Animation is an arresting way of capturing the gruesome reality of conflict to audiences who have become desensitised to gore through conventional films or continuous media footage. Waltz with Bashir and Persepolis are notable examples of their use of animation, turning real-life events into dreamy, anarchic and contemplative streams of consciousness.
The Green Wave accounts the heroic but ultimately failed attempts of young protesters, many of whom were demonstrating for the first time in 2009, as they demanded reform from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s ultra-conservative government. To the West, that event became immortalised by the death of the Neda Solta, a 26-year-old woman who was shot by Iran’s security forces. Her last moments were captured on fuzzy mobile phone footage and beamed out to the shocked world via the internet. Her story is included in the film, but the director Ali Samadi Ahadi chooses to concentrate on the unknown voices from the blogosphere and those on the streets of Tehran.
The film starts full of optimism, with footage of people congregated in the Haydarniya stadium to support the opposition presidential candidate, Hossein Mousavi. The atmosphere evokes the pageantry and jubilation of a soccer match, and the rich colours, including the green worn by Mousavi’s supporters, are highlighted by animator Ali Reza Darvish’s drawings. However, when it emerges that Ahmadinejad rigged the polls in his favour, the mood turns sombre, as protesters take to the streets again to protest the results. That is when things get violent, with the state unleashing violence and fear onto the streets of Tehran, rounding up political activists, including internet bloggers.
Ahmadinejad, known for his ridiculous rhetoric (denying the Holocaust, and saying that there are no gay people in Iran) can sometimes come across as a maverick figure, like Gaddafi . This film shows his ruthless and calculated attempts to maintain power, allowing the killing of children, women and unarmed protesters by his militia henchmen.
One of the most harrowing parts of the film is when one of bloggers is arrested and tortured in prison. His previous optimism is quashed, and when he comes out of prison he is a truly broken figure. In the prisons, people are deprived of food, subjected to lashings and are dispensed physical and sexual abuse. For a leader who is so homophobic, the use of state-sanctioned male rape by Ahmadinejad’s militia comes as a surprise - but then its function is to strip the victim of all power and dignity, not for sexual gratification. The events are also explored from another perspective, that of the militia man who has been ordered to beat up, kill and terrorise the electorate. He battles with his conscience and the teachings of Islam, which have been manipulated to provide justification for the state’s brutal clampdown.
Even though the audience may have become familiar with the fervour, determination and the tools used by protesters, from this year's coverage of the Arab Spring protests, the Green Wave is nevertheless a powerful insight into an event which set a new precedent for people-power within the Middle East and globally. The film is interspersed with real-life footage and interviews with journalists and lawyers, providing a detached perspective and chronological narrative of the events.
The film conveys two points about the nature of the Iranian Revolution which are different to the Arab Spring protests this year. Iranians were agitating for reform, not revolution, and had Ahmadinejad listened and implemented means by which to curb unemployment and economic conditions, the demonstrators would not have become so alienated from the state. Second, the film shows the presence and gives a voice to the scores of strong, determined women who protested in the country- in hospitals, on the streets and in election offices, while the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia and Libya, seem to be led by men.
Despite its bleak and depressing ending, the beauty of the animation and the film’s depiction of the bravery of young people in Iran, struggling for basic freedoms, makes for compelling viewing.