Friday, September 29, 2023

Farhadi’s Dancing in the Dust

Nazar is divorcing out of immaturity—both his own and that of Iranian society. Sadly, he truly loves his young wife, Reyhane, but his parents and friends insist on the divorce, because her mother is rumored to be a sex-worker. Of course, they do not use the term “sex worker” in early 2000’s Iran. Nazar’s lack of responsibility makes everything worse in Asghar Farhadi’s freshly restored debut feature, Dancing in the Dust, which releases today on VOD.

Nazar borrowed money to marry Reyhane and he still owes her mother a dowry. Thanks to the divorce his parents insisted on, he is now deeply in debt, with nothing to show for it. To avoid his creditors, he even sleeps at the zoo, where he works mucking out stalls, as one good whiff will confirm.

That all sounds very much like the Farhadi of
A Separation and The Salesman, a filmmaker who has come to specialize in the emotionally harrowing intersection of intimate family drama and the unyielding Iranian legal system and the surrounding social prejudices. However, Dust takes an un-Farhadi-like excursion into feverish absurdity, when Nazar stows away in the van of an old venomous snake-catcher (who was making a sales call at the zoo). A few hours later, Nazar wakes in the arid plains, where he must contend with the angry snake-dealer.

The almost surreal turn recalls another “Dust” drama,
A Handful of Dust, but instead of an ironic ending, Dancing in the Dust spends its entire second act handling snakes in the desert. Faramarz Gharibian is terrific as the old man, whose own tragic history will be bitterly contrasted with Nazar’s relationship incompetence. His performance is far more complex than a mere grouchy surrogate grandfather figure.

Frankly, Yousef Khodaparast is sometimes a too keyed up as Nazar, but Baran Kosari is quietly devastating as Reyhane. There are some tonal inconsistencies that the mature Farhadi would most likely avoid, but
Dust is still a fascinating first film. You can almost imagine Nazar and Reyhane in a couples’ group-session with Emad and Rana from Salesman and Nader and Simin from A Separation. This is not yet peak Farhadi, but it is a substantial work, with some trenchant social observation that is well-worth unpacking. Recommended for patrons of Iranian cinema, Dancing in the Dust releases today (9/29) on VOD.