Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed Mar 16, 2016 3:08 pm 
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More earlier pleasure from Farhadi that confirms his mastery

The title in Farsi is چهارشنبه سوری or Chaharshanbe Suri, referring to the feast of the Last Wednesday of Persian New Year (نوروز Nowruz). This signals a celebratory mood, and likewise the film begins with a happy young couple riding up in the snow, and everyone is smiles when the bride goes to try her wedding dress. Only when she goes to take a temp cleaning job to help pay for the wedding -- they're basically working class and cash-strapped -- do the griping and quarreling start that we're familiar with from more world-weary, sophisticated, westward-leaning sorts of Iranian film -- those of Kiarostami or Panahi, or the later Farhadi of A Separation (the film that brought his instant fame in the West), or his most recent Europeanized (and French-set) The Past. Speaking of the past, we're going backwards into Farhadi's oeuvre. Last year we got to watch his About Elly from 2009 (also celebratory, since it is set at a group outing). Now we'reback to 2006, when this film originally came out. This back-catalog New York release comes appropriately around the time of the Persian New Year (21 March).

As soon as Rouhi (Taraneh Alidousti), whose expressive name روحي means "spirit," gets to the chaotic apartment she's to clean, which takes a while because the buzzer doesn't work and neighbors are suspicious, the quarreling begins, by employer Morteza (Hamid Farokh-Nejad) on the telephone. Soon he meets his wife Mojdeh (Hedieh Tehrani), who suspects he's having an affair.

We see most of what follows from the point of view of Rouhi as the film flows, with almost delirious cinematic fluency, throughout the course of the day and into the evening. Some may see this as a simpler film than the ensemble About Elly, or the knotty, conflictual A Separation, or the temporally layered The Past, but its technical command is hardly simple, and in the almost dreamlike flow of its narrative structure, Fireworks Wednesday achieves a classic beauty. And the images and sounds, with the plastic drapery all over everything at Mortezz and Moideh's house, which has recently been painted, to the winding streets, to the constantly exploding New Years celebration fireworks that grow more numerous, more present and more visible as night falls, are beautiful too. I feel as if I'm in the presence of the kind of simple perfection that graces the early masterpieces of Italian neorealism and the French New Wave. And this has a kind of beauty and sadness that's universal.

Parts of this film indeed are in long continuous takes, but the fluency of Hossein Jafarian's cinematography and Hayedeh Safyari's editing are such that it nearly all feels like one. It's almost a palpable pleasure to see how one scene will seamlessly flow into the next. There's an inevitability that says: You are seeing everything, just like Rouhi. But we see more, though Rouhi knows all. Farhadi is focused as elsewhere in his films on deception and the limitations of point of view. What he's carrying out here is a tour de force, a jeu d'esprit, that's almost crude in its simplicity, but there is a grace about it that I find most satisfying.

When A Separation was released in the US and greeted ecstatically by critics I balked at its endless quarrelsomeness and couldn't see what all the fuss was about. Then as I saw the other Farhadi films that came our way his ability became more clear. If I had only seen Fireworks Wednesday, I'd have known.

Fireworks Wednesday/چهارشنبه سوری (Chaharshanbe Suri), 102 mins., debuted internationally at Locarno 9 Aug. 2006; half a dozen other international festivals. It was released theatrically in France (as La fête du feu) in late 2007 and rereleased in 2011; the AlloCiné press rating is 3.5. L'Humanité commented that Farhadi makes what Feydeau ou Lubitsch would have turned into a sparkling farce feel instead tragic. US theatrical release 16 Mar. 2016 (Film Forum NYC).

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