Synopsis by Josh Ralske
With Navel, filmmaker Mohammad Shirvani has made what is being called the first experimental feature to come out of Iran since the revolution. Shirvani selected a cast of nonprofessional actors (all of whom play characters close to their own lives), laid the story points for them, gave them a camcorder, and allowed his cast to improvise all of their own dialogue. Navel takes place in Tehran, mostly in an apartment the five characters share, and on the streets, where they drive through the night together, seemingly with no purpose. Chista (Mana Rabiee) is a young woman who has just come back to Iran from New York. Her English is better than her Farsi, and she's recently broken up with her boyfriend. Reza (Reza Hassanzadeh) is a former cleric who still seems to hold strong religious beliefs. Khosro (Khosro Hassanzadeh) is a handsome, divorced younger man who competes with the oldest of the group, the cynical, hard-bitten Mani (Ali Hooshmand) for Chista's attention. Aboozar (Aboozar Javanmard), Mani's nephew, a soldier on leave, disgraces his uncle when he surreptitiously videotapes a neighbor by her pool. The group discusses love, sex, and religion late into the night, smoking on the apartment's terrace. They drive the streets, taking turns holding the camera. Characters disappear from the group as the film goes on, and the emotional content of their monologues grows more profound. A private showing of Navel in Iran was shut down by the authorities. The film had its U.S. premiere at the 2004 Tribeca Film Festival.