Monday, March 14, 2016

Asghar Farhadi's FIREWORKS WEDNESDAY gets U.S. theatrical premiere at Film Forum

The more movies I see from Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi, the more impressed I am. This is true even though the films I've lately seen were made years before his Oscar-winning A Separation and his following film, The Past. Opening this week is a ten-year-old movie titled FIREWORKS WEDNESDAY, which is almost as fine a film as About Elly, from 2009, which opened here only last year and is, in TrustMovies' estimation, the pinnacle of Farhadi's work so far.

The Iranian filmmaker, shown at right, is the only one I know of who gives us Iran's bourgeoisie in all its troubling, fascinating, gee-they're-kinda-like-us entirety. It is difficult to view the first three of these films, in fact, without being stuck by how little fundamentalist religion appears to rule. The key word here is appears, of course, because, fundamentalist ideals do penetrate and control. And yet -- ah, the endearing/disconcerting predilection of human beings toward denial and hypocrisy -- Iranians do seem to circumvent fundamentalism when they need or want to.

This is why I suspect that Farhadi has mostly circumvented the censors. He manages with almost amazing consistency and honesty to show us Iranians living within their cultural and religious boundaries while at the same time struggling to rise above them.

Yet his characters never give voice to anything negative about their culture/religion. No -- they simply show us their specific situations and how they handle these. So we can watch them struggling to be human, while the censors can see them as moving outside their restricted lives and having to paying the price of unhappiness.

This is quite the tightrope walk, but Mr. Farhadi manages it beautifully, unlike his countryman Jafar Panahi, who is more vocal and open in his criticism -- and has paid for it by, so far as I know, still being under some weird form of house arrest. (Though he did manage to make the great film Taxi while in this "subdued" state, so maybe this sort of "somewhat-censorship" agrees with him by forcing him into the kind of alternating submission, insistence and pretzel twists that lead to humanitarian movie masterpieces.)

In any case, back to Fireworks Wednesday, the plot of which entwines a middle-aged couple's marital troubles (two photos above) with a young bride-to-be cleaning lady (seated, above, and at left, below) and the not-so-young woman (standing above, left) who lives across the hall. The movie takes place within a single day and night, during which we learn everything we need to know about these people to understand what they're going through and why. As usual, Farhadi identifies with all his major characters, and so, eventually, do we.

His film begins with a simply priceless scene (above) that works symbolically and realistically -- involving a chador and a motorcycle -- and manages, without raising its voice (or even suggesting this) to question tradition, fundamentalism, patriarchy, and a whole lot more. From there we bounce from one event to the next, as the movie becomes a surprisingly suspenseful tale of possible adultery, friendship and several instances of help and betrayal.

Before the film is finished, that chador has gotten up to all kinds of odd things, and our sympathies have been tossed back and forth among the various characters and their friends. By the end, the filmmaker has given us yet another amazing, in-depth tale of middle-class life in modern Iran.

A Grasshopper Film release and running 104 minutes, Fireworks Wednesday opens this Wednesday, March 16, at Film Forum in New York City, where it will have a two-week run. As for other playdates and cities, I am not sure, Perhaps the distributor -- a newcomer in the field of foreign, independent and documentary films -- will see fit to tell us soon.

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