Dressage Review: Pooya Badkoobeh’s directorial debut is a compelling character study that avoids clichés.

Dressage review by Dan Bullock, June 2018.

Set in the suburbs of Tehran, Dressage is a deftly paced yet compelling character study of Negar Moghaddam’s Golsa, a teenage girl who’s struggling with her place in the world around her but also questioning the type of people in her life. First-time director Pooya Badkoobeh, with a screenplay by Hamed Rajabi, offers up thought-provoking points on ethics and even class division, something that resonates across the globe.

Dressage begins with the aftermath of a robbery, where we discover that Golsa and her friends have stolen food and money from a local convenience store, conceivably just because they could. During their joy of celebrating, and with the rush of adrenaline, they realise they forgot to take the CCTV footage they were supposed to. After everyone accuses each other of not doing their job, it falls to a vote and they forcibly instruct Golsa to go back to the scene of the crime and retrieve the evidence of their involvement.

When she returns to the store, the man they knocked out is still unconscious and so she’s able to grab the CCTV machine that she needs to but instead of returning to her friends, she heads off to hide it at the stables she works at. The entire film stems around this very moment and so what initially seems like a quick move, becomes the centre of everything that happens afterwards. Golsa’s choice to hide the tape enrages the others but especially Amir, a boy she might have been close to before but shows his real colours under pressure, that of anger and physical violence. This latter point isn’t extreme but it is a crucial comment on men using their strength to try and asset their dominance, something that’s a re-occurring theme for some men in Golsa’s life.

Negar Moghaddam is outstanding as Golsa, while she may have the visual appearance of your clichéd, detached teenager, there’s so much more going on which is highlighted by her actions to the things happening around her. She leads the film from the very start and every choice made seems purposeful, even when it appears she’s despondent. Whether this is testing the environment around her to make her ‘feel’ something, or just pushing the boundaries due to her age isn’t always clear but this is because the decisions are always decisive, even if it puts her in trouble. She’s strong-willed and committed to finding the right, and fair, conclusion.

Other notable performances come from Golsa’s parents, played by Ali Mosaffa and Shabnam Moghadami, who are fighting their own battles to try and improve their working-to-middle-class lives and better themselves. There’s also Baset Rezaei as Milad, who’s a stable worker and the only positive light in Golsa’s life outside of her bubble, he brings warmth to his character that she desperately needs in tough moments.

Director Badkoobeh has created a smart film with themes that run throughout the world around us, on that side of things it resonates across cultural and social divides. Dressage is a story about control and how far people will go to try and keep it in their lives, whatever the cost or ethical outcome. It’s also a compelling character study that avoids cliché and adds in surprises to statements that we’re all the same really and, finally, asks if you’d do the same as Golsa does.

Dressage review by Dan Bullock, June 2018.

Searching was reviewed for the 2018 Sydney Film Festival.