Although it tells an old story, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook are the real stars of the delicate romance “Flowers of Evil.” David Dusa’s feature-length directorial debut is an intimate portrayal of a cross-cultural romance between a French-Algerian bellhop and the Iranian fugitive he meets in Paris. The plot contains several layers of subtext, but it manages to explore these ideas while maintaining the exterior of an affecting love story.
Set in 2009, “Flowers of Evil” uses recent history as its backdrop: During the riots that followed the country’s fixed election, college student Anahita (Alice Belaidi) flees to France, leaving many friends and relatives behind. Like many Iranians during this tumultuous period, Anahita turns to Twitter, dropping fragments of her constant worries to her brethren in the Middle East. When the easygoing Gecko (Rachid Youcef) first notices her at the hotel where he works, he finds himself transfixed by her sad, lonely appearance and sets out to uncover the full story. After she moves from the hotel to a nearby apartment, Gecko tracks her down on Facebook and the two quickly bond.
Dusa’s camera gets close to the characters, following their dalliances through the Paris streets and under the covers of Anahita’s bed. Gecko takes her on a jubilant trip through the country’s nightlife, allowing her to explore the prospects of self-expression in a manner never available to her before. But Dusa also provides reminders of trouble abroad. As Anahita’s tweets appear onscreen, the director frequently cuts between her experience in Paris and the grainy video of events in Iran available to her on YouTube. This stylistic approach, a clever integration of new media that will surely look different as time goes on, occasionally grows tiresome — but it regains appeal when it impacts the movie’s personal dimension.
Anahita’s addiction to internet updates eventually becomes the source of drama for their relationship. “Flowers of Evil” slowly moves from a tale of solace to construct a dangerous love triangle in which technology is the urgent third wheel. “You’re here,” Gecko tells her, “but you’re not here.”
In the contrast between these two characters, Dusa is able to contrast the paranoia engendered by Iranian culture and the carefree mentality that the sheltered Gecko readily embraces. A free spirit with the acrobatic ability to launch himself over the hurdles of the Parisian streets, he has little interest in politics or other intellectual pursuits, viewing Anahita’s education as the cause of her discontent. She presumes, correctly, that he can’t understand her troubles without having lived in a society dominated by suppressed desires.
“Flowers of Evil,” a title borrowed from Charles Baudelaire’s volume of poetry published in 1857, takes on new meaning: It’s the rush of escape that Anahita finds by heading to Paris, where she can’t forget the world she left behind. Dusa powerfully depicts the downside of globalization: Anahita is haunted by the sounds and images of her home country because she can conjure them with the touch of a button.
HOW WILL IT PLAY? With its mixture of recent headlines, new media and young love, “Flowers of Evil” could perform decently in limited release, drawing the interest of several demographics.
criticWIRE grade: A-