A trip through the underbelly

Tehran Taboo, by Ali Soozandeh.

Vincent Bongers

At Leiden International Film Festival, founded by students, you can watch psychological horror stories, sex in Tehran and the eternal struggle between men and women.


In the film Dogtooth, a young woman breaks her canine tooth, still in her mouth, on adumbbell and blood squirts everywhere.

But there’s more mayhem in store. In The Lobster, theprotagonist, played by Colin Farrell, following his divorce, is taken off to a hotel where he is supposed to find a new partner. If he doesn’t succeed within a certain time, he’ll turn into an animal. However, he can choose which sort, thank goodness.

He decides on the lobster: "Because it lives to a hundred and stays fertile." Oh, and he’s accompanied by his brother who’s already been changed into a dog.

That’s not even the weirdest stuff in Greek producer Yorgos Lanthimos’ work. His most recent film is playing at Leiden International Film Festival – which was set up in 2006 by some members of student club Augustinus: The Killing of a Sacred Deer, which again features Farrell as the main character.

He plays a successful heart surgeon who befriends a creepy sixteen-year-old boy. Very soon, strange things start to happen to the doctor’s family.

The trailer shows images of a half-paralysed child heaving itself across the floor by its arms, suggesting that Lanthimos has done all he can to make the viewer feel uncomfortable.

Luckily, it’s not all so difficult to digest. There’s the film Battle of the Sexes for instance, about a curious incident in sports history.

In 1973, American Billie Jean King was one of the stars of women’s tennis. Former professional, the somewhat sleazy Bobby Riggs, who was once the global number one of men’s tennis, is a real male chauvinist pig.

He challenges King to a lucrative game between the sexes. The whole world waits with baited breath to see the match between 29-year-old King and Riggs, who is 55.

Riggs claims that he could beat the much younger woman hands down, even if he were older. The pressure on King is huge, as she feels she must win to ensure that people take women’s tennis seriously.

Producer Ali Soozandeh’s animatedcartoon Tehran Taboo is about sex, drugs and techno music in the capital of Iran, where hedonism can lead to the death penalty. The film is a trip through the underbelly of the nation and shows explicitly what the religious guardians would like to keep hidden.

Leiden International Film Festival, until 5 November

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