Retouch is an Iranian short film directed by Kaveh Mazaheri. Going into it – I really didn’t know what to expect or what direction this film would lead. However, from the start, I was captivated by the striking cinematography and acting by actress, Sonja Sanjari. Maryam (Sanjari) is a young mother and wife to a needy husband and a fussy toddler. Her husband has an accident while lifting weights and instead of helping him, she watches him die. Henceforth, she goes about the rest of her day with the weight of her dilemma.
This film is purely visual and tells a depthful story with very few words. That is the ultimate goal of filmmaking and Retouch hits those marks perfectly. Mazaheri relies on filmmaking techniques and the power of human expression to communicate how the viewer should interpret the story.
Every shot and line of dialogue has a deeper meaning and contributes to the theme and the overall message of the story. Immediately, the audience understands Maryam’s character. At the beginning of the film, the opening shots center on the husband. As he aesthetically lights his cigarette and emerges from their bedroom, he dominates the frame. Maryam is only partially seen, concealed by the wall of their home. She is merely a pair of hands – to feed, to comfort, to mother both her child and her husband.
We instantly sympathize with Maryam. The husband is immediately an unlikable character, as he is essentially unable to do anything by himself. Viewers feel frustrated for her and experience her exasperation. Her annoyance is tangible when Siyavash interrupts her focus as she applies her eyeliner.
Siyavash’s accident hint towards a criticism of the fragility of male masculinity. He chooses a weight that is clearly too heavy for him to safely lift. Hence, there is an implication that he is attempting to overcompensate for lacking conventional types of masculinity. Maryam is clearly the head of the household and while many of their additional marriage problems go unspoken, it is clear to the viewer from his actions that he must feel insecure with her independence.
When he is unable to lift this absurd amount of weight – he calls on Maryam to help him. Retouch subtly examines the expectations of women in both domestic and professional settings. Mryam is expected to cater to her husband and his inevitable failure when he struggles to feel like a man. When she sees that trying to meet those expectations is useless – she stops trying. She lets the weight fall on him and makes him take accountability for his own mistakes.
Then, later as she goes into her place of work. We see a similar situation happen. Her male supervisor leans over her, once again dominating the frame, throwing commands at her. Giving her a step by step instructions on how to retouch a photo. This scene references the similar struggles she faces at home, essentially tying this into the title of the film- Retouch.
After Siyavash’s accident and Maryam goes about her day – she is the center of the frame. Or more specifically – her face. Sanjari communicates expressions that are telling yet so mysterious at the same time. The audience constantly wonders what she is thinking or what she is going to do.
It is no wonder that this film is so successful. It’s beautiful on the surface level, but the complex themes woven throughout the visual storytelling give it a profound depth. Sanjari’s powerful acting leaves the audience reeling and urges the viewer to accept unanswered questions. It truly is a film that you can watch multiple times and admire it more with each viewing. I encourage any aspiring filmmaker to watch this film. Retouch is a holistic work of art that is the exemplary model of showing, rather than telling and other filmmakers should take notes from this quiet masterpiece.