Review: ‘Seahorses’

Philip Marlowe

Ironically, Tinkerbell's plea for a hand-clapping belief in fairies almost results in the undoing of an otherwise well-balanced two-dad family in Rahman Milani's delightful debut feature. Felicitously blending ethnic and gay tropes in serene disharmony, Milani's beautifully observed film never hits a false note in its interlocking web of evolving familial relationships. Outside gay fests and Germany, where Berlin-shot "Seahorses" reps a welcome entry in an already rich immigrant cinema, immensely likable DV-shot pic could find a niche on cable.

Ironically, Tinkerbell’s plea for a hand-clapping belief in fairies almost results in the undoing of an otherwise well-balanced two-dad family in Rahman Milani’s delightful debut feature. Felicitously blending ethnic and gay tropes in serene disharmony, Milani’s beautifully observed film never hits a false note in its interlocking web of evolving familial relationships. Outside gay fests and Germany, where Berlin-shot “Seahorses” reps a welcome entry in an already rich immigrant cinema, immensely likable DV-shot pic could find a niche on cable.

Eight-year-old Mina (Helia) has lived with her biological father Babak (helmer Milani) and his partner Paul (Martin Niedermair) since the death of her mother. When a “Peter Pan”-inspired wish fails to resurrect her beloved mother, whose absence is felt more acutely as Mina gets older, she blames her fathers.

Mina’s dads initially take her rebellion in stride, laid-back Teutonic Paul feeling more at ease with laissez-faire parenting than Iranian biological father Babak. Her continued bad behavior causes escalating discord between the couple, which in turn makes Mina more miserable.

Worried about the absence of women and religion in Mina’s life, Babak’s friend Shahla (Zohreh Hahn) invites her to an all-female ritual celebration, but the child refuses to attend without being escorted by a motherly mentor.

Shahla, meanwhile, is experiencing child-rearing problems of her own, her overly strict dealings with her teenage daughter Hoda (Yassi Hahn) alienating her family. Shahla’s own mother (Shahnaz), trailing unresolved guilt from past mistakes, arrives in town from Iran and bonds with her grandchildren, taking the their side against her doctrinaire daughter.

Milani deploys a deft touch in delineating family dynamics, including the adoration of Hoda’s little brother for his older sister, and her roughhouse affection for him. Also subtly conveyed is the bemused tolerance Shahla’s husband extends to his always distraught, unhappy wife. Melodrama constantly beckons, but few of Milani’s characters answer the call.

While Shahla remains stuck in self-destructive behavior, Babak and Martin quickly tire of their tiff, resolving to find a solution to their domestic problems. They come up with a doozy, an answer that brings together sexes, generations and ethnicities in one hell of a party. Tolerance has rarely been made to appear so seductive.

Thesping is uniformly effortless and natural, with the still-beauteous Shahnaz lending a certain exotic magnificence.

Tech credits belie the pic’s low-budget, one-man-band approach, Milani’s 25p lensing deftly combining casual video immediacy with calmer, more balanced filmic composition.

Seahorses

Germany

Production

An Odigifilm production. Produced, directed, written by Rahman Milani.

Crew

Camera (color, 25p), Milani; editor, Daryoush Zandi; music, Hans Haffner; sound, Mike Sauber. Reviewed at NewFest, New York, June 1, 2007. Running time: 94 MIN.

With

Helia, Rahman Milani, Martin Niedermair, Zohreh Hahn, Yassi Hahn, Shahnaz, Vahid Etemad, Siavash Etemad (German, Farsi, English dialogue)
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