Pupil [Meysam Muyini, Iran, 2018]
Pupil tells the confusing story of a man living out a sci-fi nightmare. Confined in a clinically barren room, he is haunted by flashes of the past horrors that have led him here. Focussing on this baffling situation, Meysam Muyini’s film attempts to tackle issues of traumatic memory and genetic modification, but a lack of cohesion prevents the plot from fulfilling its potential.
It is difficult to begin writing about a film that leaves the viewer with so many unanswered questions. Firstly, it is not clear when or where the story takes place. The man seems to be held in a futuristic hospital and/or jail manned either by people who look a bit on the extra-terrestrial side or by aliens who look an awful lot like us. There are flashbacks to a beautiful grassy plain but the relevance of this remains unclear. Although it could be argued that this mimics the protagonist’s own confusion about his subdued memories, there has to be some sense of story to engage the viewer with this man’s many mysteries.
Nor do we find out why this particular man has been kidnapped and by whom. Again, the director may be trying to put us in his place to create an uncomfortable experience, but this is ineffective because, as we know nothing about the man, there is nothing to relate to. One thing that does work well, however, is the repetition of some of the scenes. This successfully expresses the inescapability of recurring traumatic memories, and conveys a sense of the man’s literal confinement.
There is a fine line between delightful ambiguity and a lack of comprehension. Although this film has the potential to tackle a gripping subject, unfortunately it falls on the latter side of the line.
‘Pupil’ was a film in consideration for Short Focus Film Festival 2019.