Movie Review: Iranian Swimmer Fights Abuse and Oppression with an “Orca” as her Spirit Animal.
This drama ... is a genuinely inspiring story, in part because it doesn't adhere to the formula we might expect... --Mark Dujsik, Mark Reviews Movies
A variation on the classic “succeed against the odds” sports drama formula. But Alidoosti, Keramati, Mosayebi and Motazedi leave no doubt what the stakes of “winning” are here. They should wear their “banned in Iran” badge with pride. --Roger Moore, Movie Nation
A heartfelt, inspiration and captivating emotional journey. Orca is a protest against hate, intolerance and dehumanization, and a protest for love, compassion, freedom, democracy and happiness. It's a triumph. --Avi Offer, NYC Movie Guru
Elham was beaten, almost to death, by her abusive husband. When she gets out of the hospital, the only place she feels at peace — normal — is in the sea, swimming. As the daughter of a famous freestyle wrestler, she’s an athlete with great stamina and endurance, and if she swims long enough, she loses herself in the watery moment.
But Elham lives in Iran, and “in an Islamic country, women don’t swim.” And yet, she persists.
“Orca” is a tale of one woman’s resistance to a violently cruel patriarchy, and that patriarchy’s fiercest defender — an officious female martinet appointed head of Iranian women’s athletics. Beautifully shot and well-acted, with Taraneh Alidoosti (“The Salesman”) as Elham and a marveloulsly villainous Mahtab Keramati (“Staging”) as her governmental tormentor, Nazar Abadi, this “true story” is banned in Iran, which might be its best endorsement.
The opening scenes show the frantic efforts to save Elham’s life after the worst beating of a marriage that ends with divorce and an apparently short prison sentence for her never-seen husband. Her mother (Armik Gharabian) suspected, but her ex-wrestler father (Arash Aghabeik) never knew.
Elham struggles with the trauma, and even attempts suicide. But that attempt takes her into the sea, and heavy, elaborate swimming costume or not, she is at home there. She finds her purpose in endurance/distance swimming. She could set records.
But that officious showboat Nazar Abadi, the one we see hosting press conferences unveiling Iran’s many Muslim-modest uniforms for its female athletes, is more than happy to shut that ambition down.
She is the one to dismiss Elham with a curt “in an Islamic country, women don’t swim” (in Persian with subtitles).
“Orca” is about Elham’s years-long struggle to find a work-around, find allies in a repressive state with sexist, violent religious/cultural enforcers of male dominance, The Revolutionary Guards, intolerant goons are willing to call Elham every dirty name in the book, to hurt her and threaten her life if she doesn’t abandon her quest.
In a beach town, she finds a friend in the motherly hotel proprietor (Mahtab Nasirpour) and a spirit animal that might be her inspiration — the Orca. In a flowing, full-body-covering black and white costume mimicking the orca’s coloring, she will swim and batter herself against an intractible theocracy.
Director Sahar Mosayebi (“Platform”) gives this saga, scripted by Tala Motazedi, a stately pace that allows room for Elham’s underwater reveries. The script gives us vivid villains — The Revolutionary Guards try to drown Elham as she swims far offshore — she makes her attempts in the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf — and stubborn, plucky allies.
While we don’t see Elham as a devoutly religious woman, the film provides overwhelming evidence that she was always a reasonable one, seeking permission, offering compromises and solutions, polite until she’s finally had enough.
The character and Alidoosti’s moving performance of her make Elham a metaphor for EveryWoman’s struggle in a country hellbent on controlling and repressing women, where even a moment of triumph can be denied by another woman, who uses controlling Elham to express the power of fanatical, all-powerful state.
“Orca” may be a variation on the classic “succeed against the odds” sports drama formula. But Alidoosti, Keramati, Mosayebi and Motazedileave no doubt what the stakes of “winning” are here. They should wear their “banned in Iran” badge with pride.
Directed by Sahar Mosayebi, scripted by Tala Motazedi, A Blue Fox release.
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Absolutely magnificent!!! October 2023
This beautifully shot and masterfully directed biopic revolves around real-life Iranian swimmer Elham Asghari and her struggles to set an unprecedented record of swimming kilometres in the sea, in a country where women are deprived of their most basic human rights and female athletes are obliged to follow the most ridiculously complicated regulations regarding their clothes and posture. Set in contemporary Iran, Elham is denied by the swimming federation of Iran to have broken an actual record when women are now allowed to do so, based on Islamic governing rules as it is referred to multiple times during the movie. Elham, therefore, embarks on a journey headed towards breaking a Guinness record and becoming the first Iranian to achieve such honour. While on this journey of hers, she comes across charitable ethnic characters in the south of Iran ( where she breaks her Guinness record ), allowing us to become familiar with their rich culture and heritage. It is, also, worth highlighting that Taraneh Alidoosti ( the star of academy-award-winning film The Salesman by Asghar Farhadi ) once again shines as the legendary actress she is, conveying Elham's struggles and emotions throughout the most dramatic scenes of the film. --imdb
A Pleasant Piece of Contemporary Iranian Cinema 30 August 2023
An inspiring real-life story about a Guiness World Record holder Elham Asghari. Even though this film is centered around swimming, the main plot tackles much deeper serious issues such as religious, political and sexist obstacles that are built for women in sports in Iran and also domestic violence. On the other hand it also beautifully shows the journey of fighting for your dreams and what it takes to become your true self. The whole film is accompanied by a very soothing and enjoyable music score. I must also highlight the performance of Taraneh Alidoosti , who proves once again that she is an unstoppable force in contemporary Iranian cinema. --imdb