US / 10 minutes / color / Kasra Farahani Dir: Kasra Farahani Pr: Jose Nunez, Zamin Mirza Story: “Concerning the Bodyguard” (1978, New Yorker) by Donald Barthelme Cine: Alexander Alexandrov Cast: Salman Rushdie (voice), Junes Zahdi, Simon Ebrahimi, Ayden Mayeri, Zaid Abro, Billy Khoury, Lisa Goodman.
The Donald Barthelme story upon which this short movie is based appeared in the New Yorker in 1978, but the movie appears to have had its genesis much later, in an August 2011 New Yorker podcast featuring a reading of the story by Salman Rushdie. That reading forms the movie’s soundtrack; the movie’s otherwise silent save for some (rather pretty) incidental music at start and close.
The story, a copy of which you can find here, is made up largely of questions—questions like this:
“Has the bodyguard noted the difference in quality between his suit and that of his principal? Between his shoes and those of his principal?”
That structure might not seem promising as a means of creating a gripping narrative, but in fact it works surprisingly well—even better in Rushdie’s reading than on the page. There’s a rhythm to the spoken version, brought about by the frequent vocal upturns to signify the question marks, that becomes quite mesmerizing.
Taken together the questions paint a picture not just of the bodyguard and his situation but of the obviously despotic and corrupt country in which he’s currently working. The final question is the one that isn’t forthrightly stated: on that inevitable day when the regime is overthrown and the bodyguard’s boss with it, on which side will the bodyguard’s sympathies lie?
The visuals match the soundtrack, and are in places really quite arresting, as here:
“Are the streets full of stilt-walkers? Stilt-walkers weaving ten feet above the crowd in great papier-mache bird heads, black and red costumes, whipping thirty feet of colored cloth above the heads of the crowd, miming the rape of a young female personage symbolizing his country?”
In a way, this is less of a movie than an illustrated version of Barthelme’s story: it’s as if we were reading an illustrated book in which, somehow, the illustrations were moving images rather than still ones.
Junes Zahdi plays the Bodyguard, Simon Ebrahimi the Principal whom the Bodyguard must defend and Ayden Mayeri the Principal’s troublesome Mistress, with whom the Bodyguard must resentfully cope.
You can watch this strange, powerful and beautifully executed movie in various places around the intertubes, such as here.
An earlier movie (which I haven’t seen) based on Barthelme’s story is Concerning the Bodyguard (1999) dir Brandon L. Wilson and adapted by Robert Davis.