Fireworks Wednesday

****1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Fireworks Wednesday
"Tehrani excels in playing a character whose aggression instantly makes her unlikeable, yet who, without ever letting down her guard, gradually reveals the pain and desperation underneath."

Nowruz, the Fireworks Wednesday on which this film is set, is part of the celebrations leading to Iranian New Year. It's a day with two principle rituals: cleaning the home and partying outside with fire. Roohi (Taraneh Alidoosti) is a young woman hired to clean a family's apartment for them; through the course of her day she encounters a number of fiery situations which illustrate the pressures that can build up in relationships over time, as she prepares to celebrate the new and embark upon her own married life.

Like Farhadi's previous work, this is a film full of small observations. Together they build up to form a picture of relationships between spouses, neighbours and colleagues, and the society that surrounds them. We first meet Roohi outside that society, speeding along a mountain road on the back of her fiancee's motorbike. Her chador gets caught in the wheel, he chides her for wearing it and for feeling shy without it when there's no-one else around anyway, and they throw snow at each other and laugh, full of energy and the joy of being together. It's a scene quite at odds with the rest of the film. Is it fanciful for Roohi to imagine that love like this can endure? Will she lose her faith in it? Is this a modern form of pastoral romance, the two rural dwellers accessing an appreciation of the simple things that has been lost to those in the city, where concerns about what other people are thinking and doing can be crushing?

Before Roohi even arrives at work, the couple who live there are arguing. They are supposed to be travelling to Dubai the following day. Mozhde (Hediyeh Tehrani) is trying to pack; Morteza (Hamid Farokhnezhad) says he has to go out to work, but Mozhde doesn't trust him. Something has convinced her that he's having an affair. Arriving in the middle of it all, Roohi tries hard to be discreet, to pretend she can't hear what's being shouted. Gradually she is drawn in as both parties persuade her to do favours for them, making her complicit in a series of events that lead her further and further from the moral simplicity of the world she knew. She is bullied, bribed, flattered, confided in, and even asked to look after the small son, Amir Ali (Matin Heydarnia), who is physically dragged around as the couple spar.

In light of the occasion, Mozhde's suspicion of her neighbour and the malicious gossip that thrives within the building is particularly bitter. Tehrani excels in playing a character whose aggression instantly makes her unlikeable, yet who, without ever letting down her guard, gradually reveals the pain and desperation underneath. After spending time in her presence it's easy to warm to the other characters, but nobody here is quite what they seem.

The clash between social expectations and lived realities is everywhere in this film. As the ancient Zoroastrian rites of Nowruz itself conflict with the model of society the clerics are striving for, newer cultural models add to the mix, from the riotous aggression of the young men who throw fireworks at strangers in the street and leer at Roohi, to the way each of the women in the film strives to assert her own identity in conflict with both patriarchal tradition and the expectations of more liberal men. There is a great deal here that is universal and one doesn't require a deep familiarity with Iranian society to appreciate it. Fireworks in the city seem to work the same way everywhere, but Amir Ali's wide eyed delight at seeing them briefly recalls the joy of that first scene.

Shot in an unfussy yet shrewd way, Fireworks Wednesday is crowded with visual information but never overwhelms. Farhadi relies on his actors to direct the viewer's attention and they are more than capable of doing so. Despite the deliberately drab lighting, which adds to the sense of claustrophobia in the city, the camera captures every nuance in their performances. The result is a film whose power lies in its subtleties, in its hidden fire.

Reviewed on: 14 Dec 2016
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A young cleaner gets caught up in the web of suspicion and intrigue between a troubled couple and their neighbours.

Director: Asghar Farhadi

Writer: Asghar Farhadi, Mani Haghighi

Starring: Hedye Tehrani, Taraneh Alidoosti, Hamid Farokhnezhad, Pantea Bahram, Sahar Dolatshahi, Mehran Mahram, Hooman Seyadi, Behshad Sharifian

Year: 2006

Runtime: 102 minutes

Country: Iran

Festivals:

Tribeca 2007

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