Thursday, April 7, 2016

Secrets of an Iranian marriage

This 2006 film from Ashgar Farhadi only advances the director's reputation as one of the world's best filmmakers.

Iranian director Ashgar Farhadi's 2006 film Fireworks Wednesday is just now making its way around the US. For all of the tension between the US and Iran, it remains one of the day's more confounding ironies that Farhadi's films offer more to care about than much of what pours out of Hollywood.

A personal and keenly observant filmmaker, Farhadi grounds his films in Iranian culture -- Fireworks Wednesday takes place against the background of the Persian New Year -- but his explorations of intimacy and deception resonate far beyond Tehran.

A Separation (2011). In this earlier film, he examines another foundering marriage. Although not as technically accomplished as Farhadi's later work, Fireworks Wednesday stands as an absorbing look at characters in crisis.

The movie begins by introducing us to Rouhi (Taraneh Alidousti), a young woman who's about to be married.

Early on, the happily innocent Rouhi lands a temporary job as a cleaning person. She's assigned to the home of an affluent couple in the heart of Tehran, a part of the city that's far from Rouhi's home on the city's outskirts.

When Rouhi arrives at the apartment, she finds a home in chaos. Shards of glass are scattered about the floor, residue from a window that the man of the house -- Morteza (Hamid Farokh-Nejad) -- broke in an argument with his wife. The furniture is covered with plastic because of a recent paint job. The order of things clearly has been disrupted.

We soon meet Mojdeh (Hedieh Tehrani), Morteza's wife. She's a beautiful but distracted woman who suspects her husband of having an affair with a neighbor (Pantea Bahram), a beautician.

Morteza and Mojdeh also have a son (Matin Heydarnia), a boy who's clearly impacted by the domestic turmoil that surrounds him.

To add to the roiled atmosphere, the family is scheduled to leave for a holiday in Dubai the next day, and Morteza's travel preparations have been disrupted by a sudden call to return to work, something to do with a TV broadcast.

As the story progresses, Rouhi begins to understand that marriage may be a more complex institution than she imagined.

And that's only part of what transpires as these increasingly desperate characters struggle to regain their footing, and we, as is often the case in Farhadi's movies, try to determine how much truth underlies Mojdeh's anxieties about her husband's suspected infidelity.

Mojdeh doesn't make the job any easier. Deeply troubled and self-involved, she's losing her grip on nearly everything in her life.

All of this drama takes place during a day when young men are setting off fireworks in the streets of Tehran. The festive atmosphere of the New Year becomes a disturbing backdrop for a steely eyed look at a marriage that has become a war zone.

In Fireworks Wednesday, every character deals with tremendous stress. The actors are up to the challenge, especially Tehrani who embodies all the obsessive and torn qualities of a woman consumed by doubt.

In ways that never intrude on the drama, Farhadi expands the movie's vision: He makes us keenly aware, for example, of the class differences between Rouhi and her employers, and how these differences color their behavior.

Like all of Farhardi's movies, Fireworks Wednesday should be seen by all of those who think they understand Iran.

And that brings me back to where I started. Fireworks Wednesday qualifies as great and revealing domestic drama, and reminds us that Farhadi remains one of the world's best and, yes, most relevant filmmakers.

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