'Cold Sweat' ('Araghe Sard'): Film Review

Courtesy of Sophie Dulac Distribution
A piercing drama of inequality.

Iranian writer-director Soheil Beiraghi’s second feature stars Baran Kosari as a champion athlete stranded in her own country.

In the heatedly performed drama Cold Sweat (Araghe Sard), a professional female soccer player finds herself stranded at home as her team takes off to Malaysia for the Asia Cup finals. The reason she’s left behind is due to a simple and completely lopsided facet of Iranian civil law: A woman needs permission from her husband in order to leave the country. If he says no, she’s stuck.

And so, in writer-director Soheil Beiraghi’s quietly gripping second feature, Afrooz (Baran Kosari), the captain of Iran’s national futsal squad — futsal is a form of indoor soccer that’s played on a handball court — winds up being shut out of the big game by her bitter, about-to-be-former husband, Yaser (Amir Jadidi), who takes revenge on his wife’s emancipated ways by doing the only thing in his power to keep her around.

It’s a setup worthy of Asghar Farhadi — while also reminiscent of Jafar Panahi’s 2006 film Offside, which focused on female soccer fans in Tehran — and Beiraghi uses it to explore a highly inequitable aspect of Iranian society, depicting Afrooz’s gradual unraveling as she goes from star player to powerless wife who’s forced to abide by the whims of the men in charge. Intimately told, with the camera mostly glued to lead Kosari’s frustrated face, Cold Sweat was recently released in France and could see wider exposure abroad after festival bows in Stockholm and Tokyo.

An energetic opening showcases Afrooz’s skills on the futsal court, where she leads Iran’s national team to a comeback victory that will take them to the finals. But just when she’s about to board the plane for the big game in Malaysia, immigration officials tell her that she can’t leave Iranian soil unless her husband allows her to.

Thus begins Afrooz’s long and painful attempt to make it out in time, with Yaser, who hosts a serenely pious daytime TV show, blocking her at every turn. Why he’s doing this is not entirely clear at first (the couple has already been separated for a year), although one initially suspects he may be taking revenge on the fact that Afrooz has become close to a fellow teammate (Hoda Zelnolabedin), with whom she now lives.

But as Beiraghi follows Afrooz trying to maneuver Iran’s draconian legal system, where at best she can hope to obtain a divorce that will set her free, Cold Sweat ultimately shows that what bothers Yaser most is his wife’s emancipation — the fact that, instead of sitting at home and making dinner every night, Afrooz chose to pursue a career and a passion, and did so in a competitive sport that’s often reserved for men.

You can’t help but feel for Afrooz as she keeps getting knocked down by the powers-that-be (this includes her wet blanket of a husband), even though she can also be irascible at times, refusing to make compromises and hiring a lawyer (Lelli Rashidi), who tries to turn her predicament into an international affair.

The veteran Kosari, who was in Abbas Kiarostami’s Shirin and short film from To Each His Own Cinema, is a ball of energy in a role where she’s constantly tries to contain her character’s rage — particularly in an explosive sequence reminiscent of A Separation, where the bickering couple appears before an unseen judge.

Yet in the end, Cold Sweat reveals how much Afrooz may be fighting a losing battle: She’s a powerhouse in futsal, but in real life, her anger and audacity can only take her so far. Like many Iranian films of late, this one depicts a society plighted by inertia and helplessness, especially for women treated as less than equal by the law. Even for a star athlete — and one has brought honor to her country — victory is forever out of reach.

Production company: Tal’at Dindar
Cast: Baran Kosari, Amir Jadidi, Sahar Dowlatshahi, Lelli Rashidi, Hoda Zelnolabedin
Director-screenwriter: Soheil Beiraghi
Producers: Soheil Beiraghi, Medhi Davari
Director of photography: Farshad Mohammadi
Production designer: Soheil Beiraghi
Editors: Bahram Dehghani, Mohammad Najarian
Composer: Karen Homayoonfar
Sales: Noori Pictures

In Farsi
100 Minutes