Life+1Day (Abad va yek rooz)

Iran (2016) Dir. Saeed Roustayi

In the wake of directors like Jafar Panahi being imprisoned for making confrontational films about their country, it seems up and coming Iranian filmmakers are sticking to the neo realist style to portray real life in their country. In his debut Saeed Roustayi points his camera at the internal struggles of an impoverished family in Tehran.

Somayeh (Parinaz Izadyar) is the youngest daughter of the family and is about to be married to a rich Afghan and move away from Tehran to a better life. Second eldest brother Mohsen (Navid Mohammadzadeh), recently out of rehab has been arrested again for drug possession, while older detoxed brother Morteza (Peyman Moaadi) is looking for ways to get money to open his own falafel restaurant.

The rest of the family consists of youngest son Navid (Mahdi Gorbani) who has a bright future ahead of him, ailing elderly mother Madar (Shirin Yazdanbakhsh) and obsessive work shy Leila (Masoumeh Rahmani) all living under the same roof, while bossy widowed elder sister Azam (Shabnam Moghadami) frequently visits. Somayeh is afraid to leave the family for fear they will crumble under their problems without her, as evident by the latest round of trouble caused by Mohsen’s drug issues.

Saeed Roustayi may have gone for a glossier approach to presenting his film, in that the images are crisp and the camerawork is fluid and tightly edited as opposed to the low budget handheld affairs usually associated with Iranian film, but its impact and gritty portrayal of suburban Tehran is no less effective and eye opening for those of us on the outside of its borders.

It is admittedly a very verbose film, driven by strong characters each trying to make sense of and finding a resolution to the problem of a deteriorating family unit beholden to a cultural mindset arcane to us. To us outsiders this will prove a bewildering viewing experience, and simply feel like people shouting philosophical soundbites at each other, but on an educational level this spellbinding stuff.

The film opens with the paradox of a family divided becoming a family united as everyone rushes around to clear out Mohsen’s room of all his drug paraphernalia and illicit substances ahead of an inevitable visit from the police. During this group scramble the family still find time to bicker and proffer their opinions about Someyah’s impending nuptials and fleeing from the nest.

Morteza makes it clear Someyah should go and have the life they all never had, which some sisters agree with while Leila feels jealous of her younger sibling getting married before her. Upon his release, Mohsen disrupts the fragile harmony by demanding his sister stays as the family won’t last without her to keep everyone in line – conveniently overlooking how it is his behaviour that is jeopardising everything.

The family have a small grocery store but Mohsen using it as a base to deal drugs has driven the customers away, leaving the family to feed themselves on their own leftovers and out of date stock. Despite vociferous insistence that he is clean, Mohsen continues to deal and once again his kin have to clean up after him – although they have no qualms in using his profits to help them out where necessary.

Where Roustayi separates himself from other writer-directors is how he eschews the usual targets of the stifling Iranian authority and oppressive social mores and instead looks closer to home to seek out other reasons why people find life tough. Of course the social mores play a big part in accordance to how they think and react but the pressures are brought on entirely by themselves.

Not all families resort to drug dealing to survive nor are they so reluctant to marry off their daughters, yet this presents us Johnny foreigners with a refreshing viewpoint of Iran. Some cultural facets remain, such as the women never being seen without a chador or hijab or that the men have the authority of the household – although the women in this household have some gumption and fight back.  

The film’s title is a reference to the judicial system and how sentenced criminals serve their time plus one extra day, on which their parole is considered. If someone is jailed for life, their body remains interred for one extra day which is when they are considered free from their sentence. It’s a strange philosophical premise but it serves as a metaphor Morteza uses to persuade Someyah to leave having done her time with the family.

Even though Someyah and her future prosperity is the central focus of this tale it is Navid who is the true beacon of hope for the family, whilst at the same time its most tragic figure. A canny lad capable of finishing a 60-minute exam in 20 minutes and innocently deceive the police, Someyah recognises the potential corruption Navid is likely to be exposed to, as does the kid himself.

Because this plays out like a sequence of events depicting the family going round in circles, it is easy to assume there is no overarching storyline, but this is very much accordant with the traditional beginning-middle-end structure. The narrative is linear, if a little hasty in jumping time periods, and the ending is a decidedly bittersweet moment of frustration for the audience but the delineation of the journey is unmistakable.  

Of the cast, Parinaz Izadyar will be familiar from A Separation, yet doesn’t overshadow the others as they are all superb, deserving huge kudos for remembering the hefty passages of dialogue and delivering them with gusto, passion and naturalism. Roustayi as a first time director keeps the pace brisk and the camerawork intimate, while the glossy vivid colours offset the dour tone of the story.

Mileage will vary if one is expecting something akin to the trenchant dramas of Asghar Farhadi but I found Life+1Day to be an assured and engrossing social drama offering a different perspective on Iranian life.