Exploring the unexpected ways in which the past can haunt you and a world rife with incompatible moralities, “Before the Storm” is an emotionally loaded, accomplished feature debut from Reza Parsa. This strongly scripted and well-played treat convincingly employs thriller elements to make its heavyweight agenda palatable. Born in Iran but based in Sweden for 20 years, director Parsa, still in his 30s, is ideally placed for a dispassionate take on the traumas of a bicultural existence. With its lack of sensationalism and sentimentality, pic could provoke Euro arthouse interest. It took the runner-up Silver Shell for directing and the Youth Prize at this year’s San Sebastian fest.
Of Middle Eastern origin, Ali (Per Graffman) is a cab driver in provincial Sweden who has finally achieved an ideal of domestic happiness with wife Clara (Maria Lundqvist) and daughters Sara (Sasha Becker) and Jenny (Anni Ececioglu). One day his past catches up with him in the shape of the Courier (Nasrin Pakkho), an old woman from his homeland — script is careful not to identify the country — who goes around with her eye-patched grandson and refers to Ali as “The Captain” because of his guerrilla exploits in the homeland.
Intercut is a story about 12-year-old Leo (Emil Odepark), a classmate of Sara’s who is being bullied by older boy Danne (Martin Wallstrom). Ali encourages Leo to take a stand, whereupon the boy steals a gun from his cop mother (Tintin Anderzon) and, in a well-played scene in the woods outside town, shoots Danne.
Sara, meanwhile, has received a “present” from the Courier that turns out to be a videotape of Ali’s kidnapped former wife (Mina Azarian) and son (Ashkan Ghods), with the wife’s severed finger and wedding ring. Ali has until now believed them dead. Wife and son will die, the Courier says, unless Ali assassinates a Swedish industrialist, Johan Sander (Claes Ljungmark), who is helping the regime back home.
Parallels between the two tales of violence and submission are not overdone. Script is content to point out that power games exist at every social level, from the local and domestic to the global, and that the two are not easily disentangled.
Perfs are good across the board. Graffman’s Ali, though rightly understated as a man who has learned to hide his past and retain his equanimity in the face of catastrophic memories, is a little too low-key. As Clara, Lundqvist explores a wide range of emotions, though it is hardly believable that she should have remained so ignorant of Ali’s past. As Leo, 12-year-old Odepark has the maturity to carry off his half of pic. A lyrical score teases out the emotions beneath the script’s harsh surface.