'A House on 41st Street' ('Khaneh-yee dar khiaban-e che-helo o yekom'): Cannes Review
An Iranian family disintegrates when brother kills brother.
A middle-class family in Tehran falls apart when brother kills brother over a bounced check, in director Hamid Reza Ghorbani’s A House on 41st Street, a drama that starts low-key and gradually moves into complex psychological and moral territory. Though the circumstances dramatized in Azita Iraie’s screenplay are heartbreaking, they take too long to come to the fore, and it is only in the second part of the film that the knots tighten and the tension lifts the film above standard drama. The strong female cast is a definite plus.
The initial dispute over money between Mohsen (Ali Mosaffa, who played the husband in Asghar Farhadi’s The Past) and his frere Morteza takes place in a downtown glass store owned by their widowed mother Mrs. Shokhou (the fine Soheila Razavi). Voices are raised, push comes to shove, and soon police are cordoning off the area and carrying Morteza out in a body bag.
The post-tragedy story unfolds in a dignified residential building where the family lives in three spacious apartments. Mohsen the murderer has run off, and the womenfolk are left to deal with the aftermath. Interestingly, there are no tears shed. These are practical business people and they are firstly concerned with promoting their own interests and dealing with the legalities, which in Iran are typically intricate.
Morteza’s young widow Forough (Mahnaz Afshar) is the most prominent character and the angriest. According to Iranian law, she has no say in the matter of bringing her brother-in-law Mohsen to justice. But when he reaches legal age, her 12-year-old son will have the power to forgive his uncle in exchange for blood money, or demand his execution. Since that is a long way off, the old mother Mrs. Shokhou can apparently decide Mohsen’s fate. But first they have to find him.
Complicating matters still further, Mohsen and his schoolteacher wife Hamideh (Sara Bahrami) have an adorable little daughter who loves her daddy and her young cousin dearly. Echoing the moral dilemmas of Farhadi’s dramas, the sisters-in-law pretend to pit their children’s interests against each other, though it’s obvious they are really fighting for themselves. The only noble soul is the old mother, given enormous dignity in Razavi’s measured performance. She looks on like the mask in a Greek tragedy while their irritating game of hypocrisy unfolds (‘I’ll do anything for my child!’).
The whole cast is well-directed, though Mosaffa is subdued in a thankless supporting role. Nervous, fast-moving camerawork gives the story impetus.
Cast: Mahnaz Afshar, Ali Mosaffa, Soheila Razavi, Sara Bahrami, Arash Majidi
Director: Hamid Reza Ghorbani
Screenwriter: Azita Iraie
Producer: Seyyed Mahmoud Razavi
Director off photography: Hooman Behmanesh
Production designer: Shiva Rashidian
Editor: Maryam Naraghi
Music: Sattar Owraki
World sales: Farabi Cinema
Venue: Cannes Film Market