Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Nahid [2015]

MPAA (UR would be PG-13)  Fr. Dennis (4+ Stars)

IMDb listing listing listing*

Iranian Film Daily interview w. director (A. Saéz) review* (M. Rivière) review* (K. Doerksen) review*
The Hollywood Reporter (J. Mitzner) review

Nahid [2015] [IMDb] [Cin] [SC]* (directed and cowritten by Ida Panahandeh [IMDb] [Cin] [SC]* along with Arsalan Amiri [IMDb]) is a lovely critically acclaimed personalist drama from Iran that played recently at the 2015 (51st Annual) Chicago International Film Festival.  It won the Un Certain Regard - Avenir Promoteur Prize for New Directors at the Cannes Film Festival this year.

The film is about Nahid (played magnificently in the film by Sareh Bayat [IMDb] [Cin] [SC]*) a 30-ish Iranian woman from the mid-sized Iranian port city of Anzali on the Caspian Sea, who's in the process of divorcing her "good old boy" Iranian husband Ahmad (played again quite vividly even wonderfully with his quite obvious if sincere flaws by Navid Mohammadzadeh [IMDb] [Cin] [SC]*) roughly her same age.  We're told in the course of the film that the two had "married young."  And the two had one child, 10 year old Amir (played by Milad Hassan Pour [SC]*).

Now why is Nahid divorcing her husband?  And an American / Westerner could be surprised to learn that an Iranian woman could initiate divorce proceedings against her husband at all.  We tend to have an image of Islam that suggests that women would have little or no rights at all.  But defenders of the Islamic Iranian regime have _always protested_ (to those who would hear them) that Shiite Islam is _not_ chaotic, that it has a clergy, a heirarchy, _follows rule of law_.  Now that law could perhaps seem to the Westerner quite / very paternalistic, but it would be wildly unfair to characterize Iranian Shiite Islam as simply chaotic or despotic.  (Truth be told, I would suggest that Shiite Islam especially as it exists in Iran could be could be compared to Catholic Christianity, which _also_ has an well educated / trained clergy, a heirarchy and comports itself according to Rule of (Canon) Law).

But back to the original question.  Why is Nahid seeking to divorce her husband?  Well, while certainly not evil, indeed, quite fun, liking to mix it up at (and bet on ...) soccer games, Ahmad has had his issues.  He's been in and out of rehab (for heroin addiction) for years, and yes, he's had a gambling problem, and is now owing money to all sorts of unsavory types all over town.   And well, Nahid has had enough ... and the Islamic State, contrary perhaps to (initial) Western prejudice, DOES SEEM TO UNDERSTAND cases like this / cases like hers.  Hence a woman like Nahid does have legal recourse to file for divorce against her husband (something that, again, would surprise many Westerners).

Another thing that may surprise many Americans / Westerners is that Nahid and Ahmad, after 10 years of marriage, have ONLY ONE KID.  Indeed, every one of the families portrayed in this film (as well as in the five or six other Iranian films that I've watched / reviewed over the course (now in its 5th year) of my blog) has been relatively small, with only one or two, perhaps three kids.  This also runs against American / Western perceptions of Iranian society (conflated here with Muslim society in general) that assumes that Muslim families are generally enormous.  That Iranian families would seem small suggests that Iranian couples would have to practice some kind of birth control and, again, that Iranian women would have to be afforded a greater amount of rights / consideration than many Americans / Westerners would initially believe.

Still, Nahid's situation was by no means ideal.  It is clear in the film that Iranian (Shiite inspired) law assumes that a woman divorcing her husband would return to her family, in Nahid's case to her brother.  Now again, Nahid's brother is NOT evil, indeed, he's a decent enough guy.  But it's clear that Nahid would prefer to not go back to him, and she's found herself a both a job (as a typist) and a small flat for her and her son.  There's even a rather rich widower (who runs a beach-side hotel at the town) named Masoud (played by Pejman Bazeghi [IMDb] [Cin] [SC]*) with, again, exactly one young, 8-y.o. daughter, and Masoud like to marry Nahid once her divorce goes through (and she's not necessarily opposed, though worries about losing custody of her son as a result).  BUT HERE'S THE PROBLEM: Iranian (again Shiite inspired) law presupposes that Nahid getting ALL THESE THINGS -- getting the job, getting the flat for herself, even remarrying -- would involve _getting approval_ from the various "men in her life," that is to say, her husband that she's divorcing, her brother and even as time goes on Masoud.  And as the film progresses, it becomes patently clear that Nahid, would really like to be an Iranian "Mary Tyler Moore" [wikip] [IMDb] (from a mid-sized "northern town with snow" in Nahid's case in northern Iran) and "make it on her own ..."

How does it end up for her?  As a mild spoiler alert, I'd say NOT ALTOGETHER BADLY (this is NOT a movie that ends tragically), but IT'S CLEARLY NOT EASY.


* Reasonably good (sense) translations of non-English webpages can be found by viewing them through Google's Chrome browser. 

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