Straight outta the Axis of Evil comes Ashgar Farhadi’s sophomore effort, a movie that teaches a thing or two about the power of forgiveness. Farhadi’s parable involves Akbar, who, on his 18th birthday, is moved from a juvenile detention center to an adult prison, where he is to await execution for the murder of his girlfriend. His sister, Firoozeh, and his best friend, A’la, seek clemency from the victim’s family. One problem: The girl’s father refuses to grant it. City lacks the visual brio of past noteworthy Iranian films, but its heart trumps that of most contemporary American movies. Farhadi’s approach to Akbar’s execution is not about wild-eyed revenge; the father — played with, quiet sadness by Faramarz Gharibian — seeks religious advice, and his ensuing spiritual struggle feels at odds with today’s perceptions of Islam as hyper-violent. Farhadi digs into Iran’s social restrictions with a biting realism: When A’la asks his would-be lover about her wedding band and live-in ex-husband, Firoozeh snarls, “How else would I get by in this neighborhood?”
By weaving believable characters into a simple but ocean-deep story, Farhadi illuminates issues befalling not just Iranians, but humanity as a whole, all while avoiding ridiculous, empty histrionics. Paul Haggis, take note.