A scene from Parviz Shabazi's  Malaria  {PHOTO: CHICAGO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL}

A scene from Parviz Shabazi's Malaria {PHOTO: CHICAGO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL}

Malaria screens at the AMC River East on Monday, October 24 at 8:45PM and Tuesday, October 25 at 6:00PM. For additional ticketing information, refer to the Chicago International Film Festival website here

Set in Tehran, Parviz Shabbazi’s Malaria offers a unique vision of Iranian culture that nestles between the middle ground of Jafar Pahani’s metaphysical musings and Asghar Farhadi’s decidedly grounded moral puzzles. It’s an intriguing compromise, one that aspires for the moral ambiguity of Farhadi’s pictures while spurred by a greater emphasis on formal and thematic harmony that highlight so many of Pahani’s pictures.  

In Malaria, a young couple, Hanna and Murry (Saghar Ghanaat and Saed Soheili) are on the run from Hanna’s father. Shabbazi utilizes an inspired formal device that finds a faceless police authority inspecting Hanna’s phone, going through the device and viewing her videos, which therein prompts the on-going narrative. Like with Panhani’s and Farhadi’s portraits of modern Iran, much of the more appealing narrative components of Malaria have to do with the cultural milieu. Having hitched a ride with a naïve musician named Azi (Azarakhsh Farahani), the couple attempt to find a room in a hotel. They’re advised that while Murry may book a room, Hanna cannot, lest she provides the hotel with a letter from the Gasht-e Ershad, the country’s Moral Police. Later in the film, we’ll find Hanna dress up as a man in an effort to secure lodging.

I appreciate Shabbazi’s distinct formal vision, especially in the way he negotiates between camera phone, security video, and traditional digital footage, but it’s his obligation to plotting that tests my patience. Part of it comes from the theatric tenor of Shabbazi’s male characters, their limp performances failing to express the narrative stakes in any convincing way. Saghar Ghanaat’s performance is far more persuasive, but it’s largely insular, which doesn’t make the plot of her anguished father seeking her out any more compelling. The larger thematic element at play in Malaria, the combating ideologies of technology and tradition, are expressed concisely without the need for something as half-realized as its central dramatic conceit; which is to say that while Shabbazi impresses me with his craft, his narrative sensibilities hobble my enthusiasm for his work.