Year Released: 2016
Directed by: Wayne Blair
Starring: Adrien Brody, Salma Hayek, Shohreh Aghdashloo
(PG-13, 110 min.)
“The more things change, the more they stay the same.” – Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr
You will be transfixed by this gripping tale of a “wealthy Jewish businessman summarily jailed and tortured” in Iran shortly after the Islamist Revolution. The vague accusations, the dark and solitary cell, the irrational swiftness between feigned friendship and brutality all exude a timeless quality that supersedes any specific setting.
Easily assumed rationalizations for bloodlust and greed have always been with us, from the Dark Ages to the Inquisition to the French cries of “Liberté, égalité, fraternité,” that almost always lead to the guillotine rather than the brotherhood of man.
Yet there are some period details worth noting. One that is as subtle as it is telling is the entrance to a party in the opening scene, which is a short time before the Islamists took over Iran. Several of the women enter the house with jackets and headscarves on this warm day, but each one sheds them as soon as she enters the house, like a woman taking off her hat and cloves after returning from church. Inside there is dancing and cocktails, laughter and celebration. What a different Iran we have today.
Perhaps like so many European Jews before them, Isaac’s (Adrien Brody) wife Farnez (Salma Hayek) at first denies any threat from the new regime of fundamentalists. The chaos on the streets is only a picture on the television to her, not the reality Isaac sees as “a time bomb about to explode.” Only when he is arrested and detained by the Revolutionary Guard does it get real for her.
One of the more interesting relationships is between Isaac and his inquisitor, whose face is completely obscured under a crude white covering. We only see the small openings for his eyes, an ominous dehumanizing that reminds us of today’s all encompassing burkas. Though the inquisitor himself was once a prisoner of the Shah, he seems to have learned rage rather than empathy from his experience, embodying good cop / bad cop all in one as he alternates between straight questioning and beatings.
Another telling relationship is the one between Isaac’s wife Farnez and their Iranian housemaid, Habibeh, played by the gifted Shohreh Aghdashloo. While she sympathizes with Farnez and accompanies her to try to find the whereabouts of her husband, Habibeh herself begins to question her own status.
It seems her son agrees with many ideas of the Revolution, one that has been and still continues to be a rallying cry for dissent even today – income inequality. Is it fair that some have so much and others so little, Habibeh asks Farnez. Why is she, the servant, never invited to the table with her employers? It is only when Farnez reminds her of the near starvation and squalor from which she and Isaac had rescued Habibeh and her son, that Farnez stops to reconsider.
Her son, now grown and working in the diamond shop Isaac owns, has caught the revolutionary fervor, though, and uses it as an excuse to rob and exhort his employer. Revolutionary fervor becomes distilled into envy, greed, and lust for power, as so often is the case. Even his relationship with mother undergoes a change; we see the degrading of female dignity take root as well.
Adrien Brody and Shohreh Aghdashloo are standouts in their roles. Brody conveys so much with his soulful eyes, while Ms. Aghdashloo uses her raspy voice like a finely tuned musical instrument.
This story, based on real people and events, offers a very personal view of a country that has been at odds with us for over 30 years. Too many critics want to look away from the harsh picture it portrays. You should not.
Even with all the chaos of the Revolution around her, Habibeh, the family housekeeper, would be able to whip up this easy dish for Isaac and Farnez. Yogurt, dill, and or mint bring out the best in the cucumbers, which should be ready to harvest for all you home gardeners.
Persian Yogurt Salad
"Cool and refreshing, this salad is a perfect accompaniment to lamb or rice - or both! You may use mint in place of dill if you wish, be creative."
1 (32 ounce) container plain yogurt
2 tablespoons dried dill weed
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt and black pepper to taste
1 cucumber - peeled, seeded, and chopped
In a medium bowl, blend yogurt, dill weed, garlic, salt, and pepper. Toss in the cucumber. Cover, and refrigerate 8 hours, or overnight.