Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Vahid Jalilvand
Stars:We Niki Karimi, Amir Aghaei, Vahid Jalilvand, Setar Ahmadpour, Afarin Obeisi, Borvoz Arjmand, Milad Yazdani.
The debut feature from Iranian filmmaker Vahid Jalilvand, this is a well crafted film that looks at the economic and cultural misery of ordinary Iranian citizens in a repressive and misogynistic regime. The script from Jalilvand, Ali Zarneger and Hossein Mahkan provides a bleak and depressing glimpse into life in contemporary Tehran and offers up a stinging social critique of economic inequality and the subjugation of women in this patriarchal society.
Jalal (Amir Aghaei) is a middle aged school teacher in Tehran who places an advertisement in a newspaper offering to give away a small fortune to someone in need. But even he is surprised by the turnout and the long line of hopeful supplicants that block the street outside his home.
A multi-strand narrative follows three heartbreaking and moving stories of loss, injustice and desperation, all linked by the promise of the 30 million rials. The subplot following the mysterious benefactor Jalal and the tragedy that has haunted him is the least engaging of the stories.
There is Leila (played by Niki Karimi, one of Iran’s most respected actresses), who has a quadriplegic husband (played by the director himself), who desperately needs the money for a vital operation. His ego and pride will not let her take the money though. She works in a chicken packing factory, but doesn’t earn enough to pay for the operation. Leila used to be engaged to Jalal twenty years ago but he walked out of the relationship. This adds an element of tension to the story.
Setarah (played by newcomer Setar Ahmadpour) is an orphan who has been raised by her aunt (Afarin Obeisi) and her abusive cousin Esmaeel (Borzov Arjmand), who nurses a secret desire for her. But Setarah has secretly married Morteza (Milad Yazdani), a hardworking carpenter from an impoverished family. She is also pregnant, and her relationship with Morteza earns the wrath of her deeply religious aunt and violent cousin. A street fight between Morteza and Esmaeel lands Morteza in prison. Setarah needs the money to pay “blood money” to free him.
As with much of contemporary Iranian cinema, the film is deceptively simple on the surface. This is a humanist film that looks at the nature of its patriarchal society, the economic hardship, religious zealotry and repression, and class. As is often the case, Iranian filmmakers are honest and critical of the society, but they have to find subtle ways to work within the constraints of the repressive regime and the harsh censorship of the arts. Jalilvand has certainly shown a mature and assured approach to his craft with his debut film. His cinematographer Morteza Poursamaddi often frames the characters through doorways, which is meant to symbolically heighten their sense of isolation. He also uses close ups which heightens the emotional connection to the characters.
Jalilvand hails from a background in television and documentaries, but he shows a strong command of the narrative form with his first fictional feature. He draws stong and touching, subtle performances from his two lead actresses. The film features two strong female characters who show courage and perseverance, and whose actions drive the narrative.
Wednesday, May 9 is a melodrama that will play well on the art house and festival circuit.