Iran might have an Islamist government, but notwithstanding the revolution, average Iranians have never been generally inclined towards fundamentalist orthodoxy. This disconnect will deeply confuse a young devout Muslim woman in Canadian-Iranian filmmaker Parisa Barani’s short Ablution (trailer here), which screens during the eighteenth Dances With Films, in Hollywood, California.
Neda Enezari’s mother Afsenah makes no secret she was a “mistake,” whereas the pious twenty-something regards Afsenah’s second marriage as a sin. Neda’s brother Omid reluctantly serves as a buffer between them. He is also much more modern in his thinking, but he respects his sister’s religious devotion. Tensions are already high, with the Iran-Iraq War rudely interrupting everyday life on a regular basis. Resenting her unhappiness, particularly since she represents the Islamic Revolutionary ideal better than nearly everyone around her, Enezari will start to make a series of unfortunate decisions.
It should be clearly noted Ablution portrays the fundamentalist Enezari in profoundly respectful terms. It also finds considerable value in religious observance. However, it is hard to think the ruling theocrats would consider the film to be good for business. Rightly or wrongly, Enezari’s ardent faith is isolating and alienating in practice. The symbolic interludes inspired by Sufism probably would not sit well with the Shia powers-that-be either. Although not a primary focus of the film, Barani and her co-writer-co-stars Melissa Recalde and Amin El Gamal also give viewers a sense of the intrusive fear and paranoia begot by the state and its feared Basij morality militia.
Recalde plays Enezari with admirable restraint and sensitivity, but it is Amin El Gamal who probably earns the “breakout” honors as the conflicted Omid Enezari. More than just a nice guy (always a tricky role to play) or an audience entry point, he really embodies the heart of the film’s religious and social anxieties.