Red Rose is set in Iran during the Green Revolution in 2009, however, the film is markedly unique due to an underlying issue that framed the entire production: the director, Sepideh Farsi, was unable to film it in the country after controversies surrounding her previous works. That is, Red Rose is set in Iran, but from the outset, Farsi was in the position of telling the story of Red Rose without being able to access the city of Tehran where the narrative takes place. Farsi’s work examines the anger and oppression that led to the aforementioned revolution through a collage of filmed narrative and archival footage, resulting in a film particularly grounded in reality.
Red Rose is love story about two conceptions of revolution; that presents the conversations and conflicts between two lovers from different generations who have different visions of the change – and the method of achieving such – that Iran needs. Sara (Mina Kavani) and Ali (Vassilis Koukalani) begin an affair not too long into the movie, after participating in a protest as part of the aforementioned attempted revolution. The intense and passionate encounter begins to simmer throughout the film as Sara and Ali expound on their idea of revolution; articulating two largely different visions of change. Sara is part of a generation that employs technology for change, constantly using Twitter throughout the film in the face of Ali’s preference towards apathy and defeatism. He’s portrayed as part of a generation that wanted revolution, but is gradually running out of steam – precisely as Sara’s era is gaining it. Many of Sara’s tweets are taken from actual posts made on the website during the revolution, with Nahal Sahabi – a prominent Twitter activist who was arrested and committed suicide in prison – serving as a major inspiration for her character. This use of excerpts from the real world give Sara’s character a more poignant position in the film, as a figure that is not the product of fiction or romanticisation, but instead, an embodiment of actual voices that pushed for change in 2009.
This spreads beyond the characterisation in the film, however, as Farsi employs archival footage from the protests – taken from Youtube – to affirm this realistic bent of the film. While it wears the sheath of a romance around it, at the core of Red Rose is a study of a failed revolution and the idealism that fed it. The use of Twitter excerpts and Youtube excerpts show a sense of know-how on Farsi’s end as the director finds herself in a position of working incredibly well with what she has available to her. The film is shot in Athens, Greece due to the danger of returning to Iran – a country where Farsi has now described herself as ‘persona non grata’. The city resembles Tehran convincingly to viewers outside the country 1, however, it is in Farsi’s ability to reconcile this setting with various excerpts of footage and real world inspiration that creates a genuinely affecting and believable film.
That said, the film doesn’t come off as a wholly political treatise, with Farsi achieving a careful balancing act between creating a romance that sustains the audiences attention as well as a film that maintains enough of a revolutionary bent to remain an affecting and engulfing film. For instance, the sex scenes often mirror the political states of both characters; their attitudes towards sex and revolution are almost intertwined at times. Sara is ambitious, inquisitive and has a thirst for a genuine passion, while Ali is in a state of passivity, lacking a general motivation. Red Rose has its flaws, especially in how heavy-handed these metaphors and links between the relationship and the revolution are handled. Despite this, Sepideh Farsi’s film is a triumph in its context, with the director achieving a convincing work that drives home an important political message.