Fireworks Wednesday (Chaharshanbe-soori)

Iran (2006) Dir. Asghar Farhadi

Roohi (Taraneh Alidoosti) is a young bride-to-be working as a cleaner for an agency, taking a job with the middle class Samiei family on the same day as chaharshanbe-soori, an old Iranian ceremony in which fireworks are let off in advance of the Persian new year, and experiences some fireworks of a different kind. When she arrives at the house she finds a somewhat testy Morteza (Hamid Farokhnezhad) who is at loggerheads with his wife, the volatile Mozhde (Hedye Tehrani) over a holiday in Dubai for which they and young son Amir ali (Matin Heydarnia) are leaving the next day. Mozhde thinks Morteza is having an affair with the woman next door Simin (Pantea Bahram) so she enlists Roohi’s help to validate her suspicions.

From the director of Oscar winning A Separation, Asghar Farhadi, comes a earlier film on his seemingly favourite subject of relationships in modern Iran, handled in Farhadi’s inimitable subtle, intimate documentary style. The Iranian setting makes what is a fairly typical and universal theme seem fresh and unique while offering an insight into how another culture might handle such a situation.

Despite the presence of young Amir ali, it is Roohi who is the piggy in the middle of the feuding couple through no fault of her own. Her troubles start when she arrives at the house to clean only to be paid to leave by Mozhde since Morteza hired Roohi without Mozdhe’s knowledge, having herself already recruited help from elsewhere. But when an unknown number appears on the phone’s caller ID Mozdhe flips out, again deciding her husband is being unfaithful with her only suspect for the other woman being beautician Simin who runs a tiny salon next door. Mozdhe has Roohi book a faux appointment with Simin to smoke her out which Roohi takes anyway since she is due to be married. During the appointment Roohi seems to hit it off with Simin and inadvertently shares some information about the Samiei’s holiday but later when Mozdhe starts bad mouthing Simin, Roohi feels duty bound to only speak nice of Simin. Things continue to spiral out of control with Roohi trying to appease all three parties while concerned about getting home too late to her fiancé.

Farhadi has a great knack of taking familiar character tropes and making them believable and empathetic even if you don’t agree with their actions or point or view. What makes this an interesting viewing experience for us westerners is how the differing attitudes of the Iranian culture put a fresh perspective onto a run of the mill premise. It’s well documented that women have less rights in the Middle East than on this side of the world which is shown here when Morteza’s work colleagues side with him over the dispute with Mozdhe, making her out to be a demanding ungrateful witch then hits her in the street when he thinks a driver toots his car horn at her; or Roohi coming under fire from her fiancé when she loses her chardor. While Roohi is the more subservient of the two, Mozdhe thinks nothing of firing back at her husband as her western counterpart would. And Simin – she remains the conceit of the tale.

Not only are the characters well crafted on paper but the excellent cast make them into realistic beings with performances that are natural yet compelling. Hedye Tehrani brings a touch of melancholy to her role as the paranoid and uptight Mozdhe, while Taraneh Alidoosti) is a name to watch as Roohi, the visual narrator of the story. Farhadi ensures that nothing is overplayed and even with the changes in mood, the pace remains constant throughout.

Anyone who enjoyed A Separation would do well to check out Fireworks Wednesday to see where the germination for his award winning opus came from. A simple but effective and engrossing film which reaches out beyond its homeland origins to resonate with audiences worldwide.