The well-intended but overwrought “One Thousand Women Like Me” reps the latest in a string of commercially-minded Iranian mellers driven by controversial topics and pitched to a broad Farsi-lingo aud. Though crossover hopes are nil, contempo drama tracing a determined woman attorney’s efforts to bend and break draconian, sexist custody laws will fascinate anyone interested in Iran’s current cultural and political vanguard — if they can put up with the excessive dramatics. Good word-of-mouth among intended audience should extend pic’s U.S. four-walling run.
Azita Mogoee’s and director Reza Karimi’s script commits a critical error right off by showing lawyer heroine Sharzad (Niki Karimi) in Tehran hospital ER, and tritely flashing back. When Sharzad speaks, she does so, in tandem with the title, as an Everywoman, explaining that she’s not a feminist but still despises laws that blatantly discriminate against women. In her case, her divorce from corporate bigwig Hesam (vet thesp Fariburz Arabnia) gives him custody of their only son, 7-year-old Nima (Pouya Islami). Although Sharzad is able to see Nima twice a week, boy’s diabetic condition is worsened by workaholic Hesam’s inattentiveness.
Karimi’s camera follows Sharzad everywhere, and picks up myriad and telling details about how sophisticates actually live in a severely patriarchal society. Sharzad is seen doing Hesam’s domestic chores for him when visiting Nima; when the couple has to fight it out in custody court before a clearly biased judge, exterior courthouse shots show separate entrances for men and women.
But, the ensuing melodramalacks this sort of sober, keen observance, as Sharzad — after failing to prove Hesam’s negligence and losing her bid to obtain full custody — takes matters in her own hands and whisks her vulnerable child away from Hesam’s home.
As Sharzad drives Nima around in her car, hiding out or finding refuge with friends, pic’s decision to frame action in traditional meller terms robs “One Thousand Women Like Me” of cinematic power. And by the time of the pivotal accident scene that sends Sharzad to the ER, outcome is already so pre-ordained that tragic resonance is slight.
The solid, pro cast is well-tuned to the obvious, emotional levels of the drama, but as Sharzad, Karimi occasionally finds deeper moments as a mother torn between her own needs and her responsibilities to her son. Once again, Arabnia, all furrowed eyebrows and cutting stares, reliably plays the heavy. As a detective tracking down Sharzad, Faramarz Sadighi delivers pic’s most unexpected perf as a cagey old sleuth working his last case before retirement.
Production values are fairly standard, while Kambiz Roshan Ravan’s keyboard music excessively underlines the already overt emotional points.