When an expat professor returns to Iran after 22 years abroad, he becomes mired in bureaucratic frustrations and domestic intrigue in “A Respectable Family,” a daringly caustic drama that reps the feature debut of documaker Massoud Bakhshi. Haunted by the Iran-Iraq War and the young men martyred during that conflict, the pic excels at creating an atmosphere of existential threat, particularly in the contempo scenes. Yet despite some powerful visual metaphors, such as the masked-and-gloved woman fighting “impurities,” the various parts fail to gel into a compelling whole, signaling fest rather than theatrical platforms.
As his semester teaching at Shiraz U. draws to a close, with school authorities interfering with his syllabus, Arash (Babak Hamidian, too passive) finds himself stuck in Iran because he has no military exemption. Meanwhile, the death of his estranged father, a brutal war profiteer, leads his loathsome half-brother (Mehran Ahmadi) and unscrupulous nephew (Mehrdad Sedighian) to launch a byzantine scheme to nab the patriarch’s entire fortune. Although the assembly feels jagged, with flashbacks to Arash’s unhappy youth not well integrated, the sophisticated sound design provides a strong sense of place, and visuals are appropriately claustrophobic.