Director: Hassan Nazer
Screenwriters: Hassan Nazer, Hamed Emami
Starring: Parsa Maghami, Reza Naji, Hossein Abedini
Imagine coming across an Oscar statue. What would you do? Keep it? Try to find its rightful owner? This is the premise of Winners, the story following a young waste picker by the name of Yahya (Parsa Maghami) who enlists the help of his fellow cineaste and boss Naser (Reza Naji) to return the fabled statue to its rightful owner. It’s a premise that holds comparisons to classics of the silver screen, but sadly doesn’t live up to its billing as “Slumdog Millionaire meets Cinema Paradiso“.
Yahya clearly likes films, often being told off by his mother for staying up all night to watch them when he has to go out and earn money to keep their family afloat. At least, we’re told he does…
The film’s director Hassan Nazer was originally born in Iran but decided to leave his homeland at the age of eighteen when a show of his with ten female cast members was boycotted by officials of his university. “From that moment I knew my work would be banned if I continued to live in Iran,” stated Nazer. Twenty years after first arriving in Scotland, Nazer brings us his first feature 100% financed in Scotland. His passion for cinema and for creating art is clear – Nazer’s passion burned so brightly that he travelled thousands of miles and built up his career over twenty years just to make this movie.
This passion for cinema is supposed to be the very core of Winners – the soul, the beating heart – yet it is absent from the screen. Movies and cinema as a whole are referenced throughout Winners, but it comes in such a lazy and bare-minimum way that it feels as though any old schmuck trying to make a film about cinema would come up with the same results. There are a couple of posters shown here and there, some truly on the nose references to Cinema Paradiso and The Song of Sparrows (which actor Reza Naji starred in) and maybe two other pictures mentioned through dialogue, but that’s all. It is somewhat shocking that a film which promotes itself as “a loving ode to the history of Iranian cinema”, could feature such little discussion about the subject, or of cinema as a whole.
It is the film’s lack of a beating heart that creates issues throughout the rest of the movie. This corrupts the enjoyability of the entire feature and damn near ruins the quality of the artistry of all involved.
The screenplay, which features lazy writing with little to no movie talk, also features an unnecessarily large amount of expository dialogue. It is an issue that truly affects the characters, making them all one dimensional at best: Yahya likes movies, Leyla is his friend, his mother gets annoyed at him watching movies. All of them are reduced to their own singular role within the narrative, and are barely presented as if living, breathing beings in their own right.
Aside from the characters and dialogue, the story itself feels incredibly convoluted, almost as though everything is stretched as thin as possible to meet a feature length running time. Yahya is a waste picker, so you’d think that would be where he finds the Oscar, right? Wrong. What actually happens is a woman is sitting in a Taxi in order to deliver the Oscar to the winner, then she has to quickly run out of the Taxi for a moment and in this moment the police tell the cabbie to move. When she comes back he isn’t there so she leaves, the taxi driver can’t find her. It’s all very convoluted, some would describe it as ridiculous. Long story short, Yahya finds the Oscar on the side of a road, which makes the waste-picking aspect of Yahya’s life almost entirely irrelevant. The whole film is this way: overtaken by pointless details that offer little to the unnecessarily convoluted plot.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, Nazer directs the film about as flat as the script reads. There is rarely much creative use of editing or framing. In some ways you could say the film is edited in the same way classic Hollywood films were, edited in order to seem unnoticeable and invisible. The issue is that, without much stylistic flair, the already lacklustre script is delivered in an even more mundane manner. There is some nice cinematography from time to time, Arash Seifi and Arash Seyfijamadi managing to create pretty visuals out of the gorgeous backdrop of Iran, but this is a small victory in an otherwise unimpressive feature.
Winners is ultimately a film that fails to evoke much of any emotion towards any of its characters; a movie that claims to be a passionate ode to cinema yet fails to convince us that it knows much about the subject at all.