MARATHON | Amir Naderi

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Marathon by Amir Naderi

Stars | Interpreti
Sara Paul (Gretchen), Trevor Moore, Rebecca Nelson
Screenplay | Sceneggiatura
Amir Naderi
Cinematography | Fotografia
Michael Simmonds
Editing | Montaggio
Amir Naderi, Donald O’Ceilleachair
Production | Produzione
Amir Naderi, Alphaville Films (NYC)

Premiered at Tribeca Film Festival (New York) 2002

Gretchen is a woman living in Manhattan who is obsssed with crossword puzzles, and has issued a stern challenge to herself — to complete over 77 newspaper crossword puzzles in 24 hours, which would beat the number she did in a similar period the previous year. Gretchen does most of her work riding subways or busses, following the square grid of the city which somehow resembles the puzzles that fascinate her, and when she is at home, she listens to recordings of the noise of the street, unable to separate the urban landscape from her compulsive behavior.

Along with his friend and colleague Abbas Kiarostami, Amir Naderi was one of the principal architects of the new Iranian cinema of the 1970’s. After making 11 features in Iran, including his most widely seen film, The Runner (1985), Mr. Naderi moved to New York, where he has continued to make films that combine an almost overwhelmingly physical sense of place with abstract and inventive formal concerns. Marathon, Mr. Naderi’s latest film, which opens today in New York, completes the New York City trilogy he began with Manhattan by Numbers in 1993 and continued with A, B, C . . . Manhattan in 1997.
Mr. Naderi has employed both Manhattan’s numerical and alphabetical systems of street names as basis for fictions. (In Manhattan by Numbers, an unemployed journalist works his way from Washington Heights to the East Village, descending digit by digit.) In Marathon he turns to another of New York’s organizing systems, the subway. The protagonist of this short feature, shot in black-and-white on both film and video, is Gretchen (Sara Paul), a young woman with a curious obsession: once a year she goes on a personal marathon in which she tries to complete as many crossword puzzles as possible in 24 hours while riding the trains.
Gretchen relies on the screech and rumble of the subway to find her concentration, and Mr. Naderi relays these sounds with a sharpness and an intensity that approach the real thing. By performing this strange, private ritual (a tradition she has inherited from her mother) in the most public and chaotic of places, Gretchen seems to be waging her own private war against the meaningless din of urban existence. As absurd as her gesture may be, it is one way of imposing order on arbitrariness.
The beauty of Mr. Naderi’s filmmaking lies in his combination of acute social observation (with the subway population providing its habitual cross section of New York classes and cultures) and pure, almost mathematical formalism. He is as fascinated by the cool geometry of the subway system (and its similarity to the neat, empty boxes Gretchen fills with words) as he is by its messy vitality. Though we never discover the personal motivations behind Gretchen’s marathon (there are some hints of family trauma), surely they can’t be much different from Mr. Naderi’s own in filming it: to make sense out of senselessness, to pull art from the void.
(Dave Kehr, «New York Times», April 2, 2004)

Very few underground or independent filmmakers in New York come to their chosen field with a résumé like Amir Naderi’s. Alongside Abbas Kiarostami, Naderi was part of the first generation of great Iranian filmmakers whose careers first bloomed in the pre-Revolutionary 1960s and ‘70s. And his lyrical films The Runner (1985) and Water, Wind, Dust (1989) helped bring international attention to Iran’s post-Revolutionary cinema. Since moving to New York in the early 1990s, Naderi has been turning out a trilogy of small, quirky and experimental films about his adopted city, Manhattan by Numbers (1992), A, B, C… Manhattan (1997), and finally, Marathon.
Nonetheless, those who don’t know Naderi’s earlier work might be forgiven for confusing Marathon with a better-than-average student film. It has a similar earnestness about it and a blithe disregard for Hollywood conventions. Moreover, its skillful but low-budget black-and-white cinematography does little to relieve this impression. Marathon’s simple story line takes place largely in the bowels of the city’s transit underground, where a young woman (Sara Paul) undergoes a self-imposed trial of concentration and skill – attempting to break her own consecutive crossword-puzzle record – while wrapping herself (and us) in a blanket of noise, bustle, and constant motion. Her monomaniacal pursuit offers a visually and aurally intense cinematic portrait, a relentless striving all too modern in its disproportion and self-absorption.
With very little dialogue and few moments of calm, however, some will doubtless find the film’s unremitting din and commotion unnerving, and the bleak industrial beauty of the compositions small compensation. Of course, this sensory overload is part of Naderi’s intention, as well as the hypnotic attraction of this manic film’s physical and psychic terrain. In the end, it’s the perhaps inevitable precondition for the profoundly urban moment of grace ushered in with the season’s first snowfall as, once again, nature asserts a sense of balance.
(Leili Kashani, Department of Middle Eastern Studies, New York University, «», April 1, 2004)

Gretchen sta cercando di battere il suo record personale: risolvere settantasette cruciverba in ventiquattro ore. All’inizio la ragazza prende la metropolitana e attraversa tutta New York convinta che il forte rumore dei treni la aiuterà nella concentrazione. Alla fine torna a casa e continua senza sosta a risolvere i giochi enigmistici. Registra i suoi progressi con un sistema che può piacere solo a una persona ossessiva-compulsiva come lei. La madre, intanto, la cerca e le lascia ripetuti messaggi nella segreteria telefonica.

Presentato nel 2002 al Tribeca Film Festival e in Italia al Torino Film Festival.

Naderi, nei suoi film precedenti, ha usato entrambi i sistemi di nomenclatura delle strade di New York, quello numerico e quello alfabetico. Ora, in Marathon, sceglie un altro sistema di organizzazione della città, la metropolitana… Gretchen conta sui rumori della metropolitana per trovare la concentrazione necessaria e Naderi collega questi suoni con una tale acutezza e intensità da sembrare veri. Nell’esercitare il suo strano e privato rituale (una tradizione che ha ereditato da sua madre) in uno dei luoghi più affollati e caotici. Gretchen sembra condurre la sua guerra privata contro l’insensato strepitio della vita metropolitana. Per quanto assurdo possa essere il suo comportamento, è un modo per imporre un certo ordine nell’arbitrarietà. La bellezza dello sguardo di Naderi sta nel saper combinare una precisa osservazione sociale con il suo puro, quasi matematico formalismo. È affascinato dalla fredda geometria della metropolitana (e dalla sua somiglianza con le caselle vuote del cruciverba che Gretchen riempie di parole) e lo è allo stesso modo dalla sua disordinata vitalità. Sebbene non scopriremo mai le motivazioni personali che stanno dietro la maratona di Gretchen, sicuramente esse non possono essere molto differenti da quelle che spingono Naderi a filmarla. Per trovare un senso dal nonsenso, per far nascere l’arte dal vuoto.
(Dave Kehr, «New York Times», 2 aprile 2004)