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  • Writer's pictureBen Turner

Opponent ****

Starring: Payman Maadi, Björn Elgerd, Marall Nasiri 

Director: Milad Alami 

Country: Sweden

UK Release: Metfilm


In the polarised world we live in today, asylum seekers and refuges have become politically weaponised. The terms are thrown around as something distasteful and objectionable without acknowledging that each and every refugee has a very human story of painful fear behind them, as well as a life beyond their immigration status. Swedish film Opponent does a sterling job at depicting that complexity in this striking story of an Iranian family.

Iman (Maadi – A Separation) is a former Olympic wrestler whose family has had to flee Iran. Living now in refugee accommodation in a town in northern Sweden, his asylum application is taking a long time as the government examines his reasons for leaving. In an attempt to expedite his chances, he joins a local wrestling team to try and represent Sweden at the Olympics. However, his wife Maryam (Nasiri) really doesn’t want him to join because his participation in the sport is what led them to leave Iran in the first place. And, inevitably, he will meet the Iranian Team once more at international competitions.

As Iman begins to wrestle, he forms a connection with a young teammate (Elgerd) who makes his attraction to him very obvious. But as history begins to repeat itself, he must decide what’s more important, his family or his true self. And with his wife and daughters having given up everything to come with him, this is not an easy choice for him to make.

The life they left behind in Iran was not a bad one. Maryam yearns for the comforts of home, instead of living their invisible existence in this concrete detention centre in the frozen north. And although their situation does begin to improve, this is not the life she chose. Nasiri’s performance is one of restrained frustration, watching reluctantly as her husband’s mistakes impact her daughters’ life time and again. And as we watch her perform as an accomplished pianist, it becomes abundantly clear that despite her self-discipline, this is an able woman of skill and talent, following a husband whose actions show little care beyond his own needs.

Flashbacks gradually reveal their reasons for leaving Iran, but these starkly contrast with their new bleak northern life. And while the Swedes enjoy a life of leisure and partying, this family is firmly on the outside looking in. As much as this is the story of refugees, this is also the story of immigration, where a family’s cultural differences leave them on the fringe of society with all the isolation that comes with it.

A nuanced and affecting drama centred on a deeply compound character, this is a moving portrait of the complexities of asylum.


UK Release: 12th April 2024 in cinemas, released by Metfilm


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