Thursday, May 19, 2016

UCLA Celebration of Iranian Cinema ’16: Avalanche

Even though it is in the Middle East, Iran gets much colder than oblivious infidels realize. However, the cliché about traffic in Tehran is for real. Constant snow and bumper-to-bumper congestion will further exhaust a senior nurse working ten back-to-back night shifts in Morteza Farshbaf’s Avalanche (trailer here), which screens during the 2016 UCLA Celebration of Iranian Cinema.

Homa is ever so fortunate the chief surgeon Dr. Shams trusts her to care for his dying mother in his absence. That means she gets to work ten consecutive graveyard shifts. (Frankly, the shrewish terror cannot die soon enough, as far as the hospital staff is concerned.) Homa will earn good credit with her influential supervisor, but it will wear her out. Unfortunately, it comes at a personally inopportune time for the dutiful RN.

Ostensibly, things appear to be on an upswing. Her husband Ahmad is downright chipper, having started writing again after a decades-long hiatus. They also were able to sell the large quantity of olive oil they bought as a form of small stakes commodity speculation. However, she is worried about their expat son, particularly that he might be gay, which would mean he might never return home from Europe, at least until there’s some serious regime change.

Homa would be an Iranian woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown, if her life were not so serious. Over time, Fatemah Motamed-Aria drops hints regarding just what exactly is eating Homa, all of which are completely believable. It is a big, multilayered role for Motamed-Aria, one of Iran’s most prominent screen thesps (she is so respected, she can be seen as an audience member in Kiarostami’s Shirin).

Homa’s wayward son, wayward boss, and an insufficiently wayward husband are issues all viewers can relate to, but the Tehran setting gives it an extra kick (although not to the extent seen in Risk of Acid Rain). Viewers familiar with Jafar Panahi’s Closed Curtain will understand taking in their son’s often barking dog carries its own risks, beyond the issue of the prodigal’s sexuality. In fact, the unceasing blizzard takes on almost Biblical dimensions, as if it were sent as a form of national punishment, like the Genesis flood.

Regardless, it is a meaty drama and a prime showcase for Motamed-Aria that Farshbaf instills with a lean, evocatively austere vibe. Recommended for those who will appreciate fine work from a mature cast, Avalanche screens this Sunday (5/22) at the Billy Wilder Theater, as part of UCLA’s annual Iranian film showcase.