Tina Gharavi has created a beautiful character with Nasrine. She’s fun, quietly defiant and full of optimism. Like many women in their late teens, she is determined to push boundaries. And that is what drives her into conflict with the repressive moral code of the Iranian state and, eventually, the Police.
I am Nasrine follows Nasrine and her brother, Ali, from Tehran to the north of England where they are sent after Nasrine spends an horrific night at the hands of the police.
Nasrine and Ali are forced to leave their middle class comforts in Tehran for a flat in a dirty tower block in Newcastle, where they try to come to terms with the move and their drastically changed situation. They are quickly confronted by the contradictions of British society; a rich country that is full of poor people, and one which offers greater freedoms than Iran – sexual freedoms, in particular, and yet is repressive and violent in its own way.
This is a story that charts an experience particular to Nasrine and Ali, yet echoes that of so many refugees who seek asylum in this country. As soon as they arrive in Britain, Nasrine and Ali are gently dissuaded from staying to apply for asylum. In that blameless,bureaucratic way, they are threatened with the fact that their asylum claim is unlikely to be approved and with the prospect of months of unemployment – people waiting for the outcome of their asylum cases being unable to work.
Ali is left to take on low paid jobs – cleaning cars by the side of the road and serving up fried chicken to Friday night drunks; while Nasrine goes to school. There are constant reminders of the precarious existence so many asylum seekers lead, like when the owner of the car wash reassures Ali that everyone working there is the same as him – “illegal”; but, should the police arrive, he must run.
Nasrine quickly gravitates to another girl at school – an Irish traveller, who, like Nasrine, is outcast by racism and bullying. There’s a naive optimism about Gharavi’s portrayal of the traveller community as living a close-knit and almost mystical existence. But it’s refreshing to see Irish travellers portrayed in film at all, and as something other than a garish spectacle.
The beauty of Gharavi’s film is that it doesn’t labour the points. It shows the dark side of the British migration system, the racism needed to support it and the stupidity of it, by contrasting it to Nasrine’s, and to a lesser extent, Ali’s, humanity and resilience. With attacks on immigration mounting from all mainstream political parties and the resurgence of islamophobia after Woolwich, it’s a heartening and necessary film.
A quietly evocative film
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