Few Iranian films have tried to realistically depict both the urban middle and lower classes, and fewer still with the complexity of story telling and depth of characterization in Asghar Farhadi’s impressive third feature, “Fireworks Wednesday.” Co-scripted by Farhadi with director Mani Haghighi (“Men at Work”), this beautifully paced drama about marital infidelity, seen through the eyes of a young housemaid about to get married, is psychologically intricate and dramatically engrossing. It could prove a break-through film for Farhadi, whose “Dance in the Dust” and “Beautiful City” have prepared the way to international arthouse auds.
As this sophisticated work demonstrates, Iranian cinema has matured into far different genres than the quasi-documentaries about children and movie-making for which it is widely known. Though not overtly concerned with social issues, “Fireworks Wednesday” breathes the class gap in Iranian society into almost every upstairs/downstairs scene, with an unexpected ending that reinforces the divide.
Title refers to the Iranian New Year’s holiday, Chahar Shanbeh Suri, when tradition calls for people to hide behind walls and listen to passing conversations that are supposed to reveal whether their wishes will come true. The film, set on the previous day, is less about wishing than spying.
While middle-class families prepare to leave for the holidays, for the working class it’s business as usual. Rouhi (Taraneh Alidoosti, the young star of “I’m Taraneh, 15”) gets a ride on her fiance’s motorbike to work as a temp maid.
The moment she sets foot in the spacious modern apartment of Morteza (Hamid Farrokhnezhad) and his wife Mojdeh (Hadieh Tehrani), she finds herself swept up into a maelstrom of chaos and anger. The place is upside down, and Morteza has a bandaged hand from breaking a window the night before in an argument with his wife. Mojdeh is sure he’s having an affair with the divorced beautician next door, Mrs. Simi (Pantea Bahram), and spends a lot of time in the bathroom with her ear pressed against the wall, trying to overhear something incriminating.
She sends Rouhi over to have her eyebrows plucked and spy for her.
Just when the story seems settled, however, the surprises begin. Morteza offers to drive Rouhi home, but first he must take his young son to watch fireworks in a park. At this point, the script pulls a major twist out of its hat, deepening the drama and the oddly intertwined relationship between the maid and her employers.
Farhadi, who has written and directed numerous stage plays, pulls edgy, morally nuanced perfs out of Tehrani (one of Iran’s biggest film stars) as the self-centered, neurotic wife, and Farrokhnezhad as her fist-happy mate. Both cove a repressed violence that threatens everyone around them.
Humble but dignified, Alidoosti, who seems to develop with each new film, offers a sane counterpoint to this family out of hell. Bahram delivers an equally complex perf as the other woman.
The quality of the production is evident in Hossein Jafarian’s fluid cinematography and Hayedeh Safyari’s nervous editing. The final scenes are a tour de force in which the bonfire-strewn streets fill with merrymakers and the exploding fireworks look as dangerous as a war, an apt metaphor for the everyday violence in the characters’ lives.