Kino Lorber has picked up U.S. and English-speaking Canada distribution rights to Tehran Taboo, a German/Austrian co-production by Ali Soozandeh, and plans to release the film theatrically next February.

The film, which premiered at the Critics’ Week sidebar at Cannes this year and has gone to screen in competition at Annecy and elsewhere, follows the lives of three women and a young musician whose paths become entangled in, what is described as, “Tehran’s schizophrenic society where sex, adultery, corruption, prostitution and drugs coexist with strict religious law.”

Iranian-born-and-raised Soozandeh made his feature directorial debut with this film. He had previously worked as an animator on documentaries like The Green Wave (2010) and Camp 14: Total Control Zone, and also runs his own animation company, Cartoonamoon.

The film will inevitably renew the debate of whether processed live-action qualifies as animation. I saw the film in Annecy last June, and while the film employs animation techniques, it felt that the performances of the characters were too deeply rooted in a processed technique to truly be considered rotoscope animation, as a film like Waking Life would be. In other words, I didn’t see enough creative choices made by animators to affect the source live-action performances in a meaningful way. The staging and emotional value of the performances that were shot on greenscreen (see below) was what ended up on screen.

Comparison between greenscreen and final film frame.
Comparison between greenscreen and final film frame.

Though possessing a solid script, the film also lacked the graphic ingenuity of a film like Waltz with Bashir in which the processed live-action technique was integrated into the animated setting and made abstract in such a way that it managed (at least in some parts) to transcend its live-action origins.

Kino Lorber distributed the 2016 SXSW documentary feature winner Tower which uses a similar processed live-action technique. It’s completely understandable why filmmakers increasingly rely on this technique for both budgetary and creative reasons, but if you appreciate the work of animators and their role in giving life to characters, this live-action digital processing effect is an unsatisfying substitute for actual character animation.

Besides the U.S., Tehran Taboo will also be released in Germany by Camino Filmverleih and Austria by Filmladen. French sales company Celluloid Dreams has also sold rights to the following territories: French-speaking Canada (AZ Films), France (ARP Selection), Switzerland (Praesens Film), Greece (Seven Films), CIS and the Baltics (Maywin Media AB), former Yugoslavia (Discovery Film and Video Distribution), Hungary (Cirko Film), and Singapore (Luna Films).

The news of Tehran Taboo’s U.S. distribution was first announced by Variety.

"Tehran Taboo" poster.

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