Review: ‘The Green Wave’ explores tumult in Iran

“The Green Wave” tells its deeply moving story three ways, using animation, on-camera interviews and extensive documentary footage to show us a moment in history that reveals more about itself each time it is examined.

That moment is the tumultuous, controversial 2009 presidential election in Iran, when the spirit of reform as symbolized by the color green ended up stained with the blood of demonstrators savagely attacked by forces loyal to the ruling regime.

Although a 3-year-old election may sound like old news, “The Green Wave” has considerable contemporary relevance. For one thing, given Iran’sstill-central place in world affairs and the controversy surrounding its nuclear program, the insight this film gives into how deeply divided the country is couldn’t be more pertinent. For another, stories this emotional and passionate are in many ways timeless.

As directed by Ali Samadi Ahadi, who has lived in Germany for many years, the flashiest part of “The Green Wave” is its use of animation to illustrate stories, especially those of imprisonment and violence, that by their nature could not have been filmed. Created by animator Ali Soozandeh, these colorful images enhance our sense of involvement.


Similarly, the talking heads who lend their voices to the film, people like Noble Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi and exiled journalists Mehdi Mohseni and Mitra Khalatbari, are unusually articulate and to the point as they talk not only about what happened but what it meant.

The most compelling aspect of “The Green Wave,” however, is the extensive footage shot clandestinely by amateurs using cellphones. What they recorded shows us the reality of what went down in a way nothing else can match.

The film’s narrative starts with a political rally at a football stadium in late May 2009, an event that was part of a presidential campaign not many Iranians were interested in at that point. The candidates had all been vetted by religious authorities, and given that the incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, seemed unstoppable in his reelection bid, not many reasons to vote had presented themselves.

But at this rally for opponent Mir-Hossein Mousavi and at others that followed, something subtle but unexpected happened, something we can see in the film clips.


So much esprit was created in the largely youthful crowd, so much passion — “It wasn’t a wave, but a tidal wave of protest,” someone says — that people felt compelled to participate in the electoral process. Not so much because they believed they could win but because just speaking up seemed vital.

It’s important to emphasize that these young people were not after revolution; they were interested in change within the system. They were looking for the Islamic Revolution to reform itself and be as democratic as it claimed to be.

So it was especially shocking, especially after the hopes all this activity had raised, for the government to announce that nearly 70% of Iran’s votes had been cast for Ahmadinejad. Charges of fraud were almost instantaneous — more than 50 cities recorded more votes than there were voters — but what was to come was even more disturbing.

For when people took to the streets to protest, holding signs saying, “This is not election, this is selection,” the government responded with beatings and shootings that are shockingly visible on cellphone footage (the regime had previously expelled all foreign media.)

What comes through most strongly in the interviews is the anger and disgust these Iranians felt at how shabbily their government treated them. One blogger notes that this nation has been “searching for its lost voice for 150 years.” It came close to finding it this time, he says, and it will not give up.

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