Summer With Hope – BFI London Film Festival 2022

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Writer and Director: Sadaf Foroughi

It’s a miracle that this brooding Iranian film about two young men was ever made. Because it hints – quite strongly in parts – that the two boys are having a sexual relationship, both the film’s director and editor were put under house arrest for six months, and their dailies – their unedited footage – were confiscated.

After three years some of their footage was returned and director Sadaf Foroughi and editor Kiarash Anvari were able, finally, to make Summer With Hope. Despite its Kafkaesque beginning, the film’s second half is a slow burn mini-masterpiece. To be frank, some of the early scenes, where swimmer Omid and his family battle petty bureaucracy in order that he can compete in a prestigious race, could easily be cut and perhaps start the film in the wrong tone.

As the mother and uncle petition various officials to allow 17-year-old Omid to participate in the race the film sets itself up for a different narrative, one in which Omid beats both officialdom and his fellow swimmers. Fortunately, Summer With Hope is not that film but Foroughi spends far too much time showing the family bicker between themselves and the swimming administration. Only Omid’s reluctance to jump through these bureaucratic hoops suggests that swimming may not be the only reason why he’s there.

The film becomes far more interesting when Omid’s friend Mani turns up. Mani, already married with a child, helps Omid train for a race in open waters rather than a swimming pool. But slowly it becomes apparent that the two young men are possibly engaged in a romantic relationship too. The camera, however, exercises so much restraint that it picks up little evidence of the desire between them. In one audaciously filmed scene, the boys seem to have been rumbled in a deserted gym by a janitor. We see one of the boys exit the shower block and the camera waits and waits to show the other boy sneak out, but he never appears.

Editor Anvari cites the late Jean-Luc Godard as an influence here believing that if too much of the story is shown then the film stops being a film. This refusal to show too much is best seen in the portrayal of Omid’s uncle. He’s an angry man who is a kind of father figure to Omid whose real father remains absent but looms like an afternoon shadow. Before Omid’s uncle makes a heroic sacrifice, we see him weeping in the kitchen but we are given no reasons for his tears. Perhaps he’s crying with jealousy because his nephew has succumbed to a queer desire that he shares but has kept bottled up. Or he is sobbing about the shame that could possibly fall on his family? That we never know makes the film more intriguing.

All the actors should be commended for their involvement in such an incendiary film and Leili Rashidi, the actor who plays Omid’s mother, helped the film reach a wider audience. For the most part the acting in quite understated, especially from Mahdi Gorbani whose Omid says very little. But when his tears come it’s impossible not to be moved.

Summer With Hope screened at the BFI London Film Festival 2022.

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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