Please Do Not Disturb: Los Angeles Film Fest Review

Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Abdolvahab probes everyday life in Tehran to depict the comic behavior of its often-frazzled citizens

Writer-director Mohsen Abdolvahab's comedy is one of the first Iranian films to offer up the everyday life of contemporary urbanites with a fine degree of insight and wit.

Somewhere around the midpoint of the Iranian comedy Please Do Not Disturb, a cleric mutters, “You Tehranis are so short tempered,” to which an audience might add, “And so quarrelsome as well.” The film’s writer-director, Mohsen Abdolvahab, lets this slice-of-Tehran-life play out in a single day as he tracks three separate stories, each focusing on a crisis for its main characters where short-tempered quarrels reach a comic crescendo only for the next story to start up.

Those expecting a solemn, poetic Iranian film with metaphorical if not metaphysical content that eludes the censors are in for a treat. For here is one of the first Iranian films that offers up the everyday life of contemporary urbanites with a fine degree of insight and wit. The film should do well on the festival circuit although it’s hard to see the film receiving much theatrical play at least in the west.

First you meet troubled newlyweds as the wife intends to report her husband’s beating of her to the authorities while he is desperate to talk her out of this idea since he fears career embarrassment. As a local TV host, he is semi-famous and has an image to protect. Besides all men are pre-disposed to beating their spouses, he insists.

When they briefly enter a taxi during their journey across town, the film takes up the story of a cleric who discovers documents and his cell phone have been stolen from his briefcase, which he desperately needs in his occupation as a notary. In his chaotic office — where one man is demanding a divorce from his wife even as she feeds him and their children while another young man seeks to marry a much older widow — the cleric rings his cell and gets the thief on the line. Thus begins a delicate negotiation of get back the documents if not his money from the sometimes boastful and other times remorseful pickpocket.

The final and least successful story concerns an elderly couple, who is too frightened to let a young TV repairman enter the flat even though they do need his services.

There is a slight resolution to all these crises but no real attempt to interweave the stories, as each stands on its own. While there is no politics to any of this, you do catch glimpses of a society of some instability. The battered wife complains less about her injuries then what she sees as her husband’s selling out for a lucrative career as a TV host where he once worked as a serious journalist.

Crime seems to dominate these stories — a briefcase picked on the subway, old people too terrified by stories of fake repairmen robbing and beating elders and an instance of drug use. Certainly Tehran is portrayed as an unhinged and possibly dangerous city, where citizens must be on guard.

This is all wrapped up in comic chaos though as characters juggle multiple tasks, negotiating with a boss or a thief on mobile phones while arguing with others. The first two stories possess almost madcap humor of escalating calamity while the third is more sad than funny.

As it becomes increasingly difficult for any Iranian filmmaker to say much about his society under the current conditions of extreme censorship, Please Do Not Disturbrepresents an important but also an entertaining glimpse behind this new iron curtain.


Venue: Los Angeles Film Fest
Production companies: Kavir Films in association with Documentary Experimental Film Center
Cast: Baran Kosari, Afshin Hashemi, Hedayat Hasemi, Shirin Yazdanbakhsh, Mohsen Kazemi, Hamed Behdad
Director/screenwriter: Mohsen Abdolvahab
Producer/director of photography: Mohamad Ahmadi
Music: Fardin Khalatbari
Production/Costume designer: Amir Esbati
Editor: Sepideh Abdolvahab
Sales: Iranian Independent
No rating, 80 minutes