A soon-to-be-shuttered Tehran reception hall/restaurant offers a microcosm of working-class Iran in “Twenty.” The third feature by Iranian writer-helmer Abdolreza Kahani (“Adam”), this realist slice-of-life finds poignant drama in the hopes and fears of the staff and their wary relationships with the curmudgeonly business owner. Smooth direction, nuanced thesping from a fine ensemble cast and a strongly humanist script make the tale universally accessible. Recalling Italian neorealist classics in some respects and Kambozia Partovi’s 2005 fest favorite “Cafe Transit” in others, quality pic could attract international sales offshore for specialty theatrical and broadcast.
Pic’s less than evocative title refers to the number of days’ notice the boss, Soleimani (Parviz Parastui), gives his employees. He wants to sell his reception hall because it hosts more mourning ceremonies than weddings, a predicament that depresses him to the point of illness.
His announcement upsets the morale of his staff, who have worked together so long they’re practically family. The hall supplies more than just their livelihood; for most, it also provides a living space. Fighting for their future, the workers launch various schemes to change Soleimani’s mind.
With the looming deadline adding to the desperation of the situation (a device Kahani also exploited in his 2008 Thessaloniki prizewinner “Over There”), the delicately detailed script provides insight into contempo Iran, yet feels as though it would be equally credible set in any large Third World capital. Indeed, the pic seems a likely candidate for a remake.
The incisively drawn group of workers includes one-armed cook Faroukh (Ali-Reza Khamseh), who knows how difficult it would be to find another job. His briskly efficient wife Fereshteh (Fereshteh Sadr Orafai) alternates between helping her husband and caring for server Firoozeh’s (Mahtab Keramati) cute pre-schooler.
Attractive but careworn widow Firoozeh knows she’s pushing her luck with Soleimani by bringing her daughter to work, but winds up begging for additional favors when she’s turned out of her apartment. Meanwhile, hot-tempered server Bijan (Habib Rezaie), an ex-con, yearns for Firoozeh, but he has no home to offer her.
Kahani’s helming style illustrates his sympathetic observational eye and confident narrative grasp as he allows the story and relationships to unfold through fast-paced, nearly wordless scenes in the confined spaces of the reception hall during and after working hours.
Aided by Massoud Salami’s stellar lensing, which moves fluidly between kitchen, basement, narrow passages and the front of house, the way the characters congregate or remain isolated and the looks they exchange reveal volumes. And as the gruff owner who gradually reveals a heart of gold, Parastui furthers his reputation as one of Iran’s finest, most versatile thesps.
A complex soundtrack and plaintive score lead the well-crafted tech package.