Tehroun -- Film Review

Benjamin Walker
Jason Kempin/Getty Images

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 13:  Actor Benjamin Walker attends the "Bloody Bloody Jackson" opening night after party at Brasserie 8 1/2 on October 13, 2010 in New York City.

VENICE -- A would-be thriller with a human face that champions the poor, "Tehroun" (gutter slang for Tehran) offers a different take on the changes wrought in Iran during the Ahmadinejad years. Paris-based director Nader T. Homayoun took his camera crew to Iran to film such taboo subjects as prostitution, smuggling and gangsters. There are even a few unveiled women.

Covering some of the same territory as Jafar Panahi's "Crimson Gold," the film has a surprisingly modern, realistic texture despite its highly structured story set in low-life Tehran. A pity the sensitively drawn characters, who pull audiences into the tale, are overwhelmed by genre elements in a muddled finale. The art house is the film's only likely avenue to appreciative audiences.

We first meet the industrious hero Ibrahim (Ali Ebdali) begging at a stoplight with a small baby in his arms. He turns out to have rented the infant from a racketeer, who takes most of his daily earnings. When he entrusts the tyke to a youth he rooms with (Missagh Zareh), the baby-sitter lets himself get picked up by an attractive young streetwalker in the park. While they are looking for a cheap hotel, she vanishes with the child.

Disaster looms for the hapless Ibrahim, a provincial whose pregnant wife is on her way to Tehran, unaware of her husband's "job" or his current predicament. In the ensuing search for the baby, the third roommate Fatah (Farzin Modades, the sentimental, funny-faced hero of "Poet of the Wastes") takes charge. The way the three friends, who share mattresses in a cold-water flat, survive by helping each other is touching and forces viewers to temper their moral judgments of Ibrahim, though his crass baby rental remains a hard lump to swallow.

The mix of genres is bold, to say the least, and basically holds up until the badly written ending, when the screenwriters pull out the stops. The operatic grand finale wouldn't work in Hollywood, much less here.

Acting is de-emphasized, as in most Iranian films, though the female roles are unusual in their diversity. Shahrzad Kamal Zadeh plays the prostitute with seductive charm, while Sara Bahrami, who plays Ibrahim's country wife, shows she has a mind of her own.

Venue: Venice Film Festival, Critics Week
Production companies: Alias Films, Avenue B Productions
Cast: Ali Ebdali, Sara Bahrami, Farzin Modades, Missagh Zareh, Shahrzad Kamal Zadeh
Director: Nader T. Homayoun
Screenwriters: Nader T. Homayoun, Jean-Phillipe Gaud, Mehdi Boustani
Producers: Nader T. Homayoun, Jean-Philippe Gaud, Caroline Bonmarchand
Director of photography: Remi Mazet
Production designer/costume designer: Mahssa Azimi
Music: Christophe Julien, Stephane Le Bellec
Editor: Jean-Philippe Gaud
Sales Agent: Memento Films International
No rating, 100 minutes