Features Live Action Movies


Director – Milad Alami – 2023 – Sweden, Norway – Cert. 15 – 119m


Two asylum seekers – an Iranian pro-wrestler and his pianist wife – are confronted with inhospitable Scandiniavian hotel accommodation and state bureaucracy – out in UK cinemas on Friday, April 12th.

An ominous pulsing, thumping soundtrack. Wearing training kit, an Iranian man runs until stopped in his tracks by the sight of men on the nearby road searching for someone. There is a man hiding from their sight behind a parked car. The first man goes down to the parked car and demands of him, why couldn’t you keep your mouth shut?

Hoping it will help him be seen as contributing positively to the cultural life of Sweden, thus enhancing his and the family’s chances as being accepted into citizenship, Imam joins a local wrestling team. He is clearly glad to be once again participating in the sport that was his life back in Iran, but his wife is less than happy to see him taking it up again, especially since he sometimes comes back to the hotel with a bloodied nose. Imam befriends Thomas (Björn Elgerd) at the club, who invites him out to parties where Imam spends the night rather than going home to his wife.

The first man, Imam (Payman Maadi) is holed up in a hotel turned into a refugee accommodation in Northern Sweden with his wife Maryam (Maral Nasiri) and their two daughters, Asal (Nicole Mehrbod) and her younger sister. The place seems to be run for the benefit of the Swedish bureaucracy rather than the residents; periodically, the family are moved from one room to another. They seem a pretty unlikely couple: Imam is a professional wrestler while Maryam has studied piano to a high level (and is very good at playing it too, as we see later on when she plays in a residents’ concert).

The couple don’t speak Swedish, and in meetings with the authorities held on the hotel premises must rely on their bilingual neighbour Abbas (Ardalan Esmaili) to act as translator, a position the latter has been unwillingly forced into by virtue of his linguistic skill set. When Maryam visits the doctor with husband and kids in tow, she learns that she is pregnant, a surprise since the pair of them have had hardly any sex together in recent years.

As the tension between the husband and wife grows, her confiscates her and the kids’ passports, but she gets hold of them anyway, using them to rent a car for afternoons. It’s only going to be a matter of time before she leaves altogether, and Imam is forced to seek help from the indigenous Thomas.

The film is less economic with its narrative than it might be, and the numerous body contact wrestling scenes, including not only gym practice but also matches with rival teams, start to jar after a while. The film paints a less than rosy picture of life as an asylum seeker awaiting acceptance to the country – hardly an astonishing revelation in the current European political climate – but then doesn’t seem to know where exactly it should take that in narrative terms.

When Imam eventually moves in with Thomas, it’s unclear whether we are supposed to accept this is fact or interpret it as a dream sequence until Imam awakens from a sleep in a parked, rented car. In case we haven’t yet realised that asylum seekers can have a hard time, we are treated to the spectacle of one dousing himself in petrol then setting himself alight as a human torch. Opponent is not a bad film, but it’s far too long and nothing like as incisive as it might have been.

Opponent is out in cinemas in the UK on Friday, April 12th.


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