A Tehran mullah-in-training struggles to take care of his ailing wife and their children in “Gold & Copper,” a simple, intimate and profoundly moving melodrama from helmer Homayoun Asadian. While it drops subtle points about the rigidity of Iranian social structures, this classically fashioned meller is a film of near-universal appeal, offering a warm, sympathetic portrait of family life and a powerful sense of transcendence through everyday struggles. Well-acted, high-quality item, which has been making the fest rounds since winning a prize at Fajr earlier this year, deserves a strong push into offshore arthouses.
Well received in Iran, the film puts a human face on that country’s Muslim clergy with its unusual tale of an aspiring cleric dealing with extraordinary but all-too-relatable pressures at home. Seyed Reza (Behrouz Shoeibi) has just moved with his family to Tehran so he can study the Koran, and he relies on his lovely, ever-good-natured wife, Zahra (Negar Javaherian), to not only look after their two young children, but also to weave the intricate rugs that earn them a living.
But Zahra’s eyesight has been steadily worsening, and one evening she collapses and is taken to the hospital, where she’s diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Scarcely able to process the tragedy, Seyed is left to cook, change diapers, walk his daughter to school and take his toddler son with him to his classes, where peers and elders treat him with scorn. But Seyed eventually learns to cope, his prayers and devotional studies taking on deeper meaning as he attends to the hard nightly work of rug weaving, getting through with a heavy assist from friends, neighbors and kind strangers.
Managing to appear casually realistic yet carefully structured, and very much in the mold of classic domestic melodrama, Hamed Mohammadi’s script sketches an engaging seriocomic portrait of a religious student suddenly forced into single fatherhood. Via small, telling details, from the coldness of Seyed’s peers to the gender-restrictive visiting hours at the hospital, the film quietly critiques the strictures of a society that makes few allowances for an average, working-class family in crisis.
But it’s a measure of Asadian’s sense of balance that the film is just as hard on Seyed, gently nudging him to acknowledge his neglect of his family. Bookishly handsome Shoeibi is a natural as a man forced by hardship to become a better husband and father, while Javaherian is simply wrenching, never more so than when she struggles to cook a pot of spaghetti for her daughter, no longer able to control her muscles.
“Gold & Copper” is above all a call for compassion, and as such it doesn’t reject religion so much as the cold, unfeeling spirit in which so much religion is practiced. Pic makes the persuasive case that we live not in books or in the clouds, but here on Earth, and that the sublimity spoken of in the Koran (passages of which are quoted) is achieved at ground level, through suffering, patience and unconditional love — a process for which the title, referencing the transmutation of copper into gold, supplies a handy metaphor.
Tale unspools largely within the family’s spare yet charmingly appointed apartment (designed by Marjan Golzar), which adds to the film’s sense of warmth; Hossein Jafarian’s 35mm lensing and Bahram Dehghani’s well-paced editing round out a polished tech package.