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A man and a woman stake out their positions and attempt to outflank each other in Principles, Iranian writer/director Tahmineh Milani’s stilted polemic, which reduces its adversaries to mouthpieces in a battle between female autonomy and male dominance in a repressive, patriarchal society. Though Milani, at some risk to her own safety, has directed a number of controversial, persuasive films about feminist issues and women’s rights– or the absence of them– in her native Iran, here she has made an argument instead of a movie. With its didactic lecturing, flat visuals and two-dimensional acting, her Principles doesn’t have a future outside of the festival circuit.
Sara (Samaneh Pakdel, looking too mature for the part), an outspoken young architect, lands a job at a firm headed by Babak (Bahram Radan), a self-impressed manipulator into mind games who toys with seducing her from the moment they meet. As he continues to pursue and bully Sara into going out with him, it’s apparent his objective is to compromise rather than woo her. Sara is somewhat drawn in by his persistence through her resistance, and doesn’t have a handle on office politics let alone how to deal with sexual harassment. To her credit, she’s more enthusiastic about a national arts exhibition she’s hired to design. But, after the project literally goes up in flames, she quits.
Surprisingly, Sara’s father (Homayoun Ershadi), presumably a member of an older, tradition-bound generation, supports his daughter’s independence and encourages her to stand her ground. Their relationship has genuine warmth and would’ve been an interesting area to explore. Another problem is that the inner workings of an architecture company don’t make for compelling drama; however, the setting is merely incidental to Milani’s agenda, which evidently doesn’t require flesh and blood characters an audience can relate to.
At times, the film suggests this is one of those stories of romantic antagonists who resist their mutual attraction and would fall in love if only they weren’t as well defended but, in this context, the conceit doesn’t fly. Babak is a transparent, arrogant jerk, abusing his position in the workplace and the threatening power males wield in Iranian culture, while Sara’s penchant for lecturing is irritating– she has an annoying habit of wagging her finger at him during their conversations. These exchanges, which occupy much of the movie, lack the buoyancy, charm or wit of the best on-screen male/female jousting, where lightness alternates with zingers and strategically aimed verbal blows. Hepburn and Tracy they are not. And in contrast to that irresistible pair, we’re not rooting for these two to overcome their differences and get together.
Towards the end, as Sara is leaving, a thwarted Babak chases her around the room in a menacing scene that plays like rape not seduction. Trying to escape, she falls from a second floor balcony to the street below. When she finally comes to her senses, one wonders why it took her so long.
Venue: Mill Valley Film Festival
Production companies: Arta Bin
Cast: Bahram Radan, Danial Ebadi, Anna Nemati, Samaneh Pakdel, Elsa Firuz Azar, Honmyoun Ershadi, Sara Khoeyniha
Director: Tahmineh Milani
Screenwriter: Tahmineh Milani
Producer: Mohammad Nikbin
Executive producer: none listed
Director of photography: Alireza Zarrindast
Production designer: Mohammad Nikbin, Azita Milani
Music: Karen Homayounfar
Costume designer: none listed
Editor: Tahmineh Milani, Siavash Saraj Zahedi
No Rating, 88 minutes
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