If romantic comedies were made in Iran, “Season Five” would certainly top the current year’s offerings. This unusually colorful French-Iranian co-production tells the story of an age-old feud between two village families, the Jamalvandis and the Kamalvandis, and the love story that first intensifies the rift and then heals it. Far more lighthearted than most Iranian films and centered for once on strongly drawn adult characters, pic is engaging and easy to enjoy. With a good push from the Western co-producer, it could further open up the niche market spearheaded by the more intellectual works of Kiarostami and company.
Pic is unusual in several respects. It is the first fiction film shot in Iran with a foreign co-producer (Sophie Goupil of Le Poisson Volant) since the revolution brought Khomeini to power. The story and screenplay were written by outspoken Iranian director Bahram Beyzai, who has long battled the censors to shoot his own films. Finally, its central character is a stubborn, iron-willed young woman with a mind of her own, an absolute novelty in Iranian films of the decade.
Mehrbanou Jamalvandi (Roya Nonahali) is glumly celebrating her arranged wedding, where she will be united with Karamat Kamalvandi (Ali Sarkhani) as a kind of peace offering between their warring clans. The groom’s pride is no less piqued than hers, however, and when he suddenly opts out, the village goes back to war as usual. The tension peaks when Karamat turns up one day in a shiny new van, ready to transport the excited villagers to the big city beyond the mountains. Shocked at his success, Mehrbanou boldly sells her fields to buy an identical, rival van for her brother (Ghorban Nadjafi), forcing the populace to take sides.
Set in a breathtaking natural landscape between green fields and purple mountains, pic has a gay, colorful look that recalls some Turkish films. Cinematographer Nemat Haghighi and costume designer Malak D. Khazai take full advantage of the folkloric value of the village, where former nomadic tribesmen have settled down to till the land.
With her piercing blue eyes and bright clothing, Mehrbanou is a far cry from the black- and gray-veiled women of Tehran. Her wounded pride after the wedding fiasco is easy to sympathize with, as is her growing attraction (which is mutual) to the boorish man who spurned her and ruined her life. Though there is nothing comic about Nonahali’s and Sarkhani’s grimly set features, they need only to play their roles straight to be funny. A great moment occurs when Mehrbanou appears in the square with her rifle and, never at a loss for expressive gestures, shoots out Karamat’s tires.
Beyzai’s script delivers twists with each new scene. There is even a bus chase through the desert to liven things up, followed by a free-for-all between the passengers. The mayor gets a laugh when, with deadpan resignation, he surveys the square and wonders, “What will happen today?” There is little doubt that pic will have a happy ending, but director Rafi Pitts, making his feature bow after studying film in London and working in France, wisely ends his story on an unexpected note.