'Melbourne': Venice Review

Mehdi Delkhasteh
Iranian thesp Peyman Moaadi raises the temperature of a talky, apartment-bound drama that kicks and screams to be a stage play

Pretending there’s no dead baby in the next room can be nerve-racking

Young Iranian cinema is still staggering under the influence of Asghar Farhadi and his Oscar-winning drama A Separation, as is evident in this well-made first film directed by Nima Javidi. Casting the same actor, Peyman Moaadi, in the central role of a young husband who is about to move to Australia with his wife when the unexpected strikes, Javidi has the entire film play out inside the couple’s apartment on the day of their departure. The theme is failure to assume responsibility, and though the screenplay lacks the social and psychological complexity of Farhadi’s fine film, it thoroughly succeeds in morally condemning the characters. However, the film is too one-note and the premise too unconvincing to entice more than a few niche pickups offshore. It bowed at the Fajr Film Festival in Tehran this year and opened Venice’s Critics Week, making it a fine international calling card for the director.

Amir (Maadi) and his lovely wife, Sara (Negar Javaherian), are happily winding up preparations for an extended trip to Melbourne. A census taker who knocks on the door offers a graceful way to get some exposition out of the way: They announce they'll be gone for three or four years on a study trip, though there are many indications that they plan to leave the country permanently. The first 20 minutes of screen time describe, in tedious detail, how they pack suitcases, call relatives and deal with the movers while phones ring incessantly and Amir excitedly talks on Skype about his future job prospects. They have to keep the noise down because there's a baby sleeping in the bedroom.

It then transpires that they are babysitting for the neighbor’s newborn girl. It’s Amir who first notices that little Tina is neither moving nor breathing. He and Sara understandably panic. He calls an ambulance and lets the child’s father (Mani Haghighi) into the apartment, intending to break the news, but then chickens out. Instead of telling him about the tragedy, he makes up a lame excuse about his wife being out with the baby. Needless to say, this is a bad idea because lies have to be built on lies as the long day wears on, along with the viewers’ patience.

Javidi introduces a half-hearted noir subtext that involves who was actually with the baby when she died, but it doesn't really pan out. Amir and Sara's irresponsibility remains gigantic in any case for the cowardly way they mishandled the incident.

Though Moaadi maintains excellent control and modulation as the husband, and Javaherian falls in alongside him helping to build up the tension, most viewers will have a major problem believing anyone would accept the responsibility of watching a baby for neighbors they barely know, particularly on moving day. Or that the neighbors, in this case the child’s nanny, would park the baby with strangers while she ran errands for hours. Perhaps in the context of a theater play it would be easier to suspend disbelief; the reams of inconsequential dialogue likewise suggest this story could find a better home on stage.

Production company: Qabe Aseman Art Institute
Cast: Peyman Moaadi, Negar Javaherian, Mani Haghighi, Shirin Yazdanbakhsh, Elham Korda, Roshanak Gerami, Alireza Ostadi
Director: Nima Javidi
Screenwriter: Nima Javidi
Producer: Javad Noruzbegi
Director of photography: Hooman Behmanesh
Production designer: Keyvan Moghadam
Editor: Sepideh Adolvahab
Music: Hamed Sabet
Sales: Iran Independents

No rating, 92 minutes