Rep Pick: Fireworks Wednesday

04/04/2012 4:00 AM |

Fireworks Wednesday (2006)
Directed by Asghar Farhadi
Friday, April 6, Saturday, April 7 and Sunday, April 8 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Farhadi retrospective

One day before New Years and two before her wedding, Rouhi (Taraneh Alidoosti)—wild-eyed, young, curious—is dispatched by a temp agency to clean up a Tehran apartment. Starting early, males of all ages stand around smoking and setting off fireworks. The resident couple seem scatterbrained at first—husband Morteza (Hamid Farokhnezhad) spends the morning bellowing on the phone while instructing Rouhi, and his wife Mohzde (Hedye Tehrani) tries to send her home after about an hour of work. Soon it comes out that she suspects Morteza of having an affair, and what was weird before soon becomes precarious: the wife steals Rouhi’s chador and goes to Morteza’s office, where he promptly decks her in front of downtown traffic.

Whether real or imagined, infidelity creates a blistering sense of self-doubt, and Hedye Tehrani the actress seems open to the possibility that her character’s sensitivity has carried her to the point of delusion. But her weary performance is so natural, one almost hopes Mohzde is correct; at least, then, closure is an option. The leathery-faced Morteza feels berzerk at his wife’s accusations, to the point that he’ll break a window and injure his hand while arguing—or use their 7-year old son as a bargaining chip for more time to prove himself. For both, the problem is less humiliation than public humiliation, the marriage delegitimized in front of the entire city. One neighbor tells him: “Your wife would prefer for you to be with a whore than another woman.”

As Rouhi, Alidoosti is mostly a cipher for the audience’s endlessly morphing loyalties, a human knot of sisal yanked between the two parents. Just when it seems safe to judge somebody, whatever answer looks easy gets upended, and Farhadi avoids belabored symmetries between the bride-to-be and her employers. Shots tend to be wide and withdrawn but not clinical; the effect, as in Farhadi’s A Separation, is not unlike sitting in the eye of the hurricane while wearing an invisibility cloak. It’s a tough, humane approach that only works thanks to the sharpness of the film’s details—like chain-smoker Morteza’s inability to find a working lighter throughout the entire day, despite firecrackers going off at every direction. Ultimately, the director wraps his ideas of Iranian masculinity around a paradoxical solution: a Zippo which, when lit, doubles as a music box.