Acrid (Gass): Rome Review

A film about men's mistreatment of women ambitiously reaches for the golden ring, but doesn't come very close to catching it.

A first film depicts Iran as a macho society where family and marriage are becoming lost values.

For decades young Iranian directors imitated the essential neorealist style of Abbas Kiarostami; now they use the relational cinema of Asghar Farhadi as their model and Acrid, the first feature by writer-director-producer Kiarash Asadizadeh, is a typically disappointing result. The theme is how men of all classes, ages and ways of life betray their wives and girlfriends with other women, but the story-telling is so labored and circuitous that far from offering a piquant look at marriage Iranian style, the energy drains out of the film by the middle of the first tale (and there are four.)  The subject may have domestic appeal, but after its bow in Rome festival competition it will be an uphill battle to find international playdates.

Which is not to knock Asadizadeh's sensitivity to serious social blights like wife-beating and serial adultery. The model here seems to be Farhadi’s Fireworks Wednesday, which used delicate nuance, as well as a great deal of directing and screenwriting talent, to portray new and old marriages, suspected adultery, hidden agendas that gradually come to light. All of these reappear in Acrid.

Though the woes of the four couples eventually circle around in a clever way, there is little feeling of structure while the action is unfolding. Soheila (Roya Javidnia), the head nurse in a hospital for problem children, is no longer young, like her husband Jalal. They lead separate lives under the same roof because Jalal (a very convincing Ehsan Amani) brings women home while she’s on night duty. She punishes him by shopping a lot and refusing to talk or even look at him, but she won’t leave their comfortable middle-class nest. All this takes a dreary amount of time to establish.

Jalal, who perhaps significantly is an ob-gyn, has a thriving medical practice, but his roving hands lead his secretary to quit abruptly. A sad-faced woman, Azar, applies for the job. Though she tells him she’s single, she’s actually married to driving instructor Khosro (played by an edgy Saber Abar, About Elly) and has two small kids. They’re always fighting because of his extra-marital activities, which currently revolve around a divorced chemistry teacher named Simin (Shabnam Moghadami).

Just to make it clear that the mistreatment of women is a universal problem, Simin’s lower-class maid is shown to be the victim of a drunken husband, and one of her college students, Mahsa, is dating a happy-go-lucky type who promises nothing good.  

The scenes of middle-class life in Tehran, with its modern homes, cars and stores, are brought out well in cinematographer Majid Gorjiyan’s cool, clean shots in soft colors, giving the film a pleasant, quality look.

Venue: Rome Film Festival (out of competition)
Cast: Roya Javidnia, Ehsan Amani, Saber Abar, Shabnam Moghadami, Pantea Panahiha, Mahsa Alafar, Mahana Noormohammadi, Sadaf Ahmadi, Nawaf Sharifi, Mohammadreza Ghaffari
Director: Kiarash Asadizadeh
Screenwriter: Kiarash Asadizadeh
Producer: Kiarash Asadizadeh

Coproducer: Omid Noori
Director of photography: Majid Gorjiyan
Production designer: Kiarash Asadizadeh
Costumes: Melodi Ali Esmaeli
Editor: Kiarash Asadizadeh

Music: Ankido Darash
Sales Agent: Wide
No rating, 94 minutes.