Review – Tehran Taboo (Kino Lorber)

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly in Tehran Taboo 

If you have an important thing to say,  it should be said right and clear. It is hard to find a passion project that is able to (or wants to) do that, which is why Tehran Taboo is a nice change of pace. It tells a tale broadcasting the questionable morality of Islamic laws and the twisted way they are upheld in a backhanded city. The attentive art and sound direction produces a product that shows you, not rants at you. It is not perfect by any means, but  Tehran Taboo is a beautiful piece with powerful statements to make. 


Tehran Taboo follows four characters struggling with the hypocritical society of Tehran and its Islamic laws. We follow the characters as they try to reach their goals and become a part of each other’s lives.

Tehran Taboo WomanPari is a prostitute and mother who wants to get a divorce without her husband’s approval.  This leads her to a sexual relationship with a judge. Babak is a music student struggling to get state approval for his music.  After a one-night stand with Donya, he tries to pay for an operation that will renew her virginity. Sara is a banker’s wife who feels stifled by her family and home. She desires to more with herself but cannot do anything without her husband’s consent.

What drives the meat of these stories is contrast. The world the characters live in is two-faced and this point is made whenever possible. For example, the first scene in this film involves a cabby yelling at a couple over indecency while he himself is getting a blowjob from Pari. The film weaves these striking moments throughout. Alongside the unique views and reactions of each character, we are given a tour of Tehran’s best, worst, and indifferent. 


Tehran Taboo can feel a bit slow at times. This is mostly due to some awkward transitions. Switching of perspective between characters tends to happen frequently. Also, although there are important relationships between characters (i.e. Pari and Sara), each character remains in their own individual path for the most part. This combination breaks the tension in some points in the story. This does not significantly hinder the film, but it may have flowed better if each story stayed more contained.


The name of the game is juxtaposition and the art direction matches this idea clear. On one hand, the film presents a very grounded and precise world. Rotoscoping gives the characters’ realistic expressions while 3-D models of buildings and cars map out the city of Tehran in detail. However, the art style of the film also bends towards the surreal. The cell-shading makes all the models look like moving paintings or a group of intricate paper cutouts.

This style is appropriate since this film plays a lot of light and color. Throughout the movie, important people, place, and objects are red. The slight shifts between brightness and darkness follow a change in mood with brilliant timing. Our four main characters have their own color schemes that help connect concepts, other characters and even other scenes back to them. 

Tehran Taboo Boy and CatUnfortunately, there are moments in which the animation fails, and the style is not so flattering. The model for the neighborhood cat looks out of place compared to everything else. The first snow of the film has a paper-like quality like the rest of the models and effects, but something about either its timing or texture didn’t sell it for me. However, even with a couple of mishaps, this film makes a lot of right choices and takes full advantage of its medium.  

Alongside the animation, the sound has a laser-like focus. Every bit of sound is trying to sink you into Tehran as much as possible. The voice-acting feels natural with each character having their own quirk. For example, Elmira Rafizadeh‘s Pari is delightfully sassy.  The music bits, such as Babak’s accordion work, are enjoyable and helps puts the different faces of Tehran on display. Altogether, the sound direction not only makes you apart of this world but nostalgic for it as well. 


Tehran Taboo is well-crafted and expresses the dual nature of Iran in a sophisticated way. Ali Soozandeh took great care with the presentation of this story. However, it is important to note that it not for the faint of heart. This film does contain sex, drugs, and salty tears with no Cocoa Puffs in sight. Although it may feel like a harrowing experience, I promise you that it only acts to make the little glimpses of hope more precious.

Tehran Taboo is scheduled for a February 14th release date in the U.S. Will you watch it? Tell us in the comments!

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