‘Botox’: Film Review | Shanghai 2021

Two sisters discover they can run the family’s magic mushroom farm without their snotty brother in Kaveh Mazaheri’s wry, award-winning Iranian-Canadian feature.

The first scene of Kaveh Mazaheri’s shaggy dog story Botox, set in today’s Iran, shows a woman standing entranced in front of the TV, watching Wile E. Coyote fall off a cliff in a Road Runner cartoon. In that gray area between improbable comedy and impossible tragedy, something analogous is about to happen in the lives of two adult sisters who live with their overbearing brother in a country house where they plan to get rich growing psychedelic mushrooms.

Revolving around two women — one autistic, the other a beautician who gives the film its title — who take matters into their own hands when a dramatic event suddenly removes their brother Emad from the story, Botox is a hard film to second-guess. Its offbeat tone has drawn comparisons to a Coen brothers’ film, but it isn’t as funny as all that. Still, it takes courage to embrace the theme of Iranian women thriving on their own sans men, and it’s refreshing to have a protag who’s autistic (played by the fascinating Sussan Parvar). It took home the best film and best screenplay awards at the 2020 Torino Film Festival, where it bowed, and won the best first feature prize at the recent Fajr Film Festival in Iran.


The Bottom Line

A magical trip through an icy-hearted family.

Venue: Shanghai International Film Festival (Gala Screening)
Cast: Sussan Parvar, Mahdokht Molaei, Soroush Saeidi, Morteza Khanjani
Director: Kaveh Mazaheri
Screenwriters: Kaveh Mazaheri, Sepinood Najian

1 hour 37 minutes

Akram (Parvar) is the elder sister, a mousy, almost silent figure who takes the brunt of Emad’s derision and is his slave laborer. It’s a countdown to see how long she’ll take his mistreatment. Azar (Mahdokht Molaei) is a little kinder to her, but it’s clear both siblings are a drag on her lifestyle. In the posh beauty salon where she works (and often dumps Akram to keep an eye on her), we hear botox injections being explained to a client as “a weakened poison that kills three muscles.” It suggests the mortal dangers lurking in everyday life, and here there are plenty to choose from.

While Azar pretends to Emad’s friends and family that he’s gone off to Germany with a smuggler (she’s a brilliant liar), she continues doing business with the “mushroom engineer” (Morteza Khanjani) whose workmen are transforming their home into a funereal greenhouse. Meanwhile she involves Akram in a trip to a frozen lake to dispose of an inconvenient body. The lake is so shallow she can walk out on the ice, making for a delightfully nerve-wracking scene. It rhymes with another excursion some time later: The ice has melted and Azar calmly drives her dilapidated car through the ankle-high water, while her unknown intentions toward Akram in the seat beside her keep the tension sky-high.

Is it a thriller? When Akram sees Emad suddenly reappear in town and follows him through the streets, one would say it could be. But it’s better not to go down that path, or the finale becomes too obvious. The film works best as an off-key mood piece whose moments of violence are sweetened with the wry humor and sophisticated p.o.v. of Mazaheri and Sepinood Najian’s screenplay.

Filmed in stunning ice grays and whites by DP Hamed Hosseini Sangari, Adele Cheraghi’s handful of sets delimit the sisters’ world as a sort of ghostly dream world. It’s a private realm where the workmen and the botox clients seem like intruders, not just in Akram’s solitary imagination, but also in the moody mind of down-to-earth Azar, who has no one to confide in besides her ever more unpredictable sister.

Emad is played by Soroush Saeidi, who also coproduced for the Canadian company 3Bros.

Full credits

Venue: Shanghai Intl. Film Festival (Gala Screening)
Production companies: Darvash Film, 3Bros Film
Cast: Sussan Parvar, Mahdokht Molaei, Soroush Saeidi, Mohsen Kiani, Morteza Khanjani
Director: Kaveh Mazaheri
Screenwriters: Kaveh Mazaheri, Sepinood Najian
Producers: Kaveh Mazaheri, Soroush Saeidi
Executive producer: Soroush Saeidi
Director of photography: Hamed Hosseini Sangari
Editor: Pooyan Sholevar
Production and costume designer: Adele Cheraghi
Music: Milad Movahedi
World sales: Front Row (Dubai), H264 (Montreal)

1 hour 37 minutes