The Bye Bye Man
The Bye Bye Man is the kind of film that is so boring and bereft of anything of possible interest that it becomes infuriating.
From the tumultuous exodus of Louis XVI during the French Revolution to the frenzied exit of Muammur Gaddafi, the flight of deposed despots from their furious former subjects offers a dramatist’s feast of real-world terrors and fascinations. Veteran Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf takes such a situation as the premise for his 2014 feature “The President,” which displays his filmmaking skills in abundance but lacks the kind of cultural and political specificity that would assure its resonance.
Reflecting millennia of artistic tradition, as well as aiming to avoid modern censors, Iranian filmmakers have often employed allegory, symbolism and allusion in making provocative cinematic statements. But stories using such techniques usually refer indirectly to certain readily identifiable cultural, political or human situations, most often within Iran. “The President,” on the other hand, takes place in an anonymous country (it was shot in the former Soviet republic of Georgia) and offers no sense of treating a recognizable set of historical circumstances. Although Makhmalbaf, who’s been living in de facto exile from Iran since 2005, has said it was inspired by the Arab Spring, the film is devoid of references to religion and Arab (or Iranian) political realities. It’s more a generic, transnational allegory, if such a thing is not a contradiction in terms.
Light is a key element in the film’s opening. A car speeds through nighttime streets bedecked with tens of thousands of bright lights, which recall the mirrored interiors of many Iranian mosques. But this is not Iran, and we’re soon looking down on the city in the company of this nameless country’s uniformed, bearded President (Misha Gomiashvili) and his similarly dressed little grandson (Dachi Orvelashvili). To demonstrate his omnipotence, the old man picks up a telephone and orders that the city’s lights be shut off. Within seconds, darkness descends. Then he offers for the boy to command the lights’ reappearance. But this time an order doesn’t bring immediate compliance.
The revolution has begun, but the President initially seems to have only the vaguest sense of the danger that implies. Come morning, he gathers his family and hurries to the airport. His wife and two bickering daughters board a waiting plane, but when the little boy refuses, the President takes him and speeds away in his limousine.