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Opponent – feature film

Opponent (2023) - Trailer

Opponent is a feature film released in the cinemas 2023 and received wide critical acclaim. The feature, with original Swedish title “Motståndaren”, is directed by Milad Alami and assist directed by Misagh Alami.

Poster of Opponent

The story follows Iman (played by Payman Maadi) who is forced to flee Iran with his family in the aftermath of a devastating rumour and end up in a run-down hotel in Northern Sweden.

The film premiered at Berlinale (Berlin Film Festival) in the Panorama category which covers films that are explicitly queer, feminist, political, and beyond.

Opponent is Sweden’s selection for an Oscar in the category of Best International Feature Film at the 96th Academy Awards in 2024.

While Sweden was the base, the production was helmed by an assembly of creators and participants from a variety of countries and backgrounds, including Denmark, Iceland, and Norway, but also regions way outside of Scandinavia. Rich with diversity, it was common to hear at least five different languages on the set every single day.

The feature is a psychological drama with thriller overtones. It was released in the backdrop of – and connecting themes with – biggest feminist revolution in modern times, the Iranian “Woman, Life, Freedom” movement.

Woman, Life, Freedom
The cast and director on the red carpet during the Berlinale film premiere.

Just like any other film, there were many inspiring incidents behind the scenes of making this feature, but there was one in particular which shaped the authenticity of what the creators were trying to achieve with Opponent.

The story tracks back to a few years back when Misagh received a message on Facebook from someone named Kerstin who claimed to be his preschool teacher from back when Misagh and Milad moved to Kiruna as child refugees around 1988. Kiruna is a snowy town in the north of Sweden where they stayed for a brief while before moving elsewhere.

The teacher Kerstin took the initiative to reach out to Misagh while clearing up her attic and stumbling upon some of the brothers’ preschool drawings.

Misagh and Milad’s preschool drawings.

Kerstin was curious to hear what happened to Misagh and Milad after all these years as they come from a background that was different to her other students. Did they make it? Where are they now? It was clear they left a mark on her.

Young Milad and Misagh
Very young Milad and Misagh. Pictures found by Kerstin in her attic.

Fast-forward to 2020, the director Milad sets the town of Kiruna as the main setting for the film Opponent. It made most sense to revisit the landscape of where they landed back then.

Milad, Misagh, and Kerstin
Milad, Misagh, and Kerstin in the most unlikely reunion.

Then during one of the days of shooting the film, when the team were in need of extras to fill the scene, Kerstin came to the set and volunteered, hoping to see if these filmmakers were the students she cared for decades back.

So there they were again, the three of them, reuniting after so many years, capturing a fictional story about a completely different family leaving a trace in snowy Kiruna. Maybe it is not that very fictional after all.

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