Two & Two is a short film directed by the Iranian-born director Babak Anvari. Released in 2011, the movie was nominated for the British Academy Film Awards in the Best Short Film category. Being only 7 minutes long, it, nonetheless, manages to portray the process of social indoctrination, as well as the inevitable appearance of people who challenge the authority and rise against the doctrines. Despite the limitations that the length of the film imposes, with the help of colors, sounds and the language of symbols Anvari manages to convey both people’s fears and the imperishable need to fight against the authoritarian regimes, to stick to their guns despite major risks.
The film depicts one room, which is a shabby classroom where one sees only gray walls, a blackboard, and a bunch of students. The latter are all boys of about 12 years old. They are dressed in identical white buttoned-up shirts. When the teacher arrives, the boys become quiet and obedient, displaying no signs of free will, but only fear. Following the headmaster’s announcement from a loudspeaker, the teacher presents to the students “the changes” that have been made. To this day, two and two equal not four but five. The teacher makes the boys repeat this statement and snaps angrily at anyone who tries to question it. Nonetheless, one boy stands up and despite other pupils trying to hush him opposes the teacher. He is given a chance to change his mind, but he sticks to his guns and is executed for it in front of the other students. The film ends with the boys obediently writing down the incorrect equation into their notebooks. However, one boy at the last desk writes it down, but then crosses out the incorrect answer and writes the correct one in its place. It is the last thing that the viewers see: a paper with the corrected equation.
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Like any other short film, Two & Two is defined not only by its length but also by the restrictions that this limited timeframe imposes. Short films are bound to be more simplistic, which means that there are not usually many interrelated stories, but rather a simple one that leaves a lot of room for interpretation. Short films are also characterized by fewer characters than feature-length films since there is no room for the elaboration of the numerous characters (Cooper & Dancyger, 2004, p. 5). Thus, with so many limitations imposed on them, directors are forced to use powerful images, sounds, and symbols to tell their story and make a lasting impression on the viewers (Sheridan, 2004).
Two & Two, according to its director, aimed to “explore the desire which drives people to challenge authority in a despotic situation” (“About Two & Two”). To achieve this, Anvari uses different techniques. When it comes to the sound, it is rather the absence of any background noises that the director explores. Unlike those who choose music to create suspense, Anvari draws viewers’ attention to the absolute silence of the classroom and the teacher’s words that sound ominous in that silence. All the characters in the film speak Persian, but even without reading the English subtitles, viewers easily understand the story. Furthermore, it is the sound of these foreign and incomprehensible words in which one hears the absolute authority that reinforces the film’s powerful impression on the viewers.
Anvari’s use of color is also remarkable. In the same way that the absence of background sounds emphasizes the words of the characters, the contrast in colors focuses viewers’ attention on the objects that the director wants to highlight. Everything in the movie is in subdued colors: the gray walls, the dark green, and the dirty blackboard. They create a sharp contrast with the bright white shirts of the boys and the red armbands of the older students who are summoned to execute the rebellious boy. This effect is strong because everything else seems to blur: one’s eye never wanders off to examine the room or any other minor details. Everything is just an insignificant background against which the dramatic events are taking place.
Finally, the film is full of symbols that refer viewers to authoritarian regimes that existed throughout the history of mankind. For instance, the older students have red armbands on their white shirt sleeves, which are one of the symbols of the USSR. Having appeared during the Russian civil war, these armbands were widely used by the Soviet regime as the marks of members of a voluntary public order squad (Khvostov, 1996, p. 20). In this way, the reference is made to the most powerful authoritarian regime of the twentieth century. Another example of symbolism is the last shot, in which one sees the incorrect equation being corrected by a student in his notebook. Despite the execution of his classmate and the danger faced by people who disagree with the imposed doctrine, the student is courageous enough to write the right answer. In this scene, Anvari manifests his profound belief that the spirit of resistance is impossible to eliminate. The scene also gives viewers hope and emphasizes the importance of resistance. However, one of the scenes is too exaggerated. When the rebellious boy is executed in front of the class, the older students do not have any rifles. They simply raise their arms as if they had the weapons in them. Thus, when a shot rings out, one is surprised to see the blood that spatters the blackboard. The following scene in which the teacher cleans it off and one more time writes the incorrect answer to the equation, is overly dramatic.
All in all, Two & Two leaves a lasting impression. Both the absence of music and the dead silence of the students affect the mood of the viewers by communicating to them the fear that the boys experience. The premonition of a disaster is further highlighted by the pure white of the shirts in the gloomy classroom. Moreover, the director uses numerous symbols to convey his message. Through the introduction of objects that are associated with the Soviet times, he gives the example of the horrible events that marked world history. Finally, the final shot of silent resistance of one of the students highlights the director’s great faith in the strong opposition that will always fight back indoctrinating authorities. Even though some symbols are too exaggerated, Two & Two remains an outstanding work in the genre of short film.