Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this review are solely those of Marlon Wallace and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of WBOC.
This is the official submission from Iran for the 94th Academy Awards for Best International Feature. Written and directed by Asghar Farhadi, it’s the fifth film from Farhadi that Iran has submitted. It made the Oscar shortlist, and the buzz around the film makes it likely to be nominated. If it were, it would be the third film from Farhadi to be nominated in this category. Based on other precursors like the Golden Globes, this film won’t win. Farhadi’s two previous films that were nominated did win, that of The Salesman (2017) and A Separation (2011). Of all his films, his 2011 flick also earned Farhadi a nomination for Best Writing, Original Screenplay. He’ll likely miss in the writing category this year but the writing here could make this film a kind of spiritual or thematic sequel to A Separation. It again plays with Farhadi’s favorite topic, which is the Iranian legal system. Instead of divorce in A Separation, the legal matter here is akin to debtors’ prison.
Amir Jadidi stars as Rahim Soltani, a man who is released from prison for a short time. He’s been in prison for three years. It’s not clear how long his sentence is, but he’s able to get a furlough for two days. After the two days, he has to go back to prison. While he’s free, he goes to stay at his sister’s house who’s married with children. It seems as though Rahim also has a child, a son who has a speech impediment. Rahim’s son seems to stay with his sister. His son has a mother but that mother doesn’t factor into this narrative. Rahim’s goal while he’s on furlough is to figure out a way to keep from going back to prison or a way to get out of fulfilling his entire sentence.
Farhadi is a good filmmaker and he’s a filmmaker who’s obviously making a film set in Iran and that is very much reflective of Iranian culture. That culture is very much different from American culture, so there are things that I probably won’t understand when presented here. One of those things is the prison system itself. Yes, it’s prison. It’s not meant to be a great place or a place a person would want to be. However, the depiction of the prison where Rahim stays doesn’t appear to be too horrible or not as horrible as an American prison. When Rahim insists on not wanting to return to the prison, the film doesn’t do enough to underline or underscore that point. There’s a moment where one inmate says that another inmate committed suicide, but it’s never examined if that suicide was related to inhumane or problematic treatment within the prison, or if the suicide was due to something else.
Sahar Goldust co-stars as Farkhondeh, the love interest to Rahim. She’s not the mother to Rahim’s son. She’s another woman that he met and with whom he fell in love, perhaps prior to his incarceration. Before his furlough, she finds a handbag or woman’s purse that is filled with gold coins. She thinks that this bag could be used to help Rahim because the reason Rahim is in prison is because he took a loan that he couldn’t pay back. There’s more to the story, but Farkhondeh figures that the coins can be used as a down payment for Rahim’s debt.
Mohsen Tanabandeh also co-stars as Bahram, a businessman who paid off Rahim’s debt and now wants his money back. I don’t believe it’s the same in American culture, but Bahram seems to have the power to stop Rahim from going back to prison or the power to get him out early. Bahram will only do so if Rahim pays him back the money. The gold coins would be a good down payment, but Bahram wants the whole amount and not just a down payment. He’s very insistent.
Rahim decides not to give Bahram the gold coins. He decides to find the person who actually lost the coins and return them to the rightful owner. He does so and the incident makes the TV news, which makes everyone in the community fall for Rahim and hold him up as this honorable man. This helps him to get out of prison early. However, Bahram doubts Rahim’s story and thinks he made the whole thing up. This is exacerbated by the fact that the woman who was the owner of the coins has disappeared or Rahim can’t find her. There was some manipulation or lying on his part when he’s forced to verify his story. But what no one logically connects is that if he had made up this story, why wouldn’t he be able to easily produce this woman and the coins? No one can say the coins didn’t exist because Rahim went to an appraiser to get them valued.
Yet, that doesn’t matter because another incident arises between Rahim and Bahram that shows that Rahim has a very short temper or anger management issues. The goodwill built for Rahim then begins to fall apart. I couldn’t help but think of the recent Jussie Smollett case in which there was a time when someone was put on a pedestal and then quickly torn down in the public space. Rahim is criticized in the media as being a liar who attempted self-aggrandizing, which is essentially what Smollett was convicted of doing.
Saleh Karimaei plays Siavash, the son of Rahim. He has an extreme stutter that makes it difficult to speak. It takes him a long time to get out a sentence or even just a few words. It’s a speech impediment that is endearing. He becomes a thing by the end of the film, but the film doesn’t really develop the relationship between Rahim and Siavash. Rahim’s son is almost an afterthought. Siavash at one point asks Rahim about his marrying Farkhondeh. It’s late in the film and up until then Siavash had been an accessory, one that Bahram points out too, but the film doesn’t do enough to rectify that criticism, which doesn’t help to endear us to Rahim.
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and language.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 8 mins.
Available on Amazon Prime.