CICFF
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