Radiograph of a Family (2020)

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Firouzeh Khosrovani constructs a surprisingly tender collage of her parents’ lives that shows the fractures caused by the Iranian Revolution.

This increasingly absorbing documentary starts with a great hook; “My mother married a photo of father.” And she means this literally. Her father, Hosseini, was living and studying in Geneva in the 40s and fell in love with Tayi on a trip home. Citing an inability to leave his studies to return for a wedding, he asked his family to have the wedding celebration without him so that his new bride was free to travel and join him in Switzerland. The dissonance between them is immediately apparent as devout and innocent Tayi arrives in Geneva to a husband she barely knows and discovers that he drinks alcohol, doesn’t pray, has female friends and doesn’t want her to wear a hijab.

Unhappy, Tayi nevertheless does as her husband tells her and even sends home portrait photos of them with her head uncovered, pretending the photographer was a woman. The difference in values and ideals between the two, as you can imagine, continues to grow and is exacerbated when they return to Iran and Tayi becomes a fervent supporter of the Revolution that deposed the monarchy and installed a fundamentalist Islamic republic under Ayatollah Khomeini. Along the way, their only daughter Firouzeh is born and she, like Switzerland, seems to inhabit a neutral zone between the two extremes of her parents.

Visually, we are shown only silent film footage and photos, interspersed with a repeated slow zoom of a room in their Tehran house. This last device is clever as we see how the changes in the room over the decades reflect the changes in her parents’ relationship and Iranian values and society. The silent footage is not necessarily of her family but the clips reflect the fashions and spaces of the time – Geneva airport, the bar that Hosseini takes Tayi to on arrival (to drink alcohol, much to her horror). It’s an effective device as, overlaid with Firouzeh’s sparse narration and recreation of her parent’s conversations, our imagination fills in the blanks and builds a picture of life across decades and continents.

I wasn’t expecting to be so moved by it, particularly the final scene where we see Tayi as an elderly woman. There is something deeply respectful about this story that shows us the universality of the parent-child relationship.

Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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