Iran’s best-known actress abroad, Niki Karimi brings a modern cool to her feature-directing bow, “One Night.” Tale of a fearless girl who spends a night hitching rides through the deserted streets of Teheran has a great deal in common with Kiarostami’s car-centered “Ten” and Mania Akbari’s boldly feminist “20 Fingers.” Still, an individual voice comes across, and if this small pic is not overly ambitious, at least it realizes everything it tries to do with dignity and elegance. It should slip easily into the market for more contemporary, urban-themed Iranian product.
Independently produced without all the bureaucratic stamps, film still has to run an obstacle course with the authorities before it is judged exportable. Lack of censorship cuts was one reason it screened outside the Fajr festival.
Film opens on a long fixed-frame argument between 20-ish Negar (Hanieh Tavasoli) and her mother, who is going out to meet her married lover. This talky but realistic scene of bickering sets up pic’s main theme of male-female relations and equality.
Unwilling to stay at home and unable to locate her own boyfriend, Negar takes to the street. She accepts a ride with a businessman, whose rap about how men are polygamous by nature and how God created women for men’s pleasure begins to alarm her, and she argues her way out of the car.
Her next ride comes from a doctor whose fiancee dumped him to go to America. His soft sell and middle class story leave her indifferent.
By now viewers will be wondering what’s coming next in this Russian roulette of strangers behind the wheel. Her third and last pick-up is a young man who has another unhappy love story to recount: His wife is cheating on him with his best friend. Parked outside the house where their presumed liaison is in progress, his anguish and general alienation stir Negar to some kind of compassion, until a twist ends the drama on a different level.
Karimi, who is known for playing rebellious women in films like “Sara,” “Two Women” and “The Hidden Half,” is straight-talking about love, sex and relationships without being out to shock. Film is interesting not only for its frankness in discussing real-life relationships in the Islamic Republic, but for its feminine sensibility on the ever-unbalanced state of affairs between women and men. If Islamic men can claim a socio-religious advantage vis-a-vis women over their Western counterparts, their love lives seem no more successful.
Tavasoli projects both guts and vulnerability in the central role, which is mainly a sounding-board for the men’s anxieties. Hossein Jafarian’s camerawork is a pleasure to watch; although the tiny DV camera-in-the-car trick became instantly dated after “Ten,” he breaks it up nicely with well-framed-and-lit exteriors.