Asghar Farhadi knows how to make a movie. If you’ve never seen one of his powerful, emotional films, now is the perfect opportunity. “Fireworks Wednesday” is finally getting a stateside release, it was completed in 2006. The continual explosions in the background throughout the film serve as a reminder that celebrations and siege are always close by in Iran. Farhadi is the same director who made the evocative “A Separation,” a film about divorce set in a country that knows little to nothing of such things. “Fireworks” is interesting, engaging and sometimes unsettling, if a little slow. Slow, but not plodding and definitely not dull.
It is Persian New Year in Tehran and firecrackers are going off everywhere in joy of the new year. It’s also a city ravaged by war, so there is little comfort in the constant banging outside.
The film uses the festival as an allegory of the troubled marriage of an upper-class middle-aged couple and the larger battleground of the cold war between sexes and the classes. Iranian society may be entrenched in a traditional patriarchy, but there are areas of Tehran’s uptown where wives can and often call the shots. This can leave many of the husbands quaking in their feelings of fear, rage and the emasculation they barely hide. Farhadi’s films are detail-oriented and never short of the subtleties of body language. “Fireworks Wednesday” has plenty to spare.
There’s an icy woman, Mojdeh (Hedieh Tehrani) who is convinced her husband Morteza (Hamid Farokh-Nejad) is having an affair the neighbor/divorced beautician Simin (Pantea Bahram). Mojdeh voices her suspicions, which Morteza denies and it escalates to husband on wife violence in the streets of the nation’s capital. It’s an unsettling moment that turned my stomach and made the film more real than it had been. The Iranian patriarchy may be firmly in place elsewhere, but the battle of the sexes goes from a cold war to a hot one here. Plans to take a holiday in Dubai with their young son, Amir Ali (Matin Heydarnia) go up in flames as the unrest grows. Things don’t spin out of control as much as they collapse.
There are telling moments of how the couple value possessions more than their marriage. Their tasteful apartment is thick with sheets of plastic to protect the furniture, but the window is smashed by Morteza. Brave faces are everywhere, but raw nerves are too.
The polar opposite Mojdeh is the lively Rouhi (Taraneh Alidousti), who gets hired into the madness as a housekeeper. Soon enough, she’s more of a spy than a cleaner and the joy written on her face initially fades as the skies outside darken too. By the end, you’re not sure who to root for, but the fireworks in the background end up taking a backseat to the emotions exploding on screen.
In Persian with English subtitles, “Fireworks Wednesday” opens Friday April 15 at Landmark’s Ken Cinema.