Parviz: San Sebastian Review

Parviz Film Still - H 2012

Parviz Film Still - H 2012

Unsettling character-study intermittently compels, but is ultimately stymied by screenplay issues.

Levon Haftvan plays the eponymous sociopathic schlub in writer-director Majid Barzegar's darkly comic Iranian drama.

A heavyweight performance from not-quite-newcomer Levon Haftvan simultaneously grounds and elevates Parviz, an unsettling if overlong and uneven sophomore feature from Iranian independent writer/director Majid Barzegar. As in his teen-focused debut Rainy Seasons, which competed at Rotterdam only last year, Barzegar's Tehran is intriguingly and effectively presented as just another modern city which might just as well be Turin or Tucson, the only 'giveaway' being the discreet headscarves worn by the handful of female characters.

Picking up a Special Mention after premiering in the lucrative Kutxa New Directors competition at San Sebastian, this low-budget, video-shot affair will ride the ongoing wave of enthusiasm for Iranian fare that was most recently renewed by Asghar Farhadi's Oscar winner A Separation. But while it should prove a popular festival pick, theatrical prospects are marginal at best for Barzegar's deliberately dingy-looking enterprise, which struggles to find the right tone for its darkly comic depiction of familu and community dysfunction. Haftvan's prominence in the Toronto theater scene may however spark some interest north of the 49th parallel.

Born in Soviet Armenia, raised in Iran and based in Canada since 1995, multi-talented stage figure Haftvan's sole previous big-screen outing was a supporting role as 'Fat Man' in Behruz Afkhami's little-seen Black Noise last year. But here he dominates proceedings both with his bearishly bulky size and his oddly compelling brand of lethargically negative energy as the eponymous 50-year-old schlub, who lives with his scrawny, tetchy dad (Mahmoud Behrouzian) in a suburban residental complex.

Wheezingly unhealthy but dogged in his impassively plodding persistence, Parviz performs various minor but crucial duties around the complex, and he's evidently long settled into his comfortably unchallenging routines. All of this changes when his father, 15 years a widower, abruptly announces his impending marriage - meaning that the reluctant Parviz will have to move out and start becoming more independent. "I've spent a lifetime here. Everybody knows me. Everybody trusts me" wails Parviz, to no avail.

This outsize 'worm' then truly turns in dramatic style, his anti-social behavior rapidly escalating via animal-poisoning towards impulsive homicide and child-abduction. "You've really gone overboard," someone remarks in the latter stages - and they might as well be addressing Barzegar as Parviz, since the screenplay veers towards implausibility roughly in synch with the protagonist's rapid descent into sociopathy.

At its best when observing ill-tempered interactions with a deadpan detachment, Parviz never quite comes into focus in terms of wider social critique, as the main character's etiquette-breaching actions in the second half are generally either savagely arbitrary or arbitrarily savage. Cinematographer Amin Jafari's hand-held visuals operate within the tight limitations of the grays, blues and browns that color Parviz's unwholesome, suffocating environments - excursions into the open-air are few and far between - allowing us disturbingly intense immersion into the big man's little world as it's nudged disastrously out of orbit.

Venue: San Sebastian - Donostia Film Festival (New Directors)
Production company: Milad Film
Cast: Levon Haftvan, Mahmoud Behrouzian, Homeyra Nonahali, Ali Ramez, Abouzar Farhadi, Mehdi Shirdel
Director: Majid Barzegar
Screenwriters: Hamed Rajabi, Bardia Yadegari, Majid Barzegar
Producer: Saeed Armand
Director of photography: Amin Jafari
Production designer / Costume designer: Leila Naghdi Pari
Editor: Javad Emami
Sales agent: DreamLab Films, Le Cannet, France
No MPAA rating, 107 minutes