'Sly' ('Marmouz'): Film Review

Courtesy of Farabi Cinema Foundation
A delightful takedown of the disgraced populist leader of Iran.

Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is lampooned in a nothing's-sacred spoof directed by popular mainstream helmer Kamal Tabrizi.

While Paolo Sorrentino has splayed the follies of Italy’s former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on the screen in Them, over in Iran, mainstream director Kamal Tabrizi essays a hilarious, if somewhat fictionalized, portrait of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Sly (Marmouz). Though he is called by another name in the film and it veers off-script in the Turkish scenes, it is clearly the disgraced ex-prexy who is being held up to ridicule. The pic's screenings at the Fajr Film Festival were SRO, foreshadowing plenty of box-office potential if it is cleared for domestic release. Farabi Cinema Foundation has picked up international sales rights and should have no trouble shopping it to festivals.

Tabrizi, one may recall, is the director who shocked the establishment with his 2004 hit The Lizard, the offbeat tale of a thief who disguises himself as a cleric and ends up a success at the job. It grabbed the award for best Asian film in Montreal, a feat that the artistically unpretentious Sly may aspire to on the strength of its bold good humor and topicality.

Actor Hamed Behdad not only bears a resemblance to Mr. A., but his mannerisms, malapropisms and goofy off-the-wall reasoning are a hoot to watch. The film itself is not very deep, but for a comedy it has some striking moments, like its canny description of how public opinion can turn. As of this writing, the real Ahmadinejad, who came to power as a religious hard-liner and held sway as the country's president for eight years, has lost support among top clergy and will likely be prevented from running in the next presidential election. All this makes him a fairly easy target, but still a worthy one.

Qodrat Allah Samadi (Behdad), a brash fellow from the provinces, barges his way into politics, despite his difficulty pronouncing long words in front of Parliament. Luck, however, seems always to be on his side. His big break comes when he leads a fringe of right-wing protesters to a theater to interrupt a rock concert, a rare, officially sanctioned event taking place in the presence of a minister. To scare everybody out of the place, he shouts "Bomb!" into the microphone; shortly afterward, a bomb really does go off, much to his surprise. The media misinterprets everything and turns him into a hero for saving hundreds of lives. Well-known actor-director Mani Haghighi appears as a politically connected editor who can barely stand him, but recognizes his value.

On the basis of Qodrat's popularity, a stuffy reformist political party courts him as its frontman. “Who will vote for that monkey?” wonders one of the king-makers. But Qodrat gains ground with the electorate, who tune in to his zany self-promoting ideas, like being “the candidate who will bring oil to your table,” and thoughtful slogans like "When you have a culture problem, turn it into a security problem." He soon gets out of control and slips the leash of his political handlers in some funny scenes fraught with misunderstandings on all sides. Meanwhile, his awkward attraction to a female reporter seems doomed by his churlish obtuseness.

Though fast-paced, Sly doesn’t go much of anywhere. In the final scenes, Qodrat attacks the wrong people and finds himself under arrest. When a mysterious supporter bails him out, he hightails it to Istanbul, where he falls in with a bunch of Iranian monarchist expats. (Mentioning the Pahlavi dynasty is another taboo that seems to have fallen in Iran; the last shah is even the subject of a serious, well-made documentary called Royal Inheritance, which was screened in the Fajr Festival’s film market.)

Cast: Hamed Behdad, Vishka Asayesh, Azadeh Samadi, Mani Haghighi
Director:  Kamal Tabrizi
Screenwriter: Aidin Sayar Sarie
Producer: Javad Norouzbeigi
Director of photography: Ali Tabrizi
Production designer: Behzad Adineh
Costume designer: Shideh Mahmoud Zadeh
Editor: Sohrab Khosravi
Music: Bamrani Band
World sales: Farabi Cinema Foundation

90 minutes