Alzheimer: Film Review

Engaging Iranian drama eventually loses steam.

Questions of faith are intriguingly weaved into a larger fabric in writer-director Ahmad Reza Motamedi's fifth feature, depicting a patriarchal Iranian society where a wife's beliefs count a lot less than those of her brother or brother-in-law.

TAORMINA — For at least its first hour, the Iranian drama Alzheimer offers up the kind of understated, evocatively crafted storytelling reminiscent of key films from that nation’s cinematic glory days of the 1990s. Unfortunately, the rest of writer-director Ahmad Reza Motamedi’s fifth feature, about a woman whose supposedly dead husband shows up on her doorstep 20 years later, loses its momentum and fails to deal a convincing final blow. Taormina premiere will result in further fest bids.

Incorrectly titled Alzheimer in English – whereas this tale of troubled family dynamics is much more about a severe case of amnesia – the film begins in jarring fashion with news-style video footage of Asiyyeh (the intense Mahtab Karamati) arriving at an accident sight to view the charred remains of her husband, Amir. Cut to two decades later, where we find Asiyyeh interned at a psychiatric hospital, and still hopeful that Amir is out there somewhere, his body never having been properly identified.

Back at the bourgeois homestead where Amir’s older brother (Faramarz Gharibian) and Asiyyeh’s younger brother (Mehran Ahmadi) are trying to keep their shared glassworks business afloat, a police officer shows up to explain that a man (Mehdi Hashemi) has responded to a missing persons ad placed by Asiyyeh, claiming that he may be her long lost spouse. But the man in question, whose memory loss is so terrible he can’t recall his own name, fails to convince everyone but Asiyyeh that he’s nothing more than a con artist hoping to cash in on the clan’s cushy lifestyle.

There’s a lot going on in this compact, tightly wound narrative, which Motamedi subtly builds by following each character as he comes to terms with his or her own convictions about Amir’s existence. Questions of faith, both religious and personal, are intriguingly weaved into a larger fabric depicting a patriarchal Iranian society where a wife’s beliefs count a lot less than those of her brother or brother-in-law, and where class consciousness stifles out feelings and nearly tears a family apart.

Early on, the director shows strong formal prowess, filming with a series of elaborate camera movements, and creating an absorbing sound-scape of ticking clocks, passing trains and muffled breathing. But he’s unable to maintain the rhythm through the closing reels, which get tangled in situations that border on melodrama, and fail to round out the story in a succinct manner. (This wasn’t helped by the fact that either the projection or the print was partially blurred at this point in the Taormina screening.)

Performances are genuinely engaging, with Karamati (Shiring) proving to be an expressive actress, and veteran Hashemi (Once Upon a Time, Cinema) cutting a touching, Chaplin-esque figure as someone whose true intentions we never entirely understand.

Venue: Taormina Film Festival
Production companies: Farabi Cinema Foundation
Cast: Faramarz Gharibian, Mehdi Hashemi, Mahtab Karamati, Mehran Ahmadi, Hamid Ebrahimi, Davoud Fathali-Beigi
Director, screenwriter: Ahmad Reza Motamedi
Producer: Saeed Sadi
Director of photography: Ali Loghmani
Production designer: Hassan Rouhparvari
Music: Ali Samadpour
Costume designer: Hassan Rouhparvari
Editor: Faramarz Hootham
Sales Agent: Farabi Cinema Foundation
No rating, 100 minutes