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The City of Honey Review

Harsh realities of life under extremism laid bare in Iranian director, Moein Ruholamini's, short film.

(Review first published in Framelight in 2019)

The City of Honey operates on a simple duality: the wonderment of a child’s imagination versus the crushing reality of life in areas reeling from the grips of violent extremism.

We open on a young boy in the used wreck of a car. As we accompany him, he takes us on a role-playing journey through his imagination, where he serves as both taxi driver and world famous singer (any line of employment offering a chance for escapism). The filming techniques throughout are simple yet effective, with the beginning, middle and end incredibly poignant in their own ways.

The City of Honey should be noted for the impressive performances director Moein Ruholami manages to coax out of the film’s two child stars. Hasan Khoshhalat and Paria Nikomanesh’s humour and imagination do a fantastic job of pulling the viewer in, and act as a smokescreen for the terrible reality that exists outside the safety of their car. The opening section of the film views with an easy naturalism that hints at moments of improvisation from the child stars. The two children are a joy to watch, with Hasah Khoshhalat’s young taxi driver particularly endearing. Despite the young child’s exuberance, clues in the script hint at the oppressiveness of the world around him, whether it be his asking, “we’re late, how will we cross the boarder?”, or his naïve assertion to his playmate that the intruders in their community are safe, as “it’s okay, they are our friends”.

By contrast, Paria Nikomanesh’s young female character, appears slightly older and subtly more world weary. As she stares glassy-eyed into the distance, she is asked by her companion, “where are you?” causing her to snap back into her reality (albeit playing make believe in the husk of a broken down car). For her, escapism no longer comes so easy.

The film’s transitions, from beginning, to middle, to end, are nicely earmarked by the limited but effective camera movement. Smooth movements from close up, to mid-shot, to long shot, provide a lovely transition as our scope of awareness of the narrative situation and geographical environment are increased. We begin intimately with a close-up of young Khaled, in his make believe world as a taxi driver and singer in his rundown vehicle. Next we zoom back into a mid shot, as the young girl, Rhui, is introduced, encouraging us to consider not only the lived experience of one child, but the greater implications of childhood in the region more generally. To finish, we pan up and zoom out even further, through a long shot and into an extreme long shot, forcing us to process the brutal reality of the country as a whole, and the effect that violent extremism has on entire nations and regions. This simple framing technique is highly effective, with the one solitary, seven-minute long take immersing the viewer in the children’s lived experience.

The City of Honey offers an intimate account of childhood in countries experiencing serious political upheaval, and the coping mechanisms those caught up in such fraught situations are forced to adopt. As viewers, we know one thing with absolute certainty: we are witnessing the death of Khaled’s childhood.

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