February 22, 2024

Iranian cinema has skyrocketed to global influence in recent years, largely due to the meticulous realism of directors such as Abbas Kiarostami and Jafar Panahi, who delve into the lives of ordinary people in passionate detail. Mani Haghighi, one of Iran’s most prominent and unique filmmakers, stands out from his realist peers with his tales of fantasy, imagination, and the supernatural. His 2018 film “Pig” tells the story of a serial killer targeting filmmakers and the wild imaginings of a filmmaker who fears becoming the next victim. Despite his departure from realism, Haghighi’s work, like that of his contemporaries, aims to analyze the essence of daily life in Iran, with equal emphasis on the inner and outer lives.

Haghighi’s latest film, “Subtraction,” although fantastical like “Pig,” is even better, with a premise that dictates the film’s repertoire of images with seemingly magnetic power. Though the film has not received a proper U.S. release, it’s screening at the Iranian Film Festival at IFC Center. It’s a shame that “Subtraction” has not been widely released in the U.S., as it is one of the best films in recent years and would have been on the list of top movies from its release year if it had been properly distributed.

The film follows a thirtysomething woman named Farzaneh, who experiences a surreal encounter during a traffic jam in Tehran. The film delves into the intricate accretion of details and micro-events that transform into a phantasmagoric mystery. Haghighi develops the absurdity of the premise with rigorous logic that often teeters on a tight-lipped, cosmic comedy. The film’s setting in a city filled with violence and deceit conveys an endemic knowingness, a sure awareness of essential truths regardless of the forces of illusion.

“Subtraction” boasts a sense of cinematic subjectivity, culminating in its brilliant use of point-of-view shots, giving the film an uncanny feeling of immediacy. This technique, combined with frontal views and mutual stares, expands the spare images to vast psychological dimensions without a word said about politics. In the end, “Subtraction” is a masterpiece of modern cinema, showcasing Haghighi’s immense talent in creating a riveting and thought-provoking film that deserves worldwide recognition.