Beautiful women beating the hell out of each other is a pretty marketable hook, and when you add the political subtext of “Kick in Iran,” what you have is a package. Helmer Fatima Geza Abdollahyan’s portrait of taekwondo competitor Sara Khoshjamal Fekri — the first Iranian woman to qualify for the Olympics — is about as personally revealing as a burqa, but the glimpse it gives us into the life of Iranian women in general is enlightening. Too arty for sports TV, “Kick in Iran” will likely find a more suitable home on PBS or cable.
The surreptitious quality of Abdollahyan’s film — the sense of secrecy is probably very real — reflects what any woman athlete, even one of Khoshjamal Fekri’s status, has to face under a theocratic regime: One must be an obedient Muslim first, a world-class athlete second. Just because you’re throwing flying back-kicks against the Taiwanese doesn’t mean you can drop the hijab or show too much ankle. What this says about the woman’s level of dedication to her sport, of course, comes through loud and clear, and given that Iran’s athletic programs are a long way from being the medal factories of the United States or China, the fact that Khoshjamal-Fekri can compete internationally at all is something of a miracle.
The key, according to “Kick in Iran,” is her relationship with her “master,” Maryam Azarmehr, a divorced mother and taekwondo expert (how she acquired her skills is never stated) who is a bit older than the 20-year-old Khoshjamal-Fekri, but whose intensity and inspirational coaching has imbued in her student an obvious sense of fealty and devotion. The viewer wants to know more about Azarmehr, of course, and about the relationship between the two, but helmer Abdollahyan gives us what she can within the constraints imposed on her.
“Kick in Iran” offers some candid glimpses into Iranian domestic life that indicate things don’t always make sense. Despite the institutionalized modesty with which Iranian women must dress themselves, Iranian television seems to carry some of the same vaguely risque material as its U.S. counterpart (we see it in the background of shots). In one ironic scene, Azarmehr’s young daughter plays with a computer game that allows the player to create and dress an avatar family. There is no hijab in the wardrobe, as far as we can tell.
The film builds, slowly and with not a lot of detail (there is no narration, and limited music) toward Khoshjamal-Fekri’s performance at the Beijing Olympics. It’s often said, and not always sincerely, but in the case of Khoshjamal-Fekri, just being there really is a tremendous victory.
Production values are adequate.