Dir: Reza Persa. Sweden. 2000. 110 mins.
Prod co: Illusion Film. Co-prods: Film i Vast, Felicia Film, Per Holst Film, Norsk Film. Int'l Sales: Nordisk Film International (45) 33 26 68 80. Prods: Peter Hiltunen, Johan Falemark. Scr: Mikael Bengtsson, Parsa. DoP: Eigil Bryld. Ed: Louise Brattberg. Main cast: Per Graffman, Tintin Anderzon, Maria Lundqvist, Emil Odepark.
Even before its San Sebastian screening, cynics were predicting kudos for Before The Storm as the latest fare from Iran, flavour of the year at international film festivals. However Parsa moved to Sweden in 1980 and studied film-making in Denmark: this, his first feature, feels more like a conventional Western European art movie than an Iranian one. Still, while the movie has faults, the bulk of it is forceful and emotionally involving, winning the Best Director prize at San Sebastian as well as the Youth Jury Award. With careful marketing and good word of mouth, this could thrive quietly as a niche item.
The two parallel stories follow Leo, a lonely 12-year-old schoolboy, and Ali, a Middle Eastern taxi driver married to a Swede, exploring how each one in his different way resists oppression. Bullied at school, Leo - who nurses a secret flame for one of Ali's daughters - is pushed to the limit when he's humiliated in front of his female classmates and borrows the gun which his mother keeps locked in the cellar.
Ali, meanwhile, is fending off the unwelcome overtures of an old woman from his homeland, where in his youth he had been a guerrilla terrorist. He fled to Sweden after making an error which cost innocent lives. Now he is being blackmailed into one last mission, the murder of a Swedish industrialist supplying his country's government with munitions carriers.
Parsa traces each character's struggle with his conscience, and its violent resolution, in some powerful and well-staged scenes. The technical credits are fine and the performances persuasive, from both the principals and the secondary cast. However the connections between the two narrative strands are often too tenuous, with one protagonist allowed to disappear for long leisurely stretches, while an ill-judged montage climax drives home the points with sledgehammer overstatement.