Hypnotic mundanity in an intense coming of age drama by the German/Iranian director Sohrab Shahid Saless, New German Cinema’s secret classic.
The film will be introduced by the co-curator of the program “How are Things in the West?” New German Cinema Reports, Mikhail Zakharov.
Every day ten-year-old Michael and his mother go through an agreed-upon ritual: she comes in the morning, makes him a sandwich, and goes to bed; he gets up, packs his bag, and goes to school. Sometimes Michael runs errands for blind Frau Beier from the house across the street, which earns him some money to put by for a bike. Allegedly working in a bar, his mom does her best to hide her true occupation from her son.
Born in Tehran into a middle-class family, Sohrab Shahid Saless (1944–1998) studied in Paris and Vienna and shot two films in Iran—A Simple Event (1973) and Still Life (1974). They contained elements of his mature minimalist style, including long, static shots capturing the everyday, which would later have a fundamental impact on the two pillars of contemporary Iranian cinema, Abbas Kiarostami and Mohsen Makhmalbaf. Shahid Saless’ focused attention on social injustice and the poverty of the working class, leading to conflict with the authorities, which is why in 1974 he was forced to leave Iran. The filmmaker moved to Germany, where he lived for 18 years and shot most of his works. The appeal to stigmatized groups within society, such as labor migrants (Far from Home, 1975) and sex workers (Coming of Age), derives directly from his own status as a political refugee.
The first word in Coming of Age is spoken in the twentieth minute. Until then, we observe the carefully rehearsed departure of the mother into sleep and the awakening of her son, their actions accompanied by the hypnotic ticking of the clock, setting the central motif of time. This attention to seemingly insignificant everyday life, through which nuances emerge over time, is inspired by Chekhov, to whom the film is dedicated.
The film is also strikingly (although accidentally) reminiscent of Chantal Akerman's three-hour feminist masterpiece released a year earlier, Jeanne Dielman, about a sex worker raising a son. Besides the plot, the action in both films has an intimate, chamber-like feel (in Coming of Age there are only three main characters) and a similar tempo and rhythm: a slow, almost wordless narration, interrupted by dramatic staccatos. It would be no exaggeration to say that Coming of Age is Jeanne Dielman filmed from the point of view of the son, supplementing and expanding the critique of capitalism. Whereas Akerman was interested in women’s reproductive labor and sex work, Shahid Saless draws our attention to how the relationship between goods and money embraces all social structures, beginning with school. The German/Iranian director would subsequently turn to the theme of sex work much more openly in his heartbreaking three-hour opus Utopia (1983) about a brothel in West Berlin.
The film will be screened in German with Russian subtitles.
Dir. Sohrab Shahid Saless
Germany, 1976. 111 min. 16+