BEAUTIFUL CITY (Iran / 2004)
Iranian cinema has been criticized recently for its lack of ambition. And justifiably so because in many cases the filmmakers have not only retreaded familiar themes and subjects, but theyve approached them in a mode which lacks imagination. Films confined to discussing problems faced by either women, children or refugees are plentiful, and if a detached, ambiguous tone doesnt mire them, then its the heavy-handedness which does. So in that sense, Beautiful City (Shahr-e Ziba) feels like a breath of fresh air. While it confronts serious and pertinent issues surrounding Irans ancient and intricate capital punishment laws, it does so in a grounded, clear-eyed manner. Directed by Asghar Farhadi, a rising talent among the new generation of Iranian filmmakers, the film primarily revolves around the efforts of two individuals as they attempt to save the life of loved one. Only briefly seen at the beginning, Akbar (Hossein Farzi-Zadeh) was imprisoned in a youth facility as a 16-year-old after he committed a crime of passion. Two years later, hes transferred to an adult prison where he awaits his death sentence to be carried out. But the process cant be completed until the victims distressed father (Faramarz Gharibian) can raise the compensatory "blood money" which according to Islamic law places the value of a woman to be only half that of a man, thus requiring him to pay the difference. Determined to save his life, Akbars best friend, A'la (Babak Ansari), a petty thief, and his beautiful, headstrong older sister, Firoozeh (Taraneh Alidoosti), join forces to beg the father for forgiveness on Akbars behalf. This complex predicament is handled with utmost compassion and sincerity by Farhadi. He allows the natural flow of events to account for his characters rationale, while they continually negotiate with their own lives as well. Credibly weaved into the narrative, moments of tenderness and humor surface
through the burgeoning affection between A'la and Firoozeh, which ultimately puts the onus on them and brings the film to quite a head. Beautiful City is one of the most compelling Iranian films of this decade.
*BEAUTIFUL CITY has played at numerous film festivals, including Fajr, Rotterdam, Warsaw and Montreal. It is not available on DVD at this point.
*Asghar Farhadi's latest film, Fireworks Wednesday, won the Golden Hugo at the 2006 Chicago Film Festival.