A cautionary tale of universal resonance, “Trapped” spins a tension-filled drama about a naive but highly principled young woman from the provinces who comes to Tehran to study medicine, only to wind up in a legal nightmare due to her kind and trusting nature. Iranian helmer Parviz Shahbazi turns the present-day relationship linking university, bazaar and government into subtext, but no special knowledge is necessary to empathize with the dilemma the plucky heroine finds herself in. After nabbing best director kudos at the 2013 Fajr Film Festival, the ripe-for-remake pic has been traveling the global circuit.
The problems of medical student Nazanin (Nazanin Bayati, sympathetic) start when she can’t get an immediate place in the university dorm. She winds up sharing an off-campus apartment with the slightly older, much more worldly Sahar (the excellent Pegah Ahangarani, winner of Fajr’s supporting actress kudo), a perfume salesgirl who is thinking about leaving the country. Sahar bowls Nazanin over with her casual, seemingly forthright manner.
Even though a quick glance shows that Sahar isn’t remotely what one would call a good housekeeper, Nazanin’s need for lodging is urgent and the location is good, so she hands over the hefty security deposit that Sahar requests. But soon after she moves in, Nazanin discovers that Sahar is not only an incorrigible slob who’s happy to let her new roommate do the cooking and cleaning, but that she also keeps an open house for a variety of noisy, smoking, male friends.
Modest Nazanin, who clearly comes from a background where the sexes do not mix in this way, feels terribly uncomfortable and unhappy. Not only has her first independent adult decision — about where to live — turned out poorly, making it difficult for her to study, but she must continually fight not to be taken advantage of by the families of the kids she agrees to tutor. Nevertheless, when Sahar is put in prison for non-payment of a debt, only Nazanin is willing to help. As Nazanin is drawn further into the web of deceit surrounding her roommate, surprising twists and turns ultimately force her to confront a rich, corrupt merchant from the bazaar.
Helmer Shahbazi’s compelling screenplay offers an intelligent dissection of the power dynamics of personal relationships, as well as an incisive portrait of how political and economic conditions influence the lives of Iranian youth today. Although his narrative may not be as sophisticated as those of compatriot Asghar Farhadi’s “About Elly” or “A Separation,” it also poses provocative moral questions.
While Shahbazi often cast non-pros in his earlier films, “Trapped,” his fifth and most domestically popular feature, benefits immensely from the smart and sensitive performances of an all-pro cast, particularly the two femme leads. Ahangarani (the activist daughter of femme helmer Manijeh Hekmat) is particularly strong in a difficult part.
The atmospheric tech package brings to life a Tehran very different from that which outsiders are accustomed to seeing. The surprising music track, credited as “selective,” opens with the Cat Stevens song “Father and Son,” the significance of which only becomes clear at the pic’s end.