Deserved winner of the top first-feature prize at Montreal, Iran-born, Vienna-based TV and docu vet Arash T. Riahi’s assured “For a Moment, Freedom” is yet another immigrant-in-peril border-crossing tale. But it strikes a smoother balance of realism, polish, warmth, suspense, humor and tragedy than most, with misfortune present yet not predominating. Depressing-sounding theme will limit prospects, though fest buzz should open some doors to arthouse, broadcast and DVD exposure in various territories.
Introduced separately, the protagonists are clustered into three groups. In the first, college-aged, cheerful Merdad (Pourya Mahyari) and more serious-minded friend Ali (Navid Akhavan) are sneaking two pint-size cousins (Elika Bozorgi, Sina Saba) out of Iran to reunite them with refugee parents already in Austria.
In the second group, Lale (Behi Djanati Atai) and Hussan (Payam Madjlessi) travel over the mountains by foot with their own young son (Kian Khalili), hoping to find European asylum from political persecution. After some tense moments, these first two groups find themselves safely –for the moment — across the border, in the same car driven by a kindly coyote.
In Ankara, they soon discover such friends are hard to find. Turkish cops and Iranian secret police are on the prowl for illegals; even the manager at the hotel where the protags are housed turns out to be an informant.
There, the principals meet a third group of players — weary Iranian opposition supporter Abbas (Said Oveissi) and antic Iraqi-Kurdish English teacher Manu (Fares Fares). They’ve become argumentative but close friends, and are happy to advise the new arrivals.
Asylum status is far from guaranteed. As characters await official word, developments both good and ill occur. There’s considerable warmth — even fun — in this fragile, temporary community, palpable joy when exit visas arrive, heartbreak when they don’t. Eventually, one central figure protests bureaucratic injustice in the most extreme fashion.
Writer-helmer Riahi eschews a melodramatic tone even during intense sequences including torture and an execution, managing somehow to evenly mix in lighter content (most involving child thesps or the delightful Fares). Bittersweet final effect is quite moving.
Perfs are strong down the line, tech and design aspects unshowy but first-rate. Pic was primarily shot in Turkey.