Drug addiction in Iran is a subject that rarely sees the light of day on our screens. However, Ali Jalali brings this topic to the forefront in his cleverly constructed short, I’m Not an Actress. At once tragic and challenging, this film is both an empathic look at social issues born out of substance abuse and a razor sharp critique of cinematic voyeurism.
Paradoxically, the acting is notable for its lack of notability. While this initially sounds odd, it has to be said that usually when acting stands out, it’s a bad sign. When the viewer is conscious, sometimes painfully so, that the people they see on screen are characters played by actors rather than actual people, the film loses all its credibility. In I’m Not an Actress, the actors achieve the invisibility required to suspend our disbelief and draw us into the story.
Initially, it is a bit difficult to know where the plot is taking us. Yes, the scenes of drug taking and exploitation are heart rending, but what is it all leading to? The sudden switch from the barren quarry to some kind of women’s institution could definitely have benefitted from a smoother transition. Although one could argue that the viewer’s confusion mirrors that of the characters, it is difficult to be invested in a story that you don’t understand.
But the film isn’t over yet. In the fantastic final twist, the whole point of the plot becomes clear. As the protagonist reveals her identity, we realise that we are not watching a tale of woe but a critique of us watching the misery of others. Jalali’s portrayal of voyeurism is so succinct and so well expressed that it carries the rest of the film.
What is also interesting about this twist is that it comes right at the end. Usually, the thrust of the film surfaces around the middle, and the final few minutes function as a kind of warm down. In contrast, Jalili waits till the very end to crack the shell and reveal the kernel. This deviation from the common structure makes this twist even more original.
I’m Not an Actress, therefore, is unusual both in its subject matter and its structure. It’s ability to work on two levels is a testament to Jalili’s potential as a director and a worthy addition to the diverse medium of short film.
‘I’m Not an Actress’ was a film in consideration for Short Focus Film Festival 2019.