COLD BREATH – FORCED TO CONFORM

Directed by Abbas Raziji  | Review by Helen Wheels

Cold Breath by Abbas Raziji is the story of a transgender person living in a world in which they are forced to conform to survive. The film was shot in the Islamic Republic of Iran, by a brave group of filmmakers who seek to point out that societal constraints which label people male or female do not ultimately encompass the entirety of human identity.

Raziji uses symbolism that relates to Islamic law in the opening shot of the film. We hear a slow drip, and see blood(number five on the law’s list of Impure Things.), as it mixes with water in a bucket. The mixing of blood and water furthers the religious symbolism of impurity. Next, baby chickens are dumped into a container and covered in blue paint. Paint covered hands lead us to a room where multi-colored baby chicks are frantically running around. The perpetrator, wearing a rainbow-colored garment, looks on. The colorful chicks appear to have been transformed into something unnatural.They no longer blend in. Raziji uses the symbolism of the chick’s transition in color to illustrate how unexpected changes in appearance affect perception.

His cinematic use of desaturation illustrates a stark existence within strictly defined gender roles. This in an
oppressive place, where the color has been drained from everyday life. The toneless environment is a stark contrast to the characters in the story who wear colorful clothes and have equally colorful personalities. The only person who is drab is Raziji’s protagonist, who is actively working to assimilate into the environment. This person cannot show the world their true colors because it would alter outward appearances and expectations.

The protagonist seems androgynous. They appear more female than male when they are out in the world, and more male in the safety of their home. However, it isn’t until thirty minutes into the film that we are offered a glimpse into their inner struggle. The camera angle tilts on its side. A vertical image in an otherwise horizontal format forces the viewer to wonder if something has gone wrong with the video; only to realize that this is a message about the skewed existence in whichthis person is forced to live. We hear their voice, barely making out the words as they repeat “man, man, man”.Here, Raziji uses the unexpected tilt of the camera to describe the gender dysphoria experienced by a man who was assigned female at birth. We come to realize that his entire life is based on a lie.

The fact that there is no music track except for the scenes in which he is alone and contemplating his true identity speaks to the fact that there is no real joy in his life. Other than dialogue, the sounds that are prominent throughout the film are the crowd in the marketplace, dogs, chickens and other animal and an occasional vehicle driving down a dirt road. The lack of music and the other sound choices mirror the monochrome environment, adding to the feeling of oppression.

It is interesting to note the story that Raziji chooses to present.Compared to Amazon’s award-winning series Transparent, in which the main character struggles to “come out” to their family and is ultimately able to live as a woman (though they experience their own set of dangers), Cold Breath instead shows us a person who is trying to walk the tightrope as both man and woman because there is not even a small chance anyone will understand. And there is a very real danger that he would not survive.

As a woman, he leads a life as a mother, which holds its own set of challenges. He must dress as a woman for work and hold female designated jobs that ensure him living in poverty. His daughter is critically ill and he cannot afford to get her medical treatment. His employer wants to have an intimate relationship. He has female troubles on the surface; yet the most troubling part of his life is hidden. Still, he moves through life with dignity and steadfastness about the truth of his identity.

To me, the heart of Cold Breath is universal. As humans, we all struggle to conform to society’s expectations, and we have expectations of others which aren’t always correct. Trans people suffer a much more difficult challenge because of long held societal beliefs, no matter what part of the world they inhabit. They are faced with the very real possibility that they will be harmed for being who they are. The compassion and consideration that were taken in producing this groundbreaking drama is admirable. It is what filmmaking is all about. Filmmaking is an opportunity to tell stories that people may never hear otherwise. Raziji’s, Cold Breath does just that.

 

Helen Wheels is an independent filmmaker, freelance writer, and visual artist. She has produced, directed, worked as a set designer and scenic painter, and has been an assistant director on dozens of films. Wheels graduated from Shoreline College with an AAAS in Digital Film Production and is continuing toward her MFA in New Media Communications.  Known for her eye to detail and advanced research skills, Wheels is currently researching historical events for her latest script and is in the process of developing her online writing business.