‘Today’: Film Review
Iran’s Oscar entry praises the quiet compassion of a Good Samaritan taxi driver towards a helpless young woman
The theme of personal responsibility is being explored in many new Iranian films, spurred at least in part by the international acclaim and Academy Award accorded to Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation. Today, Iran’s Oscar entry for 2015, runs with this ball in a very different direction as writer-director Reza Mirkarimi goes back to a style of subtle, understated realism and story-telling stripped down to the basics. This two-handed character study about a good Samaritan taxi driver who takes a pregnant girl to the hospital and pays for her stay can seem a bit plain and tedious, until one looks under the surface at the subtleties that are hinted at rather than revealed. While there are some good things here worth watching, they aren’t loud or obvious, and the film is likely to have a small circle of admirers concentrated in festivals.
There is also a certain cultural gap that Western audiences will need to leap to relate to a part of the world where being an unwed mother is a big deal – a humiliating scandal, in fact. It’s a little like seeing young Philomena struggling against prejudice to have her baby today (not by chance the title of the film), and the plot will strike many as a disturbing anachronism.
Concern for the homeless and dispossessed was evident in Mirkarimi’s first feature about a thieving boy, The Child and the Soldier, and his next film Under the Moonlight, in which a young clergyman falls in with people living under a bridge. The same compassion runs through Today, whose plain shots and no-budget look hark back to Italian neo-realism. Mirkarimi and his co-scripter Shadmehr Rastin do an excellent job sketching in the characters’ social background and the tragedy facing the fragile Sedigheh (newcomer Soheila Golestani), who is about to have a baby without a husband or any relatives in sight. She has also been beaten and is walking around Teheran with a broken rib as well as a detached placenta.
In this pitiful state she pops into Youness’ taxi (veteran Parviz Parastui) one day. Though far from an easy touch, Youness agrees to drive her to the hospital she indicates. The girl is so wistfully plaintive she seems a little spacey, but she’s obviously in great pain. He takes pity on her and walks her to the front desk, even signing admissions papers as though he were a relative. Most of the hospital personnel figure he’s the baby’s father. In the face of their near-universal hostility and contempt, he keeps his peace to protect her reputation, and only the supervising nurse Mrs. Majd (Shabnam Moghadami) half-guesses his secret.
Parastui gives an effective if extremely low-key performance, building up the cabbie’s good character through small hints. His limp probably means he was wounded in the war with Iraq, but he never mentions it. Though his stoic silence is easy to misinterpret as street-hardened suspicion, there is a hint that he is a God-fearing man from the religious radio station he listens to. And to indicate to the audience he’s on the moral up-and-up, Mirkarimi shows that he hates lawyers when he kicks a threatening attorney out of his cab.
Making allowances for her first acting role, Golestani turns out to be just what the doctor ordered — a waif-like dreamer who bravely hides the blows of cruel fortune just like Youness does. Fretting about not having cab fare and fluttering around for misplaced papers, she could be a character out of Dickens, and her distressed monologue as she waits to be wheeled into the operating room is genuinely affecting. It might have been a better place to end the film than the totally unbelievable fantasy that concludes things on an unreal note, at least for Western viewers.
Production companies: iFILM Production
Cast: Parviz Parastui, Soheila Golestani, Shabnam Moghadami
Director-producer-editor: Reza Mirkarimi
Screenwriters: Reza Mirkarimi, Shadmehr Rastin
Executive producer: Majid Karimi
Director of photography: Houman Behmanesh
Production designer: Marjan Golzar
Music: Amin Honardmand
Sales: DreamLab Films
No rating, 87 minutes