Monday, June 19, 2017

Inversion: An Unmarried Iranian Woman

The city of Tehran is deadly. In this case, we are not referring to the morality police. It is the smog that is literally killing Niloofar’s mother Mahin. When the hospital releases her, she will have to move north, where the air is crisp and relatively clean. The family decides Niloofar will have to move with her, since she is unmarried, whether she likes it or not in Behnam Behzadi’s Inversion (trailer here), which opens this Friday in Los Angeles.

Niloofar’s life was just where she wanted it—and then poof, it was gone. Over the course of many years, she built up a seamstress workshop, employing about a dozen woman. She had been happy living with her mother, but the possibility of romance re-entered her life when an old flame (sort of) moves back to Tehran.

However, when Mahin collapses during a high pollution day, her embittered brother Farhad and severely judgmental sister Homa decide Niloofar will be the one to relocate north with her. Having decided that issue, they dispose of her workshop, by renting it out to Farhad’s creditor. Of course, this comes as a nasty surprise to Niloofar and her employees, older, economically marginalized women who really needed their jobs. When Niloofar protests, her whole family turns against her, except her mother, whom all parties try to keep in the dark, and her loyal niece, Saba.

Clearly, Behzadi has a great deal to say about the legal status and general level of respect women face in contemporary Iranian society. However, it is also a mini expose of Iran’s Beijing-like air pollution. Apparently, when school is cancelled on high pollution days, nobody finds it unusual anymore.

Regardless, it is still very definitely Niloofar’s story—and Sahar Dowlatshahi is masterful in the lead role. We can see the frustration she is not allowed to express as a smart, poised woman trying to live an independent life in a society that is actively working against her. Shirin Yazdanbakhsh looks frighteningly frail, yet she projects serious gravitas as the proud Mahin. Somewhat playing against type, Ali Mosaffa still broods with slow-burning intensity as the chauvinistic Farhad. Yet, the wonderfully (and quietly) expressive Setareh Hosseini is by the far the discovery of Inversion. In fact, the film becomes something of a coming-of-age story as she sympathetically watches her aunt’s plight unfold.

Obviously, Saba can easily envision herself in Niloofar’s place. Most Western viewers will have a harder time, but it is not so far-fetched a stretch, considering the in-roads Sharia law has made in Western European legal systems. Regardless, Behzadi gives viewers an achingly sensitive, multi-generational perspective on a woman’s place in Iran, through two wonderfully rich and subtle performances. Highly recommended, Inversion opens this Friday (6/23) at the Laemmle Music Hall and Town Center, in metro LA.