Monday, July 10, 2017

The Persian Connection: Child Soldier in the Underworld

As a former Basiji child soldier, Behrouz was supposed to martyr himself during the Ira-Iraq War. He is still alive, living in Tehrangeles, but if its any consolation to the Ayatollah, he is a mental and emotional mess. As an aspiring realtor with a hardcore opium addiction, Behrouz keeps one foot in the legit world and one in the underworld, but the predatory corruption of the latter might just finish what Khomeini started in Daniel Y-Li Grove’s The Persian Connection (trailer here), which opens this Friday in Los Angeles.

After arriving in America, Behrouz has done odd jobs for Babak Safinia, “The Persian King of L.A. Rea Estate” and Cirrus, the kingpin of the LA Persian mafia. He regularly chaperones Safinia’s entitled daughter Sara as she parties her way through the city’s nightclubs, agreeing to keep mum on her lesbian lovers. Unfortunately, one night of clubbing brings temptation in the form of a high stakes poker game and the sexual attention of Cirrus’s much younger wife Lola. To make amends, Behrouz will have to recover Cirrus’s stolen opium shipment.

That will be an awkward task for several reasons. The culprit is Sepehr, who happens to be Behrouz’s regular dealer. Behrouz’s lover also happens to be Oksana, Sepehr’s ex-wife and the mother of his son, who was originally trafficked into the country by Evegeny, a ruthless Russian gangster, who was Sepehr’s customer for the purloined opium. So yeah, small world.

Just think, this violent scramble for opium would not have been possible if the Trump immigration policies had been in effect back then, so imagine how impoverishing that would have been. Still, it is crystal clear the Russian mob is way, way worse than their Persian counterparts, for what that’s worth.

In fact, Behrouz’s Basiji background adds an intriguing layer of existential angst (even though the Basiji flashbacks—presumably produced on the cheap—look so weird and out of place, they are almost trippy). Regardless, the very notion of a failed twelve-year-old martyr is disturbing in so many ways.

As Behrouz, Reza Sixo Safai really seems convincingly drug-addled, guilt-ridden, and PTSD-shaken. It is definitely an anti-hero role, with Safai emphasizing all Behrouz’s unflattering, erratic tics. Dominic Rains is even more explicit playing sexual orientation games as the flamboyant thug Farid, while David Diaan (so terrific in The Stoning of Soraya M.) projects old school malevolence as his recently arrived partner. Helena Mattsson is not much of a factor as Oksana, but Julian Sands reliably does his villainous thing as Evgeny.

Steven Capitano Calitri’s neon-lit 1980s cinematography is so spot-on, it will make you nostalgic for Miami Vice and early-career Michael Mann. It is not perfect, but many of Connection’s most obvious flaws are a direct result of its severe budget constraints. Ultimately, they are worth overlooking to watch the first-rate Persian/Iranian-American cast ply their craft in a gangster drama. Recommended those who appreciate the 80’s setting and the tragic Iranian backstory, The Persian Connection opens this Friday (6/14) in LA, at the Laemmle Ahyra Fine Arts.