A teenager used as a pawn by divorcing parents gradually loses his cowardice in Majid Barzegar's well-handled debut, "Rainy Seasons."

A teenager used as a pawn by divorcing parents gradually loses his cowardice in Majid Barzegar’s well-handled debut, “Rainy Seasons.” Featuring a nuanced script and the kind of handheld lensing now standard for indie pics, this window onto middle-class life in Iran boasts especially strong thesps whose rapport brings their characters, and the film, to life. Situations deemed offensive at home mean play within Iran is off-limits, though permission for screenings abroad is already resulting in a healthy fest life.

Sixteen-year-old Sina (Navid Layeghi Moghadam) is a typical sullen kid, slow to rouse from sleepiness and not too keen on going to school. Auds will likely think the woman bustling around his kitchen must be the housekeeper, or perhaps an aunt, but by the time she leaves for work it’s clear she’s his mother. Sina’s parents are in the midst of a divorce, and both have moved out, leaving their son alone in the family apartment until he decides which parent he wants to live with. Of course they’re using him to get back at each other, turning Sina angry and unwilling to make the choice.

Complicating his life, he’s being hounded for close to $800 by drug dealer Masoud (Alireza Bagheri) after a rash cocaine drop that Sina bungled. The pressure is intense, yet little stirs Sina’s outwardly diffident nature. Then he meets Nahid (Marzieh Khoshtarash), a friend of a friend, who is in need of a place to crash. At first the young woman decides against staying over when she realizes Sina’s parents aren’t there, but her choices are limited, and Sina’s demeanor inspires confidence.

Up until now Sina’s appeared to be a taciturn kid — a normal teen, in other words, which makes him less than fascinating. But Nahid’s maturity eases Sina’s constant tension — even as his easier demeanor relaxes her — and his first genuine smile completely changes viewer perception. Though he spinelessly places her in a cruel position at one point, her more solid grounding guides him to take control of his life.

The kids in “Rainy Seasons” aren’t so different from youth in any other culture: peer pressure, the pain of divorce, the temptation of illegal thrills and easy money are present everywhere. The circumscribed behavior required of the two sexes adds an especially Iranian dimension — censors objected to Sina and Nahid sleeping in the same room unchaperoned — yet the pic holds out hope that young people are developing a sense of mutual respect and honor far more meaningful than the hypocritical standards of their parents.

Barzegar spent two months rehearsing with his actors, and it shows in their level of engagement. The burden falls especially on Moghadam, with the camera almost always on his tight-jawed face, and he manages to carry things — though Khoshtarash’s presence wins over all her scenes.

Amin Jafari’s camerawork is too jumpy at the start, unnecessarily following every movement of each character; it may be trying to signal the instability in Sina’s life, but a slightly tighter grip would have sufficed. Sound quality could be more crisp.

Rainy Seasons

Iran

Production

A Documentary & Experimental Film Center production. (International sales: Iranian Independents, Tehran.) Produced by Manouchehr Shahsavari. Directed by Majid Barzegar. Screenplay, Hamed Rajabi, Barzegar.

Crew

Camera (color), Amin Jafari; editor, Javad Emami; production, costume designer, Leila Naghdi Pari; sound (SR), Mehran Malakouti, Mehrdad Malakouti, Mehrshad Malakouti. Reviewed at Rotterdam Film Festival (competing), Jan. 30, 2011 (Also in Fajr Film Festival; Montreal World Film Festival -- competing.) Running time: 90 MIN.

With

Navid Layeghi Moghadam, Marzieh Khoshtarash, Alireza Bagheri, Mehran Khodaie, Mohamad H. Alaei, Zhaleh Shoaari, Mohamad M. Leilaz, Arash PourKaber, Meisam Nouroozi, Milad Zarin Khak, Elnaz Habibi, Shirin Sarshar.
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