The clamorous and heartbreaking documentary “The Green Wave” is about the lead-up to the June 12, 2009, presidential election in Iran, with its euphoric hopes for reform, and its brutal aftermath.
The writer-director Ali Samadi Ahadi, who grew up until the age of 12 in Iran but now works in Germany, has assembled a collage of seemingly disparate elements – talking-head interviews with Iranian exiles, animated sequences, blog entries, footage caught on cellphones – that somehow coalesce into a unifying vision. What binds everything together is not so much rage as something deeper – a profound sense of loss at the failure to achieve democracy.
The Green Revolution, as it is sometimes called, was not a revolution exactly. Yes, protesters took to the streets when it became clear that the election favoring incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad over reformist challenger Mir-Hossein Mousavi was almost certainly rigged. (More than 50 cities reported more votes than voters.) There were countrywide cries of “This is no election, this is selection.” But revolution, at least not a violent one, was never the intention. The protesters wanted to change the system from within. The fact that so many of those interviewed for “The Green Wave” are exiles is a testament both to the disillusion and the fortitude of those who have spoken up against the reigning regime.
The talking heads tend to be more accusatory than inspirational. Former war crimes prosecutor Payam Akhavan wonders why the international community is fixated on its oil supply but “no one is taking seriously the issue of human rights in Iran.” But he does say in the end that the rights violations are “heavily documented” and that “history shows that those in power today are not in power tomorrow.” I don’t find this lesson as reassuring as does Akhavan – he assumes the ultimate beneficence of power over time – but I see what he means.
We also hear from Shirin Ebadi, winner of the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize. She asks how a woman whose child has been murdered by the militia can ever forget who did this. This follows cellphone footage of a wailing mother during her child’s burial.
Journalist Mitra Khalatbari talks about what it’s like to be imprisoned and the fear that no one will know she was taken away. Blogger Mehdi Mohseni reiterates how the so-called Green Revolution – green being the color of hope – was always intended as peaceful. This makes the cellphone footage of brutality even more wrenching.
Inevitably, the animated sequences by Ali Soozandeh that intercut this footage are a vast comedown, even though Ahadi complements them with the harrowing, though overly dramatized, words of real-life bloggers and activists. In the absence of newsreels, perhaps animation was the only way to convey the totality of this story. But the footage that we do see is so raw and powerful that nothing else can compare.
Ahadi isn’t always very clear on what the political intricacies of the Iranian situation were at that time, and he doesn’t deal with other issues – antipathy toward the West, anti-Zionism, etc. – that would have complicated his narrative.
But despite its focus on a three-year-old election, “The Green Wave” is particularly pertinent now as Iran continues to crowd the global stage. It offers a rare glimpse into the insurgents’ long-held hopes for reform. This green wave, as a blogger remarks, is a tidal wave. Grade: B+ (Unrated.)