Film-Forward Review: [BEAUTIFUL CITY]

Reviews of Recent Independent, Foreign, & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video

A'la (Babak Ansari) walks Firoozeh (Taraneh Alidoosti) home
Photo: Sheherazad Media International

Directed & Written by: Asghar Farhadi.
Produced by: Iraj Taghipoor.
Director of Photography: Ali Loghmani.
Edited by: Shahrzad Pooya.
Music by: Hamidreza Sadri.
Language: Farsi with English subtitles.
Country of Origin: Iran. 101 min. Not Rated.
With: Taraneh Alidoosti, Babak Ansari, Faramarz Gharibian & Ahoo Kheradmand.

An engrossing anomaly in Iranian cinema, the steady-paced Beautiful City is never confined to one subject. Although the film does not completely ignore the quintessential issue of life under an oppressive regime, it still manages to extract more universal meaning from the injustices of the law, questioning whether the root of these wrongs are really so simple or whether there is an underlying complexity and contradiction in even the most seemingly obvious of injustices – in this case, capital punishment.

Akbar has just turned 18. After having spent two years in a rehabilitation center for committing murder, he is now old enough for execution. His only hope for exoneration is to receive a pardon from the father of the deceased – an impossibly dogged man set on retaliation for his daughter’s death. But there’s a chance he’ll relent. According to Islamic law, the value of a woman’s death is half of that for a man. In other words, the father must pay more blood money in the difference between the worth of his daughter and her murderer, which he can’t afford.

An unlikely romantic relationship comes to fruit after Akbar’s former cellmate, A’la (the beguiling Babak Ansari), unites with Akbar’s sister to obtain the consent. As Firoozeh, Taraneh Alidoosti (from I Am Taraneh, 15) is remarkably convincing as the strong-minded but vulnerable older sister, who wears a wedding ring and works full-time to support her infant son.

Beautiful City thrives on the nuances that are the hallmark of Iranian cinema. But what distinguishes it from other Iranian tragedies is its refreshing comedic element, which comes through subtly and at just the right moments – for example, over a kebab dinner through which A’la and Firoozeh, developing an illicit romance, converse “through” Firoozeh’s toddler, flirting like adolescents.

Director Asghar Farhadi manages to cover the tragic material of his film quite concisely and unpredictably. His point becomes most clearly vocalized when A’la speaks to an elder about the justice or injustice of Akbar’s sentence. It becomes clear that neither is completely convinced about his opinion, because, perhaps, there is no right answer.

Thankfully, this is anything but a cloying message film. The characters, not the issues, are in the foreground. Among the most accessible of recent Iranian films, this dramatic labyrinth is as skillfully made, if not more so, than any of this year’s best foreign language film nominees. Parisa Vaziri
March 15, 2006



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