Story about the youth underground in modern Tehran never digs deep enough but still is a remarkable document.
The most remarkable thing about Hossein Keshavarz’s “Dog Sweat” is its very existence. Shot clandestinely in Tehran, the film dramatizes the lives of Iranian youths who rebel against the strictures of a conservative Islamic society in their pursuit of premarital sex, music, drugs and booze. With well-known Iranian filmmakers being jailed, especially following the highly protested presidential elections, and others fleeing the countries, the courage shown by Keshavarz and his cast and crew speaks for itself.
The portrait here is one seldom seen in Iranian films, that of young people looking for the next party, bottle of liquor or sexual encounter. What comes to mind is Bahman Ghobadi’s “Nobody Knows About Persian Cats” (2009), which certainly showed an underground society in Tehran but specifically dealt with the indie rock scene.
Ghobadi’s much livelier film also had greater clarity in its narrative design and characters. Here Keshavarz, who wrote the script with producer Maryam Azadi, throws a sometimes bewildering array of characters and story lines at a viewer. Every one of these multiple narratives in some way deals with frustrations over repression and censorship.
President Ahmadinejad declared once that “gays don’t exist in Iran.” But they do, and you see what happens when one faces an arranged marriage. A boy wants to have intimate relationships with a girlfriend, but has nowhere to go to do so. A woman wants to record pop songs, but female vocalists are banned in Iran. (The latter fact isn’t made clear by the filmmakers.) A woman looks for love with both a married man and a callous youth. And so forth.
No one seems to work, or at least no one is shown working other than the recording engineers. Family relationships are mere sketches as no older person is allowed to share in the rebellion. The crowd scenes of recent protest movements in Iran demonstrate that age is less a factor than this film implies: Older adults are sick of religious oppression as well.
The cast is fine, but the roles are superficial and too concentrated on the film’s theme. The film is remarkably well photographed, considering the crew probably had to grab shots as they could, as this most definitely was a production without a permit. (Kirk Honeycutt, The Hollywood Reporter)