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MOVIE REVIEW

Tough view of addiction in Iran

Director Dariush Mehrjui offers a heart-rending story of a gifted 'Music Man' whose life takes a downward spiral.

January 25, 2008|Kevin Thomas | Special to The Times

"Santouri the Music Man," a harrowing account of a greatly gifted artist's slide into heroin addiction, is another sweeping yet incisive film from Dariush Mehrjui, one of Iran's most accomplished and courageous filmmakers for four decades.

As the film opens, the handsome, charismatic Ali (Bahram Radan) is at the point of losing everything: his career, his friends, his colleagues and above all his beautiful wife, Hanieh (Golshifteh Farahani), as gifted and versatile a pianist as he is a master of the santour, a stringed instrument that is played with mallets and sounds like a harpsichord.

After struggling to make ends meet, Hanieh is at the end of her tether, worn down by her husband's endless promises to change and his refusal to acknowledge his enslavement to heroin. At this point Mehrjui flashes back to happier times, when the couple met and Ali's career was soaring. Mehrjui eventually moves past the film's starting point, on to Ali's spiraling fall into the depths.

"Santouri" is one of a number of films that confront the widespread drug problem that plagues Iran, especially in Tehran. Mehrjui, who suggests that the addiction reflects a society torn by the conflict between rigid tradition and inevitable and rapid change, doesn't pinpoint the moment when Ali became hooked but does gradually reveal his troubled background as the son of a domineering mother who hates music and a wealthy father who disinherits him for pursuing a musical career.

"Santouri" pulls no punches in depicting the hell of heroin addiction, the obstacles to the addict getting help and the ordeal of withdrawal, ever accompanied by recidivism.

At the same time the film is suffused with exuberant passion, exemplified by its music, as glorious as the songs of Edith Piaf in "La Vie en Rose," a film with inevitable similarities to "Santouri." The film's many plaintive, enthralling songs, all made accessible by succinct English subtitles, feature Ardalan Kamkar's music and were composed by Mohsen Chavosi.

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"Santouri the Music Man." MPAA rating: Unrated. In Farsi with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes. At Laemmle's Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 274-6869; and Laemmle's Town Center 5, 17200 Encino Blvd., Encino (818) 728-1212.

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