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Daily Helping for March 7th, 2021 – Retouch

A photo still from the short film Retouch. It is a close up of lead character Maryam holding her infant daughter.

From the sublimely silly to the intensely thought-provoking. This has been quite the weekend for films. Today’s daily helping is an Iranian short film called Retouch, which happens to be one of the most successful Iranian films of recent years. It played in hundreds of film festivals and won dozens of awards, and I can absolutely see why. This film is brilliant. If you don’t want to know anything about Retouch, go watch it now and come back. But if you want at least a bit of a plot summary, read on.

Retouch opens with a young family getting ready for the day. Maryam is tending to her infant daughter, while her husband is getting in some morning exercise. Everything is completely mundane, until about a minute in, the husband has an accident, and after initially trying to help him, Maryam just watches him die. She then proceeds to continue on with her day as if nothing happened.

I could rave all day about the beauty of the narrative structure of this film. After the opening scene, I spent the rest of the movie on the edge of my seat, wondering what was going to happen next. What was Maryam going to do? How was this all going to be resolved? And all this tension was set against the backdrop of Maryam going about a fairly average day. She goes to work. She has lunch with her co-workers. She discusses assignments with her boss. And all the while, she is making deliberate but subtle choices to hide what she’s done. It’s astonishing to watch. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film where the lead female character has had so much agency, and it was absolutely riveting.

This is a film that touches on a lot of tough issues, and it doesn’t provide any easy answers. We actually never definitively find out why Maryam does what she does. But writer/director Kaveh Mazaheri gives us enough to fully draw us into this story. I loved this film, and in my opinion, it deserved every award it received.

Suggestions for artists I should check out? Please contact me with your ideas. I hope you enjoyed your daily helping of art!