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Despite having helmed several shorts after graduation from film school, Hamed Rajabi was until now better known for having penned the scripts of festival hits Rainy Seasons and Parviz. Indeed, his first feature illustrates – at least for the time being – exactly where his forte lies. A Minor Leap Down is driven by a fine screenplay and a handful of engaging and imaginative scenes – among them one of the most hilarious orange-juice-only parties seen on screen in recent years – but its visuals come up short.
The latest in a recent wave of Iranian films broaching the alienation and lingering prejudices of the country’s self-styled modern middle-class, A Minor Leap Down is a smaller-scale piece without the ambitious span of, say, Ashgar Farhadi‘s A Separation. As a debut, however, the film is simple but solid enough to warrant a continuous presence on the festival circuit after its bow as a Panorama title at the Berlinale, with lead actress Negar Javaherian‘s nuanced turn providing an additional boost to its international surge.
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The film’s opening sequence offers a harbinger of things to come in terms of Rajabi’s writing and her top-billing star’s performance. Coming out of her gynecologist’s office and sitting down on a couch, Nahal (Javaherian) is approached by a fellow patient and asked about her pregnancy. Nahal simply tells her the baby’s dead; the reaction of the questioner (who slowly slides away from her) and the doctor (who tells her, in a half-motherly and half-scolding tone, that she should go home and cry rather than stay in the clinic) are just the start of a long stream of such behaviour from even her closest of kin.
For Nahal, there is no solace. Her mother (Mehri Aleagha) offers minimal support, while her twenty-something sister Mona (Shafagh Shokri) is more interested in mixing with her friends over drinks than answering calls for a tête-à-tête. The worst culprit, of course, is her husband Babak (Rambod Javan), who is more preoccupied with his promotion, a bigger flat, a new car and the stars appearing on trashy TV. Conveniently hammering Nahal with the idea that she’s depressed, his solution is twofold: see a shrink, and then go and shop her sadness away (on his credit card).
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Here, the presence of a “foreign object” in Nahal’s body is a macguffin of sorts: it’s actually the cacophony of the mob which is driving her over the edge – and Nahal slowly rebels against the chattering class bringing her down. Rajabi and sound designer Hoseyn Abolsedgh has come up with an efficient ambience to highlight this repressive environment, with a soundtrack composed of omnipresent (but unseen) whispering gossip-mongers and heightened city sounds.
Still, some parts are overwritten to the point of being too explicitly expositional. Nahal’s early rows with Babak threaten, especially, to deflate the accumulation of tension within the lead characters’ arcs. Flawed as this first step might be, A Minor Leap Down signals a filmmaker preparing to rise in the ranks.
Venue: Berlin Film Festival (Panorama)
Production companies: Barzegar Production, with Alias Films, Caracteres Production
Cast: Negar Javaherian, Rambod Javan, Mehri Aleagha
Director: Hamed Rajabi
Screenwriter: Hamed Rajabi
Producers: Majid Barzgar, Saeed Armand
Executive producer: Mehdi Barzegar
Director of photography: Majid Gorjian
Production and costume designer: Leila Neghdipari
Editor: Esmaeel Monsef
Sound designer: Hoseyn Abolsedgh
Sales: Dreamlab Films
No rating; 88 minutes
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