‘Reza’: Film Review

A droll architect from Isfahan reluctantly adjusts to a divorce in Alireza Motamedi’s first feature, ‘Reza.’

A sign of the ongoing renewal in Iranian cinema is the whimsical originality of films like Reza, an utterly relaxed take on modern marriage and romance laced with the poignant ironies of a Woody Allen comedy. The droll, bearish hero, Reza (winningly played by writer-director Alireza Motamedi), is a model of lethargy and passivity, and the film’s running gag revolves around the women dropping in and out of his life without his lifting a finger. Though it starts slow and maintains an unhurried pace, the story is as captivating as a fable come to life against the backdrop of a fairy-tale city. It should prove a much-in-demand festival item for sales company Iranian Independents, with some niche potential.

With his footballer’s build, blond hair and red beard, Reza seems to come from Viking stock. Paunchy but good-looking in a Scandinavian way, he claims to be the last remaining member of a tribe who came to the holy city of Isfahan centuries ago. We meet him sleeping in real time in a light, airy apartment filled with heirlooms. He gets up to change clothes onscreen, then goes back to bed.

The Bottom Line

A delightfully modern, offbeat rom-com from Iran.

This turns out to be avoidance behavior to delay facing a big emotional crisis in his life: His wife, Fati (Sahar Dowlatshahi), is divorcing him. A far cry from the acrimonious splits in most Iranian dramas, from A Separation on down, theirs is an amicable parting between good friends. Fati is a self-centered, fun-loving person much like Reza. They drive over to talk to the judge about their divorce, pretending in the courtroom to have irreconcilable differences. In the end, Fati just has to certify she’s not pregnant and the divorce will be finalized.

Looking uncomfortably alone after nine years of marriage, Reza seems at a loss over what to do. The seed of doubt is planted by the judge: Under Islamic law, the couple has three months and 10 days to change their minds and revoke their divorce. Fati isn’t even sure why she wants to leave; she thinks she doesn’t find Reza interesting anymore. “But you’re still beautiful,” she teases him. Small consolation.

Incidentally, Reza runs a very cool architectural studio that works on recovering archeological sites and historic buildings around the ancient city, but he has a hard time keeping his mind on his work. He’s also a writer, which adds an autobiographical element to the character (Motamedi is an author, poet and screenwriter).

Reza begins to narrate the story he is writing about his ancestors and how they came to live in Isfahan. Long ago, a 100-year-old man goes on a pilgrimage and, falling sick, is left to die in the desert while his party journeys on. Instead of dying, he slowly recovers his health, and even remarries and fathers offspring. It is clearly referencing Reza’s life and hopes for a brighter future.

With its low-key humor, every turn of this offbeat comedy undercuts audience expectations, and who knows where it’s going. Reza disconsolately drops into a cafe one night at closing time and tries to pick up a weeping waitress, who turns out to be the owner. Violet (Setareh Pesyani) agrees to meet him again and, despite their different tastes (she likes the outdoor life, he’s bored stiff by hiking and fishing), they fall into a relationship. Just when he’s preparing to invite her over to his place for lunch, Fati suddenly reappears, and he unceremoniously dumps Violet.

The last act has Reza meeting a third woman (Nasim Mirzadeh) under odd circumstances. She’s riding by on a horse when he suddenly falls ill, and she gets him to a hospital. Like the old man in his story, he appeared dead but was revived by a beautiful princess, and maybe that will be the way he continues his family line.

The fixed frame used for most of the shots gives the shooting a clean, disciplined look, though it gets wearying after a while, especially when the shots are held beyond the limits of patience. But Ali Tabrizi’s seductive cinematography has magical moments, like light falling through slatted windows. The mellow music is lovely throughout, and includes a female vocalist and a sax rendition of “Summertime.”

Cast: Alireza Motamedi, Sahar Dowlatshahi, Setareh Pesyani, Afsar Asadi, Nasim Mirzadeh
Director, screenwriter: Alireza Motamedi
Producers: Kiumars Pourahmad, Alireza Motamedi
Director of photography: Ali Tabrizi
Production designer: Keivan Moghadam
Costume designer: Sara Samie
Editor: Maysam Molaie
Music: Shahram Nazeri, Hasmik Karapetian
World sales: Iranian Independents
Venue: Fajr Film Festival (Film Market)
94 minutes