The City of Honey [Moein Ruholami, Iran, 2018]

The City of Honey operates on a simple duality: the wonderment of a child’s imagination vs. the crushing reality of life in areas reeling from the grips of violent extremism. We open on a young boy in the used wreck of a car. As we accompany him, he takes us on a role-playing journey through his imagination, where he serves as both taxi driver and world famous singer (any line of employment offering a chance for escapism). The filming techniques throughout are simple yet effective, with the beginning, middle and end incredibly poignant in their own ways.

The City of Honey should be noted for the impressive performances director Moein Ruholami manages to coax out of the film’s two child stars. Hasan Khoshhalat and Paria Nikomanesh’s humour and imagination do a fantastic job of pulling the viewer in and act as a smokescreen for the terrible reality that exists outside the safety of the car. The opening section of the film views with an easy naturalism that could hint at moments of improvisation from the child stars. The two children are a joy to watch, with Hasah Khoshhalat’s young taxi driver particularly endearing. Despite the young child’s exuberance, clues in the script hint at the oppressiveness of the world around him, whether it be his asking, “we’re late, how will we cross the boarder?”, or his naïve assertion to his playmate that the intruders in their community are safe, as “it’s okay, they are our friends”. In contrast, Paria Nikomanesh’s young female character appears slightly older and subtly more world weary. As she stares glassy-eyed into the distance, she is asked by her companion, “where are you?” causing her to snap back into her reality (albeit playing make believe in the husk of a broken down car). For her, escapism no longer comes so easily.