‘Opponent’ Movie Review: A Refugee’s Struggle for Identity – Read our review of “Opponent,” a powerful book about a refugee’s journey to find his identity in a new country. Discover how the author captures the struggles of the refugee experience and the search for belonging.
A film directed by Milad Alami, opens with a powerful quote from Audre Lorde, a Black lesbian poet, that says, “My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you.” Lorde’s quote highlights the dangers of staying silent, especially in the face of violence. She believes that breaking through silence and speaking up is not only essential for communication but also for self-knowledge.
‘Opponent’ Movie Review –
The film’s main character, portrayed brilliantly by Payman Maadi, is trapped in his own silence, grappling with his inner turmoil. This struggle is symbolized through his literal wrestling with himself, a metaphor that injects the film with raw energy and urgency.
Maadi’s performance is a tour de force, as he embodies his character’s conflicting emotions of anger, desire, and vulnerability with impressive depth and nuance. The film’s tightly woven plot keeps the audience on the edge of their seats, drawing them into the character’s internal battle as he tries to break free from the prison of his own silence.
Milad Alami’s Opponent is a compelling drama that underscores the importance of speaking up and breaking through the silence. It’s a reminder that staying silent in the face of violence can be just as harmful as the violence itself.
Maadi portrays the character of Iman, who escapes Tehran with his family and seeks asylum in the far north of Sweden. The reasons for their sudden escape remain a mystery until later in the film, but the audience is given hints through a gripping prologue. The prologue starts with a blank screen, with only the sounds of body slams and grunts from wrestlers training hard in a gym.
In the background, police officers are heard requesting to question Iman. The first image we see is of Iman running in terror away from the complex. When another wrestler spots him and tries to alert the agents, Iman viciously attacks him, pummeling him until he’s unconscious.
This powerful opening sets the tone for the rest of the film, as it highlights the violence that Iman is capable of when pushed to the brink. The audience is left to wonder what could have happened to cause such a reaction, and the film masterfully keeps them guessing until the truth is revealed.
The opening scene of Opponent is startling and immediately captures the audience’s attention with a vise-like grip. As the scene shifts to the snow-covered Swedish landscape, the ominous drums of Jon Ekstrand and Carl-Johan Sevedag’s score suggest that violence will follow Iman to his new home. This feeling is intensified when a lone wolf enters the frame with blood on its snout, indicating a recent kill.
The use of music and visual cues in this scene is masterful, creating a sense of foreboding and unease in the audience. The wolf’s appearance adds to the feeling of danger lurking in the shadows, hinting at the violence that is sure to come.
As the story unfolds, the audience is taken on a tense and emotional journey, as Iman’s past catches up with him in unexpected ways. The gripping opening scene sets the tone for the film, signaling that the story will be a powerful and unsettling exploration of violence, trauma, and the human psyche.
Iman’s life in Sweden involves delivering pizzas on a snowmobile, while living with his wife Maryam (Marall Nasiri) and their daughters, Asal (Nicole Mehrbod) and Sahar (Diana Farzami), in a single room in temporary refugee housing. Their constant shuffling from one place to another with each new intake is a stark reminder of the uncertainty and instability that comes with seeking asylum.
Director Milad Alami humanizes the experiences of these individuals and families by highlighting their faces through a series of portrait shots. The film ends with a close-up of Iman and his family, emphasizing their struggle and resilience in the face of adversity.
The use of portraits is a powerful technique, as it reminds the audience that behind the statistics and bureaucracy of the refugee system are real people with real lives, hopes, and dreams. Through this approach, Alami creates empathy and connection between the audience and the characters, inviting them to see the world through the eyes of those seeking asylum.
Writer-director Milad Alami demonstrates with admirable economy the bureaucratic indifference that refugees face on a daily basis. Instead of being treated as individuals with unique stories and needs, they are often reduced to mere numbers in the system. This dehumanizing treatment is a distressing sight, as families are removed for repatriation, highlighting the limbo status that many refugees find themselves in.
Alami’s portrayal of the refugee experience is poignant and insightful, highlighting the human cost of political and social upheaval. By focusing on the daily struggles and indignities faced by refugees, he forces the audience to confront the harsh realities of the asylum-seeking process.
The film’s message is clear: we must do better for those who are forced to flee their homes and seek refuge in foreign lands. Instead of turning a blind eye to their suffering, we must acknowledge their humanity and work to create a more compassionate and just system for asylum seekers.
Iman and Maryam’s initial application for asylum has been rejected, leaving them stuck in a lengthy appeals process with little hope of success. Desperate for a way to improve their chances, they turn to a translator friend from the refugee center, Abbas (Ardalan Esmaili), for advice. Abbas suggests that Iman could return to wrestling and compete for Sweden, reapplying for asylum as a professional sportsman.
Maryam is vehemently opposed to the idea, but Iman sees it as a potential lifeline for his family’s future. He takes her to the training facility to watch him try out, hoping to win her over with his passion and determination. However, it’s clear that their relationship is strained, with Maryam feeling increasingly distant from her husband and resentful of the sacrifices he’s asking her to make.
Throughout the film, we see Maryam watching and studying the situation intently. Marall Nasiri’s nuanced performance conveys the wounded dignity of a perceptive woman who misses nothing. Although it’s not immediately clear what her penetrating gaze sees, it becomes clearer as Iman settles back into the very physical world of wrestling.
The world of wrestling, while it may be seen as a somewhat blunt metaphor, provides Milad Alami with dynamic punctuation in the form of pithy training and competition scenes that bring Opponent’s observations on masculinity, intimacy, and sexual repression into sharp focus. Sebastian Winterø’s agile camerawork and Olivia Neergaard-Holm’s punchy editing maximize the visceral impact of these scenes.
Throughout Opponent, Alami and Maadi sensitively illustrate the internal conflict within Iman as he adjusts to unfamiliar freedoms. At a party with Thomas and the other team members, Iman loosens up, smoking a joint and losing himself on the dance floor. However, at home, he retreats into a stony silence, burdened by an increasingly constricting sense of duty. Sometimes, Iman’s curt behavior towards Maryam borders on hostility, and it’s clear that this hurts him as much as it hurts her. Maadi’s outstanding performance, coupled with Nasiri’s excellent portrayal, imbues these scenes with a poignant sense of melancholy.
Although Alami’s screenplay is mostly effective, there are a few instances where it falls short. In particular, the film’s emotional climax surrounding Abbas’ asylum appeal may feel contrived and overwrought. Additionally, a fantastical moment in which Iman envisions his struggles dissolving into domestic bliss can come across as simplistic. However, these shortcomings are outweighed by the power of Payman Maadi’s remarkable performance. He conveys a full spectrum of emotions, from hope to despair, fear to fury, and isolation to liberation, without the need for heavy-handed exposition.