This review was updated on July 11, 2005.
A quartet of military recruits on weekend furlough finds life among their civilian relatives is worse than boot camp in Massoud Kimiayi’s “Friday’s Soldiers.” Kimiayi, whose recent work (including “Protest”) tends toward hyperventilating drama, continues an obsession with opium drug abuse that stretches back to his 1976 “The Deer.” Pic’s strange construction and pacing not only fail to heighten the dramatic points, but decisively block audience involvement, which has resulted in tepid U.S. B.O. in early summer specialty run.
Pic’s early promise is misleadingly based on its spare, precise title sequence directed by Abbas Kiarostami. His lensing of soldiers marching in formation is close in form to his recent, near-silent experiment, “Five,” while it contrasts amusingly with his depiction of relaxed soldiers at the end of his “Taste of Cherry.”
The rest of the film has none of this visual poetry, though an opening “Stalag 17”-style sequence in the barracks with soldiers Reza (busy thesp Mohammed Reza Foroutan), Asef (Bahram Radan), Saeed (Poulad Kimiayi) and Faramarz (Pezman Bazghi) captures a dark wit and flashpoints of aggression that hint at a panoramic portrait of vets under stress.
Yet Kimiayi’s interest isn’t in how these young men deal with the military, but with their brief spurt of freedom back in Tehran. They go as a group, along with their commanding officer (Bahzad Javanbakhsh), to reunite with loved ones. Reza finds his family in the midst of frenzied mourning, and the officer visits his own family in turmoil. But it’s wealthy Asef’s home where things go truly haywire.
In their parents’ rambling mansion — as the other guys sit and wait — Asef confronts sickly-looking sister Noghreh (Anidesheh Fouladvand) about her opium addiction. Seemingly losing interest in the main characters, Kimiayi turns completely to Noghreh’s tale of falling in love with her university professor and his murder at the hands of a jealous drug-dealing scumbag — a tale which rambles on for nearly 30 minutes.
In the end, after the soldiers go on an impulsive and bloody mission to avenge Noghreh by attacking an underground opium den, viewers are left to puzzle why Kimiayi didn’t simply make the movie about Noghreh. Conclusion is a jumble of car crashes and escapes into a Tehran subway station.
True to his leading-man persona, Foroutan shows his macho side at first, but then cools down. Radan’s Asef suggests an Americanized Iranian of a privileged family, but is mostly reduced to reacting to the wildly overacting Fouladvand, whose dreadfully feverish perf scored a supporting actress win at Fajr fest earlier this year.
Moments of extreme emotion or action seem to bring out the best in Mahmoud Kalari’s lensing.