Thursday, December 31, 2015

PSIFF ’16: Nahid

Iran’s so-called “temporary marriages” are exactly that—marital unions that are good only for a finite pre-determined time. Before they expire, they are considered completely valid by the Islamist powers that be. If you think some Iranians enter into these contracts to facilitate a little action, you would be right. Unfortunately, temporary marriages are temporarily the best option for a desperate single mother in Ida Panahandeh’s Nahid (trailer here), which screens during the 2016 Palm Springs International Film Festival.

Nahid’s dirty, smelly heroin addicted first husband Ahmad was a mistake, but according to Iranian law, he still retains all parental rights to their obnoxious young son Amir Reza. Ahmad has magnanimously granted her custody on the condition she maintain a chaste single life. She has fallen in love with Masoud Javonroodi, the widower hotel owner for whom she temps. Unfortunately, she cannot act on his advances for fear of losing Amir Reza, but her own precarious financial situation is simply not sustainable.

When Nahid finally levels with Javonroodi, he convinces her to marry him in a formal ceremony, but only sign papers for a temporary marriage. They will continue to re-up until his lawyers successfully press for a custody hearing. However, Nahid insists they must keep their arrangement secret from the petulant Amir Reza. Indeed, he is the weak link in this otherwise impressive non-ideological, small “f” feminist drama. A mother’s love is one thing, but Nahid really ought to just sell him to the circus.

When your country’s family law statutes continually provide inspiration for searing social issues films, it ought to tell you something is wrong, but the message hasn’t trickled up yet in Iran. Both in terms of theme and quality, Nahid sits easily alongside Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation, Reza Mirkarimi’s Today, and Rakshan Bani-Etemad’s Tales. It is also interested to see Iranian life away from Tehran, up near the Caspian Sea, much as in Safi Yazdanian’s What’s the Time in Your World.

Sareh Bayat does tour-de-force work as the title character and Pejman Bazeghi is deeply compelling as Javonroodi. They each make regrettable mistakes and act rather ghastly at times, because they are so darned human. Both give remarkably well modulated performances. Navid Mohammad Zedah’s Ahmad is also messily complicated and tragically self-aware, but the less said about the kid, the better.

Much like several recent Iranian films, lies have a way of perniciously compounding in Nahid. Yet, Panahandeh leaves the door open a crack for a few rays of optimism to shine in. She also has a clear affinity for directing actors in intimate settings (except perhaps children performers) and a striking eye for visuals (although the Pieta image was a bit over-the-top, especially since Amir Reza is only mildly sick during the scene in question). Overall, Nahid is recommended rather strongly for her mature relationship with Javonroodi when it screens this Saturday (1/2) and Thursday (1/7), as part of the 2016 PSIFF.