What appears to be a brave attempt to denounce government interference in the Iranian scientific community deflates into a turgid, staidly lensed drama in “Havana File.” Director Alireza Raisian, best known for his sensitive “Reyhaneh,” teams with scriptwriter Farhad Tohidi in this a faux thriller about an idealistic, Western educated scientist who comes to blows with the powers that be. Though Niki Karimi furnishes some star power in the incongruous role of a dark lady sent to destroy the scientist, the plot lags way behind the audience. Nor is there any stylistic interest to tempt festivals.
Though the why is inadequately explained, something goes wrong and the pet project of biotech prof Mohsen Pejman (Amin Tarokh) is cancelled. When the politicos he knows turn a cold shoulder, he goes to the press and agrees to be interviewed by the attractive, malicious-eyed Zoya Fanni (Niki Karimi), an obvious set-up.
Soon Pejman’s wife is ogling compromising photographs of Pejman and Fanni. Though Raisian doesn’t spell out the three-letter word, Pejman’s guilty face leads us to believe he did more than just talk about vaccines at Ms.Fanni’s place.
As things get worse, the plot against Pejman becomes so irritatingly transparent that one wonders whether Iranian auds are so uninitiated into the conventions of mysteries and thrillers that they have to be led by the hand to the obvious.
For relief, there is an unexciting subplot about Pejman’s marital break-up. Perhaps all this is filler to get across the daring point that no area of life is safe from the establishment. (Is it anywhere?) In any case, Pejman’s Don Quixote-style rebellion leads nowhere. As a colleague warns, it’s “better to keep a low profile than to run amok.”
Playing the nice but naive prof, Tarokh is an unhappy cross between misunderstood family man and a would-be action hero barely able to scale a wall. Karimi, though too soft-spoken to come off as a serious bad girl, is worth watching as she smokes a cigarette in temptress mode. She, too, has had better roles.
Pic’s middle-class setting offers some new views on Iranian society with its sports clubs, coffee shops, and fancy apartments.