Thursday, May 19, 2016

UCLA Celebration of Iranian Cinema ’16: Risk of Acid Rain

It is hard for a retiree like Mr. Manouchehr to connect with other people. In his case, it is largely due to his introverted personality, but the policies of his government will not help foster the cautious camaraderie he finds in a divey Tehran hotel. He came to looking for a long lost childhood friend, but experiences cross-generational companionship with two “disaffected youths” in Behtash Sanaeeha’s exquisitely humanistic chamber drama Risk of Acid Rain (trailer here), which screens during the 2016 UCLA Celebration of Iranian Cinema.

The title comes from a fleeting and somewhat misleading reference—so potential viewers should completely disregard it. Happily, this is not an eco-treatise, it is a story about friendship and loneliness. Mr. Manouchehr has been retired from a tobacco company for years, but he keeps coming to work anyway out of boredom. Since he has nothing tying him down, Manouchehr takes an overnight trip to Tehran hoping to track down Khosro. Apparently, they were inseparable as boys, but a rift cleaved them apart in early adulthood. Unfortunately, the address he sleuthed out turns out to be several years out of date.

While doggedly tracking Khosro, Manouchehr stays at a one-star hotel, where the slacker-stoner Kaveh works as the desk clerk. Kaveh’s platonic classmate Masha is also fixture in the hotel lobby, because she has no place else to go. Rather inconveniently, she has a headscarf violation hanging over her head after checking herself out of a sanitarium against her grandmother’s wishes. This would be the perfect spot for her to lay low, were it not for the nightly visit from the morals police. Frankly, she needs an “uncle” like Manouchehr and he needs to be needed, whether he realizes it or not.

Rain might sound like a constant parade of quirky schmaltz, but it really represents the road not taken by films like Marigold Hotel and Quartet. It is a rigidly reserved, scrupulously dignified, and acutely sensitive film. There is not a lot of flash and dazzle, but the film still pays off enormously thanks to the realistically hesitant chemistry shared by the trio.

Persian poet Shams Langroodi is quietly terrific as the world weary, guilt-racked Manouchehr. Every line on face is like a verse of poetry. His co-screenwriter Maryam Moghaddam is also quite poignant as the more outgoing Masha. However, Pooriya Rahimi Sam steals scene after scene as the snarky-on-the-outside but not-so-secretly-insecure Kaveh.

Risk of Acid Rain is a great film, saddled with a terrible title. Of course, that is far better than the inverse. Its drama of friendship and aging is universally accessible, yet there are complications specific to Iran that will make viewers shake their heads in frustration with the Islamist system. Ultimately, it is a distinctively sad and forgiving film. Very highly recommended, Risk of Acid Rain screens this Saturday (5/21) at the Billy Wilder Theater, as part of UCLA’s annual Iranian film showcase.