Updated: Aug 7, 2019
by: PRINDIE Senior Programmer ALEX KIM
Of the song “When I’m Not Near the Girl I Love,” Stephen Sondheim once wrote: “What’s most extraordinary about it, you listen to the first eight lines astonished at the clever ins and outs of the idea, and then every successive verse has one twist you don’t expect, on and on, endlessly inventive, until, exhausted, [it] stops.” Difference is that. It’s a film so full of smart and unexpected turns that by the end you’re left dazed and nearly breathless.
I don’t want to say much about the plot. This is a film that should be experienced with as little foreknowledge as possible as to the way in which it unfolds. I’ll say a little, and if you don’t want to hear even that until you’ve seen it—as I recommend—stop reading this review now, and come back to it after you’ve watched the film.
Difference centers around three young men, named Milad, Babak, and Farid. Farid may not be real. Milad is convinced that he is. Babak tells Milad that he needs to accept the reality of his mental illness and trust him when he says that Farid is definitely, indisputably an illusion. I won’t say more.
Ali Asadollahi, who directs Difference, recognizes that a film about the reality of what we see is only as strong as what its camera shows us. Accordingly, the cinematography in Difference is used to powerful effect. In one early scene, that camera looks through an eyeglass and everything is optically turned upside-down. In another, what starts as a medium shot becomes almost a close-up—and then holds there, letting us watch the pain, frustration, sadness, and exhaustion that alternately flit across its subject’s face. It is a heartbreaking moment.
With every one of those inventive turns that the film takes, we’re made to reconsider all that we’ve seen up until that point. This, of course, wouldn’t matter if we weren’t invested enough in the film for us to care what the truth really is. That Difference makes us care is its real miracle, and it achieves this on the strength of the characters it creates. Those characters, brought to life by pitch-perfect dialogue and wonderful, convincing, compelling performances, are all so real to us that to think any of them may not be real after all holds actual weight. They just have to be real—or anyway at least as real as we know ourselves to be.