Dir: Babak Shokrian. US. 2001. 91mins.
There's an incontestable topical relevance to this tale of young Iranians in Los Angeles in 1979 whose dream of owning their own disco evaporates after the fall of the Shah and the American Embassy hostage drama in Tehran. Having studied in California and worked there as an editor and production designer, Tehran-born director Babak Shokrian brings a distinctively indie-American sensibility and polish to his debut feature (shot mainly in English, with some dialogue in Farsi). However the film's flashy camerawork and snappy editing are not matched by either its story-telling clarity or some of the characterisations and performances, with critical response likely to reflect these problems. Parallels with recent world events will be the film's main selling point and could pull in thoughtful arthouse audiences in the US and elsewhere.
Opening in November 1979 with a television newsclip of President Carter praising Iran as an island of stability in the Middle East, the story introduces a group of Westernised and apparently assimilated Iranians: Houshang (Mansour), who works in a menial job at his uncle's shop; his friends, Parviz (Farlborz David Davoodian) and Hamid (Alain DeSatti); the latter's sister, Maryam; and Bahman, a new arrival from Tehran. Dazzled by California's vibrant disco scene, Houshang's big ambition is to buy a share in one of the clubs and his desperate quest for the cash unfolds against the mounting crisis in his homeland. At first these events, ever-present in the background in newspaper headlines and media news bulletins, barely impinge on Houshang and his crowd, whose primary interests are pretty much those of red-blooded and ambitious young males the world over.
Even so, all is not rosy. Houshang's American dream is not shared by Parviz who, with his hopes of studying medicine thwarted, is now grafting a meagre living as a taxi driver, bent only on earning enough money to return home. And with the Ayatollah Khomeini's supporters gaining ground, even Houshang finds reality difficult to ignore. At first welcome guests at the clubs, the youths are forced to try to pass for Italians (Parviz stubbornly, if implausibly, insists he is Irish). Drinking in a bar, they have to beat a hasty retreat when the other patrons, incensed by the latest newscast, burst into a chorus of God Bless America.
Shokrian, who moved to Los Angeles in 1971 when he was six, clearly speaks from first-hand experience. However, there's no clear sense of either the events in Iran - for those unfamiliar with them - or of the American response, beyond stereotyped outcries of xenophobia.
As the international situation spins out of control, the film also becomes increasingly chaotic, with a surfeit of subplots and characters, a number of which don't have the space to make their mark: the dynamics between the group of friends could have been portrayed with greater sharpness and Mansour gives a particularly lacklustre central performance.
Prod cos: B Good Films
Int'l sales: IFP Market Showcase
Prod: Jane Reardon
Scr: Shokrian, Brian Horiuchi, based on an idea by Shokrian
Cinematography: Tom Ryan
Prod des: Leora Lutz
Ed: Mary Stephen, Andrew M Sommers
Music: Loga Ramin Torkian
Main cast: Mansour, Farlborz David Davoodian, Alain DeSatti, Dianne Gaidry, Atossa