"Three Films . . . Three Views . . . by Three Iranian Filmmakers" (at the Monica 4-Plex) opens with Babak Shokrian's incisive and anguished 30-minute drama "Peaceful Sabbath," a study of a young Iranian Jew (Allan DeSath) living in Los Angeles. "What does it mean to pray with your family for hope, love? Is it just tradition?" he asks himself as he's on his way to participate in a ritual Sabbath meal with his clearly prosperous parents, and his brother and sister.
Rather than a warm, happy gathering, it is an empty ritual ruined by his bombastic father's declamations on the necessity of maintaining women in a subservient status in marriage. Later on, the young man's "Marty"-like evening with friends at a nightclub with go-go dancers and hookers is even more joyless, yet throughout both episodes Shokrian is able to show us his hero reflecting upon all that he is experiencing, leaving us with the feeling that he's thinking for himself--that he may be considering that his one chance for happiness may lie in asserting his independence.
Mohammad Anvarizadeh's sensitive, judicious 20-minute vignette "Growing Again" provides a strikingly ironic contrast to "Peaceful Sabbath." Whereas Shokrian's Iranian Jew feels oppressed by family, Anvarizadeh's American heroine (Dona Hardy) feels abandoned by hers. Hardy, a veteran stage actress, plays an elderly recent widow, an elegant, intelligent woman whose children and grandchildren make no time to help her cope with her overwhelming grief. Although her priest (Maarten Goslins), well-meaning but pedantic and obvious in his consolations, comes up with an eventual answer for her, she gradually realizes that she can only rely upon herself to work through her sense of loss and loneliness.
Anvarizadeh shows himself to be acutely aware of the isolation so many elderly Americans experience and is deft in meeting the challenge of working out a credible resolution for his drama within a very short span of time--and without having it seem overly pat.
Siavash Tavakoli's 38-minute "The Black Wagon" is the most ambitious in both style and intent of the three films but is also likely to elude most American audiences. Shot in Farsi in a gritty black-and-white, it evokes the paranoia of a disparate group of would-be resisters in an underground movement not long before the fall of the Shah. Tavakoli evokes a shadowy, ominous atmosphere most effectively but is so elliptical in exposition and narrative that it's hard for the non-Iranian to follow what's happening and to become involved with its people--despite good English subtitles.
Allan DeSath: Benjamin
Shant Benjamin: Darius
Kamran Niroo: Bahram
Writer-producer-director Babak Shokrian. Cinematographer Ademir Silva. Co-producer-editor Robin Fellows. Sound Charles Lacy, John Preston. In English and some Farsi. Running time: 30 minutes.
Times-rated Mature (for adult themes, some sex).
Dona Hardy: Widow
Maarten Goslins: Priest
Writer-director-producer-editor Mohammad Anvarizadeh. Cinematographer J. Luker. Music Todd Hayn. Sound Marck Clunch. Running time: 20 minutes.
Times-rated Family (suitable for all ages).
'The Black Wagon'
Abbas Razavi: Boghos
Aresh Sadeghi: Agent 1
Bahram Goodarzi: Agent 2
Yadollah Shirandami: Interrogator
Writer-producer-director Siavash Tavakoli. Cinematographer Tavakoli, Sergio Coro. Editors Siavash Farsani, Davood Farahani. Music Pietro Viviani. Sound Tim Luce. In Farsi, with English subtitles. Running time: 38 minutes.
Times-rated Mature (too intense for children).