From Tehran to London
Mania Akbari's unusual study of relationships was cut short by Iranian governmental restrictions
This charged, unusual piece of work begins as an intense close-up study of a relationship that may or may not be in serious trouble, and concludes as a whole different kind of art work: one that takes on in very real terms the conditions under which artists have been required to work in the recent political climate of Iran. It’s not spoiling much, given that the film runs only 45 minutes, to reveal that director Mania Akbari couldn’t finish her film, because she was making it without government permission and members of her crew began to be arrested. The story, which was being shot in sequence, hangs incomplete, turning From Tehran to London from a conventional narrative picture into an experimental work the very structure of which is a comment on control and restriction of artists.
The statement is a powerful one, particularly at a time of change in Iran; but the story that it interrupts unfortunately lacks some dynamism. Neda Amiri and Bijan Daneshmand are charismatic and persuasive performers, but their characters, bourgeois married couple Ava and Ashkan, are a dreadfully spoiled and whingey pair. Ava’s continual complaints about Ashkan seem to say less about the position of women in Iran than they do about her own neurosis; Ashkan’s irritation with her would be the film’s main point of sympathy were it not for the fact that he’s so snotty himself. There’s more complexity in the portrayal, by the ravishingly beautiful Elahe Hesari, of the couple’s housemaid Maryam, who holds secrets about both main characters; and in the director’s own performance as Ava’s sister Roya. But the characters’ sphere of interest is narcissistically small, and the film’s up-closeness quickly become more claustrophobic than revealing, with the unfortunate consequence that its premature conclusion feels rather more welcome than was intended.