It’s 1979, the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi of Iran is living in exile in Mexico. He takes an interview about whether or not he’ll try to reclaim his seat of power. He asks the question as to whether Iran is really being liberated in his absence. He is obviously conflicted about his power and his purpose. He plays an old message from his father who left him to rule Iran at the young age of 21. The message simply advises the Shah to “fear nothing.” Unfortunately, he’s human, therefore he does in fact fear. He even feels.
It’s interesting for a film to place such a dilemma into a character like a dictator – an overthrown one at that. You hardly ever see this apparent in films about Adolf Hitler or Nazi Germany. General Idi Amin Dada: A Self Protrait (the doc by Barbet Schroeder, not the one with Forest Whitaker) is the last film I can recall that dealt with revealing such a complexity in a otherwise overtly powerful figure.
The Shah lives quietly with his wife in Mexico and she obviously loves him a great deal. We come to learn that the Shah has cancer and needs chemotherapy as well. He appears to be rejecting the notion of such a need on the basis that being the in the hospital would destroy the monarchy and would not help his people. At the end of the short film, the Shah says “A dictator can survive though bloodshed and massacre, but a king simply cannot do so.” This is a turning point for him, as it appears he has finally accepted his destiny.
The Shah does not seem to see himself as a dictator, and instead sees only what he wants to in his ornate and saturated world. Subconsciously though, there is certainly an underlying conflict as to what he’s done, what he could have done and what he could still do for himself, his wife or his people of Iran. All this seems to be swirling in his head as he paces about the large villa in Mexico; contemplating, sometimes sitting, sometimes standing. We’ll never find out what’s really going through his head, and it seems neither will he as the film ends rather abruptly with him conceding to his fate. All in all, this is an ambitious short film which is quite engaging, but it left me feeling indifferent without more than a snapshot into the life of this truly captivating character. I say, turn this into a feature, and you’ve got yourself an potential Oscar contender.
Directed by Michael Younesi. For more details, and the director’s blog check out YOUNESI BROTHERS.