Hamid Nematollah stakes out a new path for Iranian cinema in his debut film, “Boutique,” in which the selfless deeds of a men’s clothing store clerk result in nothing but trouble. Pic departs from the norm for both commercial and auteurist work in Iran, and triumphs as a deliberately raw study of a desperate, downwardly mobile young people in Tehran. Prestigious prize for best first picture at Fajr fest earlier this year preceded a healthy local run, preceding Aug. 27 start of a fall-winter North American tour.
Formerly a longtime assistant to helmer Massoud Kimiayi, Nematollah has veered far afield from his mentor, with a loose shooting style, handheld lensing and extended scenes that give Iranian thesps a rare chance to improvise. Nematollah is also one of the few Iranian helmers to pick up on Abbas Kiarostami’s recent enthusiasm for digital video, and though his use of vid is more conventional, it lends his ultra-contempo drama immediacy.
Thoughtful and quiet Hamid (dashing star Mohammad Reza Golzar) works at a hip boutique in a swanky Tehran mall, but he’s first seen at home, where he splits the rent with several other adult roommates. Initial group scene, including mentally ill Behzad (Ali Alaie), is a panorama of male behavior remarkably similar to the probing male bonding scenes in some of John Cassavetes’ films.
It also establishes a mood of unease that’s complicated by Hamid suddenly spotting teenage girl and boutique customer Eti (Golshifte Farahani). In trying to help her out pay for a pair of jeans, Hamid finds himself charmed, amused and confused by this lively, naive youth, who says she’s dropped out of high school and dreams of traveling abroad. In aiding Eti and leaving his post at the store, Hamid is betrayed by nosey fellow clerk Farshid (Afshin Sangchap) to wealthy store owner Shapouri (Reza Rooygari), a picture of corrupt indolence.
In this wide-ranging and despairing portrait of a society in crisis, Nematollah’s camera frequently seems as loose and unhinged as his characters, some of whom while away the day addicted to opium or watching the tube. Golzar, departing from his usual mode as a bland matinee idol, uses Hamid’s subdued nature as a front; when he explodes with anger at the end, it’s the rage the movie has been building slowly to all along.
Pic’s image may look better on a vid monitor rather than the mediocre, pink-tinged film transfer in theatrical circulation. Unique locales include a sequence in the rarely lensed Tehran subway.