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The Stain [Shoresh Vakili, Islamic Republic of Iran, 2020]

There are no true victors in any war, simply the calamitous fallout and indelible emotional imprint for all involved. And what happens once that war is over? How does a culture come together and reflect long after the fact? Cinema is certainly one way through which society is able to recreate, celebrate, and mourn. But what of the people who have seen combat, still around to remember what happened firsthand? There are many who find catharsis in watching a modern dramatisation, but just as many who perhaps never want to relive those moments again. It is that latter group, the ones who don’t need a reminder of such atrocities, upon which The Stain quietly and deftly reflects.

The Stain tells the story of an older maintenance man who works at a movie theatre that, one day during his normal routine of closing down for the evening, discovers a red stain on the screen. He cleans the stain, which looks suspiciously like that of a gunshot spatter, and goes home. The following night, again after closing, the stain has reappeared. The theatre shows a war film, which forces the man to reflect on his own experience from that war.

The film is beautifully and simplistically executed in a way in that visually provides so many details without ever saying a word. This man seems just like any other elderly maintenance worker but, through little details such as the pictures that line the walls of his apartment, we are able understand his extraordinary past without it ever being spelled out to us.

At the heart of the film is a deep message about the power that cinema has to excavate past trauma and the strength it can provide to help us grow past it.

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