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SAN SEBASTIÁN 2017 New Directors

Review: The Charmer


- SAN SEBASTIÁN 2017: Debutant Milad Alami delivers a subtle, chilling drama that presents a completely different take on the crisis surrounding the integration of immigrants into Western societies

Review: The Charmer
Ardalan Esmaili in The Charmer

Iranian-born filmmaker Milad Alami was raised in Northern Sweden and, for the past ten years, has resided in Denmark. He’s a graduate of the National Film School of Denmark, and his short film Void (2014) – co-directed with Aygul Bakanova and starring Lars Mikkelsen – premiered in Cannes’ Directors' Fortnight. His 2015 short Mommy won the Danish Film Academy Award for Best Short Film. The Charmer [+see also:
interview: Ardalan Esmaili
interview: Milad Alami
film profile
 is Alami’s debut feature and is the opening film of the New Directors competition at the 65th San Sebastián International Film Festival.

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Having migrated to Copenhagen and lived there for the past two years, Esmail (Ardalan Esmaili), a charming young Iranian man, lives a double life. In the morning, he works for a moving company in order to be able to send money to support his relatives back home, while at night he desperately searches for women. However, his intentions are not financial; he is looking for a live-in, long-term relationship in order to ensure his continued presence in Denmark, as he’s being threatened with deportation. Everything will change after he meets 26-year-old Sara (Soho Rezanejad), a Law student of Iranian descent, and her mother, Leila (Susan Taslimi). At the same time, his past starts haunting him as a stranger (Lars Brygmann) approaches him.

The Charmer subtly blends some of the key issues that affect many immigrants, especially people’s acceptance of them in their new, permanent homes. Esmail has to mask his identity and create a new persona so as to become integrated into the Danish community. It is quite absurd that a simple relationship can guarantee full integration, although the hero is clearly taking advantage of the law. He tries to pretend to be a member of a community that he only puts up with because he can’t return home. His nostalgia is obvious when he starts to associate with the upper-class Persian community, which he has intentionally avoided during his stay there.

Esmail is constantly crossing borderlines without feeling welcomed anywhere. Inevitably, the question of ghettoisation is raised, even when it comes to the wealthy Iranians who have their secluded caste far from Nordic traditions. This constant tension and pressure to choose a side can only create further outsiders who are unable to form part of a theoretically advanced and accepting society – as Denmark is considered to be.

Thematically, Alami doesn’t stray from the subjects that he has dealt with in the past, as loners and social outcasts have always been under his spotlight. In The Charmer, which he co-penned with Ingeborg Topsøe, he expands on this subject matter by broaching all possible conflicts. Thanks to a great cast, pairing Swedish-Iranian Esmaili and synth-pop singer Rezenejad, both of whom are newcomers, along with established actors like Brugmann (A Funny Man [+see also:
film profile
) and Iranian legend Taslimi (Ballad of Tara), the film feels realistic despite its edginess, while the urban landscape is depicted efficiently by established cinematographer Sophia Olsson.

Alami delivers a brave, solid and chilling emotional drama that offers a different, unseen point of view on the battle against marginalisation that immigrants must face in Western society today.

The Charmer is a Danish-Swedish-French co-production by Stinna Lassen (Good Company Films) with Rebecka LafrenzMimmi Spång (Garagefilm), and Olivier MullerGary Farkas and Clément Lepoutre (Vixens), and with the support of the Danish and Swedish Film Institutes. Paris-based company Alma Cinéma handles the international sales.

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