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An artfully woven political indictment whose convictions far outweigh its emotional thrust, the Iranian drama A Respectable Family (Yek khanevadeh-e mohtaram) explores the dirty dealings of a corrupt clan from the early years of the Revolution up through the present day. Meticulously structured but never quite as harrowing as its subject matter, this feature debut from documentary filmmaker Massoud Bakhshi (Teheran Has No More Pomegranates) should continue its fest run following a Directors’ Fortnight bow, with Euro and niche distribution its best bet.
Returning home to Iran after more than two decades abroad, visiting professor Arash (Babak Hamidian, compelling) is quickly plunged into a past he’s been running away from for most of his life. With an estranged father on his deathbed and a mother (Ahoo Kheradmand) who refuses to discuss her former husband’s various misdeeds, Arash is soon coerced by his half-brother’s son, Hamed (Mehrdad Sedighian), into wrapping up the patriarch’s business himself before heading back to Europe.
Kicking off with a low-key kidnapping sequence shot entirely from Arash’s p.o.v. à la Lady in the Lake, the film dishes out only a minimal level of suspense as it cuts between the scholar’s quest to settle affairs within Iran’s stifling bureaucracy, and flashbacks to his childhood during the war with Iraq in the 1980s. If such a structure helps to peel away the many layers of abuse and corruption which Arash’s relatives engage in under both the Khomeini and Ahmadinejad regimes, it detracts from the plot’s overall momentum while often making it confusing to follow who’s who in the expansive family. (This is one of those movies where you can’t miss a single subtitle.)
Bakhshi ultimately attempts to tell several interlocking stories in his intricately crafted scenario, and A Respectable Family is at once a portrait of a son’s reckoning with his old man’s sordid past, a tale of financial deviance and war-time profiteering, and a more global condemnation of the political quagmire that is modern-day Iran. Although such ambitions wind up preventing the film from delivering the kind of dramatic knock-out blow of A Separation, there’s a similar underlying feeling of hopelessness in Arash’s efforts to wrestle with his family and the establishment, a sense that the game has been rigged from the get-go.
Capturing the Tehran and Shiraz locations with realistic verve, cinematographer Mahdi Jafari (We Are All Fine) depicts a menacing world of drab apartments, underlit offices and constant traffic jams where power is wielded in the most basic daily interactions. Disturbing archive footage from the Iran-Iraq conflict is skillfully mixed into the action, turning Arash’s distant memories into living historic nightmares.
Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Directors’ Fortnight)
Production companies: Firoozei Films, JBA Production
Cast: Babak Hamidian, Mehrdad Sedighian, Ahoo Kheradmand, Mehran Ahmadi, Parivash Nazarieh
Director, screenwriter: Massoud Makshi
Producers: Mohammad Afarideh, Jacques Bidou, Marianne Dumoulin
Director of photography: Mahdi Jafari
Production designer: Mahmoud Bakshi
Costume designer: Magdalena Labuz
Editor: Jacques Comets
Sales Agent: Pyramide International
No rating, 110 minutes
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