Though it’s hard to imagine Henrik Ibsen’s 19th-century feminist play “A Doll’s House” transferred to contemporary Iran, vet filmmaker Dariush Mehrjui boldly takes on the challenge in “Sara.” Lively perfs and pro lensing make the result watchable and only a little stagey. Though a specialty item, “Sara” is much indicated for festival pickups.
Mehrjui, an insightful chronicler of the middle class, sets his adaptation in a comfortably wealthy home in Tehran and husband Hessam’s (Amin Tarokh) bank. Sara (Niki Karimi) appears to be a submissive, obedient wife, but she confides to her girlfriend Simi (Yasman Malek-Nasr) that 10 years earlier she took out a loan without her husband’s knowledge to send him abroad for medical treatment.
Guarding her secret, she spends her evenings embroidering wedding gowns to pay back the lender, Goshtasb (Khosro Shakibal). Goshtasb, now a bank manager, is about to be fired by Hessam for falsifying a signature, and threatens to reveal all to her husband unless he can keep his place at the bank.
Simi, who thinks Hessam should be eternally grateful to Sara for what she’s done, declines to stop Goshtasb (her former suitor) from spilling the beans. But Hessam shows his true colors as a vindictive, egotistical bully when Goshtasb threatens to make a scandal. Sara’s world crumbles, but in the process she becomes aware of her own rights.
Story follows Ibsen closely, but the somewhat dated chestnut gains new interest from being set in a country that sanctions separate social rules for its female population. In their dark clothes and head coverings, worn at all times, the women in “Sara” seem totally out of synch with the modern city they are a part of.
It isn’t hard to imagine Ibsen’s tale being plausible there. If Mehrjui had toned down a few set pieces, like Sara’s final, theatrical confrontation with Hessam, the film could almost pass for exotic realism.
Fine perfs from all hands bring the story to life. Karimi is alternately gushing and anxiety-ridden as Sara, making the audience share in her plight. Technical work is fine.