‘Night Shift’: Tehran Review

A meaty tale slips into local melodrama

Filmmaker and actress Niki Karimi turns to a social drama about a middle-class couple in trouble.

Niki Karimi left her mark on Iranian cinema as an iconic actress in films like Sara, Two Women and The Hidden Half before making her directing bow in 2005 with One Night. The modern sensibilities evident in that film are put on hold in her fourth directing effort, Night Shift, which changes the target from art house to more mainstream local audiences. A social drama about a middle-class couple caught up in a downward economic spiral, which they disguise from each other and the world with a web of lies, the story is meatier than Karimi’s other films but the characters are hard to warm up to. It looks earmarked for festival turns on the strength of the director’s name, but its main audience is probably at home.

Though the box office draw is actor Mohammad Reza Foroutan as the secretive, depressed husband Farzad, the story actually revolves around his wife, Nahid (Leyla Zareh, who played the lawyer seeking an exit visa in Mohammad Rasoulof’s Goodbye.)  She’s initially presented as a superficial, distracted housewife who bustles around the kitchen on the phone with her mom, while packing their small daughter Baran off to school. The fact that Baran’s only interest in life is her pet rabbit makes her a write-off as a character, and she plays a very marginal role in the ensuing drama. Nahid, on the other hand, transforms more than evolves, into a determined woman who takes things into her own hands to save her marriage.

As in most Tehran-set tales, the neighbors play a Greek chorus of malignant rumor-mongers. Here they believe Farzad is cheating on his wife — why else would he come home at midnight and sleep in his car in the condo garage? They are clearly more perceptive than Nahid, who is blind to how he drags himself home all stressed out and depressed. It’s 20 minutes into the film before she learns he was fired from his accounting job three months earlier under a dark shadow of suspicion. A friend has to tell her he bought a gun and plans to commit suicide. But instead of confronting him, she decides to trail him around town to see what he does all day.

Intermittent handheld camerawork is jittery enough to make the viewer nervous, especially combined with spooky haunted house music as the mystery around Farzad deepens. Nahid can’t break through the wall of silence and lies he’s built around him, and when she complains, “A shadow of fear has been cast over my life,” we believe it. Though Zareh struggles to make Nahid’s motivations credible, and partly succeeds in the more realistic scenes with Farzad’s concerned younger brother (Amir Hossein Arman), the temptation for melodrama tips the scales.

Foroutan (Under the Skin of the City) keeps not only his missus but also the audience at arm’s length with sullenness and outbursts of violence, and his mean-spirited macho man is only redeemed at the film’s end in a strong final scene.

The director herself appears in a luminous cameo as a divorced neighbor who has signed on to a temporary marriage. (The implications of this bizarre local custom, which allows unmarried couples to co-habit, is explored in depth in the recent film Nahid.)

Cast: Mohammad Reza Foroutan, Leyla Zareh, Amir Hossein Arman, Amir Aghayi, Gohar Khayr Andish, Sahar Ghorayashi, Tarian Parvanah
Director, producer: Niki Karimi
Screenwriters: Niki Karimi, Ali Asghari
Director of photography: Alireza Baranzandeh
Editor: Hayedeh Safi Yari
Music: Karen Homayounfar
Sales Agent: Farabi Cinema
No rating, 96 minutes