Three and a Half: Film Review

Murky festival offering takes us inside today’s repressive Iranian society.

The Naghi Nemati-directed drama explores a modern, repressive Iranian society.

At a time of growing tensions with Iran, any films from that country take on special interest. Director Naghi Nemati’s second feature, Three and a Half, which played at AFI Fest, provides some revealing glimpses of everyday life in Iran, even though the story that Nemati has constructed is less than fully satisfying.  The film has little potential for any showings in America beyond the festival circuit.

Three women are traveling in a borrowed — or stolen — car through Iran, hoping to make it the northern border so that they can flee the country. We gradually learn that the three women are on a furlough from prison, but it’s one of the frustrating gaps in storytelling that we never learn why they were in prison in the first place. As they journey through cities and countryside, trying to find shelter and avoid detection, we gradually learn a little more about the three women. Hanieh is pregnant and angry, trying to achieve some kind of reckoning with the father of her child. Homa is the spirited driver of their car, probably the most irreverent of the three women. But their back stories emerge in unsatisfying bits and pieces. The poorly translated subtitles do not provide much help in supplying desperately needed exposition.

The best things about the movie are the unvarnished glimpses of Iran’s markets, housing developments, and hospitals.  It’s fascinating to discover parts of the country that most Americans will never otherwise see. Probably because these scenes were filmed with portable handheld cameras, the technical quality is often rough, but we still relish a chance to visit a country off limits to most Westerners. The worst aspect of the movie is the muddled narrative. Arty interludes, such as repeated underwater shots that have fuzzy relevance to the story, detract from our involvement. Given the budgetary limitations, the three leading actresses do a credible job of making their characters come to vivid life. The film tantalizes as a sociological document, not as a compelling drama.

Venue: AFI Fest
Cast: Samaneh Vafaiezadeh, Shooka Karimi, Negar Hassanzadeh, Mehdi Poormoosa
Director-screenwriter: Naghi Nemati
Producers:  Mohammad-Reza Sharafodin, Seyed Amir Seyedzadeh
Director of photography:  Roozbeh Rayga
Production designer:  Naghi Nemati
Editors:  Mahmoud Ghafari, Naghi Nemati
No rating, 80 minutes