Subtraction (2022)

An Iranian doppelganger thriller exploring themes of identity and anxiety that is bursting with tense, moody atmosphere as a married couple encounters another couple that looks just like them. 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review #2,546

Dir. Mani Haghighi
2022 | Iran | Drama/Mystery | 107 min | 1.85:1 | Persian
Not rated – likely to be PG13 for some violence

Cast: Taraneh Alidoosti, Navid Mohammadzadeh, Ali Bagheri
Plot: After a confusing interaction in downtown Tehran, a married couple seems to have found their doppelgängers.
Awards: Nom. for Platform Prize (Toronto)
International Sales: Films Boutique

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Doppelganger; Spousal Relationship; Gender Roles
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: Screener
Spoilers: No

2022 has been a celebratory year for Iranian cinema with films like Lelia’s Brothers, World War III, No Bears, etc., winning awards at international festivals.  In absolute contrast, millions of Iranians continue to protest against their reprehensible government. 

One of them, the recently arrested Taraneh Alidoosti, stars in this new film by Mani Haghighi.  Alidoosti is no stranger to those familiar with Iranian cinema, particularly the films of Asghar Farhadi where she had been a regular fixture. 

In Subtraction, she plays a pregnant wife suffering from the occasional mental breakdown.  One day, she spots her husband entering another woman’s apartment, the catalyst for a solid doppelganger thriller that reminds us of the likes of Enemy (2013), bursting with tense, moody atmosphere, especially its strategic use of light, shadow and a hell lot of rain.  This is probably the rainiest movie I’ve ever seen from the Middle East. 

“I saw you. It was you.”

It also has fantastic music, ambient-esque yet propulsive when it needs to be, that announces itself from the get-go, shaping the film’s suspenseful tone which never lets up until the tricky climax. 

Backed by two strong performances in Alidoosti and Navid Mohammadzadeh (both of whom also starred in Lelia’s Brothers) in double roles, Subtraction explores themes of identity and anxiety in a way that feels fresh, or at least, captivating in how things play out. 

Also implicitly hinting at his country’s subjugation of women through reinforced gender roles, Haghighi’s work could also be seen as a cautionary tale against toxic (male) authority.  If Iranians aren’t careful, ‘subtraction’ may turn into permanent erasure, the director seems to imply. 

Grade: B+


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