Written and directed in 2006 by Iranian Asghar Farhadi (A Separation, The Past, The Salesman) this story of a young, engaged, Tehrani woman as she becomes embroiled in a failing marriage has his signature style. We are immersed in the minutiae of an ordinary day with with one character, in this case Roohi (Taraneh Alidoosti – Elly in About Elly and Rana in The Salesman), who is a catalyst and the pivot point around which the story revolves.
Roohi is an optimist and an innocent, bringing joy to each moment of her day and content in the knowledge that her fiancé truly loves her. Her life is about to begin. Through a temp agency, she is sent to an apartment block to clean for a married couple about to leave for a trip to Dubai. The wife, Mozhde (Hediyeh Tehrani), is erratic and agitated, at first paying Roohi to leave and then co-opting her into secretive errands that spiral out from her fractious relationship with her husband, Morteza (Hamid Farokhnezhad).
We begin to see the tangled threads that entwine the neighbours in the apartment block and, with each interaction, the nature of Mozhde’s paranoia becomes clearer. Roohi is the observer, watching wide-eyed as the frustration and self-absorption of a faltering relationship spins around her. She is the observer but, in her artlessness, can’t help but affect the course of events.
As with other Farhadi stories, the most significant moments come when the characters are faced with a choice that challenges their values and their idea of themselves. Such moments can’t help but be framed in the social and cultural expectations of contemporary Tehrani life. Through this we see the common dilemmas of adult life – being bound by choices, our accountability and culpability – along with the restrictions of gender, class and country.
What stands out about Farhadi’s films are the performances. There is never a moment that you doubt this is a real day amidst real lives. In one scene, the camera follows the action in the apartment as the husband and wife scream at each other. Their son, aged around six, follows them distraught. As the actors move in and out of the scene, his hysteria is palpable and you wonder at the direction and environment that coaxed such an authentic performance from such a young actor.
Screened as part of a Farhadi retrospective at ACMI in Melbourne
Bechel test – pass