CANNES, France — A sharp, nearly perfect 21-minute movie about a 6th-grade girl caught in a tug of war between divorced parents, “Needle” was shot last summer in Chicago by School of the Art Institute film student Anahita Ghazvinizadeh.
Friday at the Cannes Film Festival, the Iranian-born filmmaker won first prize (15,000 euros, or about $19,500) in the Cinefondation short film competition, one of many prestigious sidebars in the world’s premier celebration of cinema.
Director Jane Campion (“The Piano,” “Bright Star”) served as this year’s Cinefondation jury president. Tehran native Ghazvinizadeh previously made the short film “When the Kid Was a Kid” and co-wrote the feature-length “Mourning” while still in Iran.
The grace and visual acuity with which the director treats her young protagonist in “Needle” bodes extremely well for this filmmaker. Her Cinefondation prize brings with it the assurance that Ghazvinizadeh’s first feature will find a berth at a future edition of the Festival du Cannes.
In “Needle,” plaintive young Florence Winners plays Lily, a middle-school-aged student whose mother is taking her to get her ears pierced by her doctor father at a hospital undergoing a distressing amount of renovation. In the first scene, Lily’s mother tells a friend about her divorce and its attendant anguish (“It’s never gonna end,” she says, as the camera focuses on the unfortunate victim of her ill will). Maybe the piercing, the friend suggests, can serve as “a great entry conversation” to matters of custody and finances. Lily suspects otherwise.
A sly undertow of black humor informs much of “Needle,” but nothing is forced and little is stated directly. The filmmaker, it appears, is a born master of metaphor and displays a natural, inquisitive instinct for close-ups and what a face can reveal in terms of a character’s interior life.
In 2010 an earlier School of the Art Institute film student, Thailand native Apichatpong Weerasethakul, won the Cannes Palme d’Or, the highest honor, for his dreamlike feature “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.”
Ghazvinizadeh studied at the Tehran University of Art prior to earning her MFA in studio arts from SAIC.