More than a blink by Lily Owen

Reviewing the Arts program allows students to explore a variety of writing modes in arts journalism, including interviews, previews and reviews. This article is about a short film from the Persian Film Festival written by UNSW student Lily Owen.

Breath. Deep breath and quick. Panic. Heart rate. Kiana Naghshineh does not ease us into this experience and neither does the unsettled mood fade away. Running for 3’ 55’’, what we witness in the short animation ‘A Blink of An Eye’ is not lost over time. Rather, Naghshineh makes it stay and linger in the mind: the longest blink that you will never miss again.

Premiering at the Sydney Persian Film Festival, directed by a Persian woman, and originally spoken in Persian, this film is culturally significant. Persian politics is infused with enforcement of patriarchy, promoting a fear and censorship of women’s bodies. No culture can claim to be exempt from this imbalance of power, albeit along a spectrum. Yet it is Kiana Naghshineh, a defiant Persian woman, who is strong enough to break the silence on the extreme situation in her country in this film. She takes the very personal risk of painting her politics in this way for much more privileged viewers, including myself.

A dark alley sets the scene for an encounter our society tries to ignore: rape, abuse, violence. It is an uncomfortable topic for most of us, and in her fight against ignorance Naghshineh forces its reality upon us, not once but three times. The film offers a vision of abuse from three different angles, but it is made clear there is one reality: ‘Three perceptions of only one truth – hers, his and ours’. There is no interpretation of or explanation for abuse. There is no reasoning or justification. There is only the act and what follows…

A sinister humming and sickening song of warning to “run from me”, “hide from me and disappear,” edges closer and closer as an unstoppable force. This is the voice of a man who thrives on the chase and the fear it evokes. Likening his victim to a rabbit, to food and to vulnerability, allegory expresses the reality of the predator/prey relationship in human society.

His hands claim her as he unzips her skirt, grasps her neck and throws her about.

She reaches for her keys, scratches at his arms and struggles to escape. My eyes dart from his to hers as the scene is replayed again, casting myself in the various roles. We are creeping up behind her, we are fighting him, and we are watching them both from the rather contrary position of the comfort and safety of a cinema seat.

Through the filter of a screen our complicity is reflected upon us and suddenly, we are the very same passive witnesses in shot, peeping from behind a curtain. The final perception is our own, underlining the sense of responsibility we need to have as viewers – not of film, but of life.

The act is horrifying, disgusting and real, but what follows…is nothing. What follows, should be us, people running out into the street, calling the police, comforting the woman and chasing the man. Instead, she is in a bath, washing away the stains of his touch that will never fade and only to the company of her own song.

Voice is supposedly an integral aspect of film, but in this case, voice is removed in favour of the much more powerful experience of image. Mapped in a greyscale theme, blurred shapes become figures and then fade back into mist to give way to new movements. Shape and image embody an ‘in-your-face’ presence that voice, in this case, could not match. The only voices we encounter are the songs of both the man and woman in focus and they speak the same words: “run from me”. A continual message of fear is promoted through both abuser and victim, two voices blurred into one under an apparent brainwashing and hence, seemingly, calling upon our voice to differentiate.

Naghshineh awakens her audience to the responsibilities of the silent witness with images now permanently stained on our minds, like this woman’s bruises and scratches. Never to be lost in a blink again…

‘A Blink of An Eye (Augenblicke)’ by Kiana Naghshineh. Persian Film Festival, Sydney, 9th September 2018.