'Tehran Taboo': Vice and virtue on the streets of Iran's capital

Pari in a Taxi

(CNN)Filmmaking in Iran is not a simple pursuit. There are plenty of ways to fall foul of censors, from negative depictions of society to portraying "unrefined" images.

Directors and screenwriters there have become masters in using metaphors to speak their truth. But what about filmmakers from the diaspora? Their editorial freedoms come with other challenges: how to accurately depict Iran while outside it, for one. Enter director Ali Soozandeh and his debut feature "Tehran Taboo," which has made headlines for its transgressive take on city life.
    Soozandeh's film begins in a familiar but evocative locale: the back of a car roaming the capital. It's also the primary setting for two classics of Iranian cinema, "Taxi" (2015) by Jafar Panahi and "A Taste of Cherry" (1997) by the late Palme d'Or winner Abbas Kiarostami.
    Quickly, this familiarity steers off-road. A taxi driver solicits sex from a young prostitute, who has no choice but to bring her mute child along for the ride. In the middle of a sex act the driver crashes, distracted -- distraught -- at the sight of his daughter up ahead, hand in hand with a man. The specter of hypocrisy looms large.
    "Tehran Taboo" puts sex, drugs and underground clubs at the center of its sprawling narrative.
    After its debut at the Cannes Film Festival in 2017, "Tehran Taboo" has traveled much of the world and now arrives in the UK. In Iranian cinemas, however, it remains absent.
    Set in a middle-class neighborhood and centering on sex worker Pari, well-educated housewife Sara and musician Babak, Soozandeh conjures an intersecting narrative featuring licentious mullahs and backstreet surgeons.
    Soozandeh uses rotoscope animation, a process in which the actors were filmed against a backdrop in Europe then animated over in post-production. The effect is a hyperreality and constructs a Tehran that would never be otherwise filmable: one of private vice and public virtue, and the ongoing battle to keep the two apart.
    The director throws the shutters wide on as many issues he can: drugs, drink, extramarital sex, corruption, abortion and suicide. "It is a big taboo in our culture -- Iranian culture -- to talk about problems in public," the director tells CNN.
    Soozandeh says his film shows "a forgotten part of society."