Despite having its name in world news daily, Iranian cinema is still very much an unknown commodity for most of the Western world, particularly these United States. While names like Kiarostami and Panahi ring a bell with the most informed cineastes, most Iranian films and filmmakers rarely get their dues stateside.
That did change, a little, last year with the crowning of a new Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film, the Iranian masterpiece A Separation. From beloved Iranian auteur Asghar Farhadi, the film became an arthouse hit, winning over just about every audience that gave this intimate relationship drama a chance. However, his canon is also a perfect example of a filmography that is largely unavailable to audience in North America. But hopefully, with The Criterion Collection making their first jumps into canons like Korean film (Secret Sunshine being their first) and directors like Kiarostami being some of their favorite auteurs, they may give one of this filmmaker’s pieces the day in the spotlight that it so rightly deserves.
Released in 2006, the film draws its name from the last Wednesday before the spring solstice, which is the marker for the Persian New Year. With families set in their homes ready to listen to fireworks being set off throughout their towns, this taut and emotionally haunting drama follows the story of a handful of women who themselves are dealing with some heavy emotional baggage.
We first meet the youngest of the bunch, a woman name Rouhi, who is nearing the day of her wedding. However, in order to make a little extra cash before the big day, she decides to take on a side job cleaning the apartment of another, older woman, named Mojdeh. And it is her relationship with her husband Morteza, where the real fireworks arrive. Mojdeh is extremely suspicious of her husband, who she believes is cheating on her with their neighbor and beauty shop owner, Simin. Ostensibly a drama about hearsay, Farhadi injects the film with discussions of class and the class divide within his native Iran, turning this film into a beautiful and breathtakingly tone piece of interpersonal drama.
Farhadi, at least what can be seen from a film like this or A Separation, is at his best when delving into these said relationships. Co-writer here along with Mani Haghighi, Fireworks Wednesday is both a wonderfully crafted neo-realist drama, but it’s also a genuinely thrilling bit of human drama. The mixture here of hope (watching star Taraneh Alidoosti talk about her pending nuptials and flirting with her fiancé is both insightful and genuinely charming) and real drama (the moments between the husband and wife, particularly near the film’s final act, are quite the opposite) is done with such a stunningly deft hand that it is no wonder Farhadi is best known for one of the most powerful dramas of the last handful of years. The film pacing, even as it speeds past 100 minutes with a pace that seems befitting a film from the plaintive cinematic breeding ground of Iran, is pitch perfect, giving each character their own moments to dig into their story, while working on a broader level as the aforementioned discussions of class and the divide between lower and middle class in Iran come into play almost from the first frame, and especially playing into the film’s final frames.
It also helps that the performances here are luminous. Alidoosti is superb here, bringing with her character this optimism that both makes the film imminently relatable, and also quite heartbreaking. Hedye Tehrani is the real star here, taking on the role of Mojdeh, the film’s most complicated role. While she may seem ultimately a one note, proto-paranoid wife of a husband she is accusing of stepping out, there is a regret and sadness behind her eyes (particularly in one sequence involving a devastatingly real discussion between both parties) that it becomes the real emotional core of the picture, and the performance of Hamid Farokhnezhad adds even more depth to the relationship. There are moments here between he and Pantea Bahram, the beautician who has caught the eye of Morteza, that are absolute masterpieces of human dialogue, humanistic performances and filmic aesthetics.
Speaking of those aesthetics, this film is as definitive a piece of Iranian film as one could imagine. Seemingly melancholic to the bone, Farhadi gets gorgeous photography from Hossein Jafarian, which paint this film as a naturalistic drama not afraid of the occasional stylistic flourish. Yes, the film is ostensibly a series of “he said, she said” style conversations and spying, but Farhadi’s genius comes through in the framing of these sequences, be it normal over-the-shoulder discussion pieces or the film’s most beautiful shot, a shot involving a woman’s re-entering a room in front of a mirror (you’ll know the scene, as it will absolutely floor you), no sequence feels a like, and yet they all breath a sense of realism and true life into a picture that, if done with any lesser a hand, would veer directly into the land of manipulative melodrama.
With stunning performances, a script that feels right at home in discussions both intimate and broad and a filmmaker at the very top of his aesthetic game, Fireworks Wednesday is yet another example of Iranian cinema digging deep into a culture that much of the Western world deeply misunderstands. Not short on atmosphere, the film’s inherently standard dramatic premise may seem light to those with no knowledge of the type of films Iranian cinema has become best known for or the types of films Farhadi as a filmmaker has made his career on, Fireworks Wednesday is a dense and emotionally resonant piece of work.
But it’s also one that is relatively hard to find. While the film is available to purchase on DVD, it’s not easy to hunt down outside of Amazon, and this is something more than deserving of a Blu-ray. Toss on a commentary, a retrospective, maybe a piece on Iranian cinema in general, and maybe even finally give us a good copy of his recent film About Elly, and you’ll have a release that will be impossible to pass up on day one. It’s a film more than deserving of that almighty Criterion “C.”