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D: Tina Gharavi / 88m

Cast: Micsha Sadeghi, Shiraz Haq, Steven Hooper, Christian Coulson, Nichole Hall

Nasrine (Sadeghi) lives in Iran with her mother and father, and her older brother, Ali (Haq). One day she finds herself being detained by the police. What happens to her is both violent and distressing. Fearing for her continued safety, her father decides that she and Ali must travel to the UK and seek asylum there. They enter the country illegally and find themselves in another difficult situation: while their application is processed, Nasrine has to attend school, while Ali is forbidden to work. They are given a flat in which to live, but in order for them both to get by, Ali finds work in a car wash and, later, a kebab shop as well. At school, Nasrine finds it hard to fit in, but makes a friend in Nicole (Hall), who is part of the local travellers community. Meanwhile, Ali struggles to fit in socially, his serious demeanour keeping others at bay (his concerns about his sexuality don’t help either). Nasrine also has relationship issues, having attracted the attention of Nicole’s older brother, Leigh (Hooper). But with the events of 9/11, both Nasrine and Ali discover that being refugees in a foreign country has unexpected consequences…

The debut feature of Iranian-born Gharavi, I Am Nasrine is a coming-of-age tale that explores issues surrounding the refugee experience, politics and sexuality, and finding one’s place in the world. But though it addresses these issues in various ways, and to varying degrees, it’s a movie that is about connections, how difficult they are to make, how difficult they are to maintain, and how difficult they are to break when they’ve run their course. In Iran, Nasrine’s actions cause the end of her middle-class lifestyle. In the UK she has to start again. The same applies to Ali, charged with being Nasrine’s protector, but equally unnerved by the changes that have led them to a dingy flat in London, and an uncertain future. Whether they are better off proves more and more debatable as the movie progresses, but it’s the siblings’ attempts at fitting in that provide the necessary dramatic focus. Whether it’s Nasrine’s growing friendship with Nicole and then Leigh, or Ali’s attempts to deal with his feelings for other men, including kebab shop customer Tommy (Coulson), it’s the way that writer/director Gharavi takes these basic desires and shows their universality that makes it all work so well. Refugees or not, Nasrine and Ali deserve the same respect we ourselves feel entitled to.

Gharavi’s approach is often straighforward and/or blunt, but this isn’t a bad thing as it precludes the possibility of any unnecessary sentiment, and allows what happens to Nasrine and Ali to remain unforced throughout. There’s a degree of unexpected and poetic beauty in the movie’s imagery as well, from the shot of Nasrine looking back from the motorbike she’s riding on in Tehran (see above), to the moment when she and Leigh experience their first kiss. Gharavi is also confident enough to minimise the impact of 9/11, safe in the knowledge that it will resonate quietly as the narrative unfolds, an unspoken component of the racial distrust and hatred that follows. She’s aided by a terrific performance from first-timer Sadeghi who instills Nasrine with a naïve yet determined quality that won’t be swayed, and unobtrusive production design courtesy of Chryssanthy Kofidou that anchors the narrative in a recognisable and credible setting. Gharavi occasionally makes some obvious dramatic choices that border on being predictable and rote, but the sincerity and the integrity of the story she’s telling more than make up for these choices, making the movie an absorbing exercise in what it is to try and belong anywhere where belonging comes at a price.

Rating: 8/10 – an engaging, thought-provoking movie that paints a candid and guileless picture of the need for acceptance, whatever someone’s personal circumstances, I Am Nasrine is severe and heartelt at the same time, and entirely up front about its plea for inclusivity; Gharavi’s passion for telling Nasrine’s story is evident throughout, and the story itself is rendered with compassion and honesty, making this a movie that is far more effective, and affecting, than it might seem at the outset.

NOTE: The quote by Ben Kingsley on the poster translates as: “An important and much needed film.”