Scene from "Breath"

Sareh Nour Mousavi in Nafas (Breath) (2016)

Breath is a fantastical drama written and directed by native Iranian Narges Abyar. Set in Yazd, Iran, spanning between the 1970s and the end of the 1980s, Breath (Nafas) is a harrowing story about war and childhood as seen through the creative eyes of 9-year-old Bahar (played by Sareh Nour Mousavi), who uses her imagination to dream her way out of her violent reality.

The audience meets Bahar, a playful and spirited young girl who turns her troubles, both personal and universal, into a wondrous playground of delight. Although she is poor and motherless, she focuses on the love of her father and family, a love and acceptance of life. She takes life’s major obstacles and looks at them as minor speedbumps. For example, early in the film, it is revealed that her father (played effortlessly by Mehran Ahmadi) has bad asthma. Bahar turns to her imagination to become a ‘doctor of breath’ to treat her father in her mind.  

Abyar spoke to Reuters, “I chose Bahar because ... I wanted the world to understand all the limitations an Iranian girl faces,” Abyar continues, “Outsiders may think it is the influence of the establishment or the religion, but it is not. It is the culture ... and even many women in Iran believe that men are more capable than women, and women should have fewer rights than men.”  

The movie takes place over the span of many years, as viewers watch Bahar’s childlike wonder and optimistic spirit persist (and eventually break) throughout the violent Iranian revolution as well as the war. Most films about war use the war itself as a background, allowing the feelings of pain and images of violence to take center stage. Although Breath is as sad and heartbreaking as it is magical and dreamy, Abyar manages to use the war, not as a background but as a character, and instead of pain and loss running to the foreground, it’s Bahar’s whimsicality. It’s about the power of innocence in a world of violent dread. The importance of perspective, in an undeniably bleak moment of time. 

Abyar is most celebrated for her film Trench 143 (2014), a war drama film adapted from Abyar’s own novel, The Third Eye, concentrating on women’s roles during the Iran-Iraq war throughout the 1980s. Breath, like her previous work, is also centered around war but always manages to find an original perspective to project her unique voice. So far, Breath has won many awards, including Best Director in the 2016 Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, as well as Best Supporting Actress to Shabnam Moghaddami in the 2016 Fajr Film Festival.

Although the film isn’t autobiographical, Abyar drew from personal experiences to write it. Abyar confessed to Al-Monitor, “For me, the war was a central issue because part of my childhood and youth were spent during the war. Also, the drama we experienced in the eight-year Iran-Iraq War has the potential for many powerful storylines.”