Spotlight on Banned Cinema: 3 Faces, Pig and Rafiki at the Sydney Film Festival

27 June 2018

Image: Rafiki
Image: Rafiki

Written by Chloe Callow and Kaitlin Lake, Film Studies honours students

Jafar Panahi's 3 Faces marks the fourth of his films made since being banned from filmmaking by the Iranian government. Playing himself, Panahi travels to a rural village to locate an aspiring young actress whose conservative family has seemingly driven her to suicide. The film is a searing indictment of the patriarchal attitudes that demonize women who think independently and desire more than a purely domestic existence. Playing himself, as Panahi did in This is Not a Film (2011), Closed Curtain (2013) and Taxi (2015), like these films, 3 Faces is as much about self as it is a study of modern Iran.

Mani Haghighi's Pig employs a surreal, black humour to comment on the plight of blacklisted Iranian directors, whilst simultaneously exploring the fragile ego of directors. A serial killer stalks Tehran, decapitating blacklisted directors and carving 'PIG' onto their foreheads. Despite his renown, central character Hassan's ego suffers as he laments why he hasn't been the target of the killer. The women in his life coddle the suffering director - "he's saving the best for last, my baby," his mother reassures. Haghigi satirizes the gender relations in Iran, in that the hopeless Hassan relies on the support of the more capable women around him. The absurd meta-comedy directly speaks to the avalanche of success that seems to befall directors like Panahi following their blacklisting.

While Panahi's 3 Faces and Pig live up to audience expectation, unfortunately the same can't be said for Wanuri Kahiu's Rafiki. The clich├ęd story and characters render the lesbian love story predictable and unremarkable. Although the cinematography is well suited for the narrative, the editing is sometimes jarringly bizarre and the sound editing ruptures an immersion in the narrative, ultimately hindering the impact of crucial moments.

Nonetheless, the film's political significance should not be overlooked. The Kenyan classification board's decision to ban the film (anyone in possession of the film is in breach of Kenyan law where gay sex is punishable by fourteen years in prison) has catalysed international outrage, ironically winning the film a greater audience than it might otherwise have received.

Rafiki's premiere at Cannes has encouraged international discussion about the film and its representation of a homosexual relationship. Rafiki achievement represents more than its technical limitations; the film's political subtexts mark is as an important symbol of humanist filmmaking that deserves recognition, and like Panahi's 3 Faces and Haghighi's Pig, encourages change through intellectual discourse.

For more information about our partnership with the Festival, visit the USYD Sydney Film Festival website. The University of Sydney was an Education Partner of the 2018 Sydney Film Festival.