Film Review: ‘From Tehran to Heaven’ (2013)

Abolfazl Saffary's apocalyptic vision of Iran is as visually compelling as it is shockingly unexpected.


Mahnaz Afshar, Jaufar Vali, Mehran Ahmadi, Alireza Khamse, Abdollah Saffari, Farzin Sabouni.

An apocalyptic vision of Iran, Abolfazl Saffary’s “From Tehran to Heaven” proves as visually compelling as it is shockingly unexpected. Unfolding more like a fever dream than a linear narrative, the film follows a pregnant woman’s desperate search for her husband within a surreally disorganized city. Rape, beatings and dark hints of biological weaponry supply a life-and-death context for her desperation, while an overwhelming sense of disorientation affects both protagonist and viewer. Like “Disorder,” Huang Weikai’s documentary compilation of Chinese metropolitan meltdowns, “Heaven” is starting out as a strictly underground affair, but further festival and museum screenings could change that.

Saffary’s heroine, Ghazal (well-known Iranian actress Mahnaz Afshar), returns from a sonogram to find her husband Farhad missing and her apartment ransacked. Kidnapped, raped and beaten (offscreen), she is dumped, bruised and bleeding, on the side of a road, threatened with further violence if she does not find Farhad, who apparently stole some potentially incriminating documents from the biochemical lab where he worked.

The police seem to find nothing untoward in Ghazal’s situation; indeed, Tehranis seem to take everything in stride. Elevators in upscale apartment houses have ceased to work, while anonymous heaps of belongings on staircases cause stumbles but no surprise. Traffic routinely detours around fistfights or momentarily halts when a bride in full white regalia leaps out of a car and pelts down the roadway, hotly pursued by the rest of the wedding party.

In some ways, “From Tehran to Heaven” reps a feminine Iranian version of “D.O.A.”  Farhad (who is never seen) was apparently fatally infected in his heroic attempt to sabotage his firm’s biochemical experimentation, and Ghazal is doubtlessly following the trail of a dead man from the get-go. Following mysterious phone calls from Farhad’s paranoid co-worker, a cryptic message from Farhad saying he has gone to Heaven, and directions from her now totally senile father-in-law, Ghazal winds up slogging on foot through a wind-tossed desert to a little house in the middle of nowhere, where an old man with a dog reluctantly takes her in.

None of these oddball happenings would carry much weight without the startling impact of Saffary’s unique, nightmarishly evocative imagery, the power of which far surpasses the film’s narrative continuity. Nor would it work without the sheer physicality of Afshar’s Herculean performance as Ghazal doggedly makes her way through the disintegrating city, countering the film’s vision of a dystopian society on its last legs with a woman’s biological drive to continue the species.

Film Review: 'From Tehran to Heaven' (2013)

Reviewed at Montreal World Film Festival (Focus on World Cinema), Aug. 30, 2013.  Running time: 75 MIN. Original title: "Az Tehran ta behsht"


(Iran-Germany) A Linkeeper Film production. Produced by Reza Mostafavi Tabatabui, Alireza Sauadat, Abolfazl Saffary.


Directed by Abolfazl Saffary. Screenplay, Hossein Mortezauian Abkenar, Saffary. Camera (color, HD), Bayram Fazli; editors, Ebrahim Saeidi, Hayedeh Safiari; music, Behzad Abdi; production designer, Abolfazl Salimi; sound, Nezamoddin Kiaui.


Mahnaz Afshar, Jaufar Vali, Mehran Ahmadi, Alireza Khamse, Abdollah Saffari, Farzin Sabouni.

More Film

  • Pinewood Studios James Bond

    Netflix's Shepperton Studios Deal Is Stretching the U.K.'s Production Limits

    Netflix’s huge new hub at Shepperton Studios outside London is a further fillip for Britain’s booming production sector. Amid jitters over Brexit and its effects on the economy, the streaming giant’s commitment is a vote of confidence in the U.K. entertainment industry and a continuing source of local jobs. But the decision by Netflix to [...]

  • Bottom of the 9th

    Film Review: ‘Bottom of the 9th’

    Nearly two decades after scoring an audience award at Sundance for “Two Family House,” a smartly understated yet deeply affecting indie about a Staten Island factory worker who deeply regrets stifling his showbiz ambitions, director Raymond De Felitta steps back up to the plate with “Bottom of the 9th,” another dramatically solid and emotionally satisfying [...]

  • THE BRIDGE - "Calaca" - Episode

    Endemol Shine Builds ‘The Bridge’ in Africa (EXCLUSIVE)

    DURBAN–Endemol Shine Group has sold the rights to adapt its critically acclaimed and highly popular Nordic Noir detective series “The Bridge” to Cape Town-based production company Both Worlds Pictures, Variety has learned exclusively. The series will feature an all-African cast and will be set around the Beit Bridge border crossing between South Africa and Zimbabwe. Originally known [...]

  • Durban Film Fest 2019

    Durban Fest Hails Film as ‘Conscience of Our Nation’

    DURBAN–When Ros and Teddy Sarkin raised the curtain on the first Durban Intl. Film Festival 40 years ago, the odds were long that their scrappy fest would survive its inaugural edition. The apartheid government and its draconian censorship board had a stranglehold on the films that reached South African theaters, banning the sorts of subversive [...]

  • Tiny: The Life of Erin Blackwell

    Film Review: 'Tiny: The Life of Erin Blackwell'

    “Streetwise,”  the classic and haunting 1984 documentary about homeless street kids in Seattle, is a movie that’s now 35 years old. But for anyone who has seen it, the children it’s about — drifters, hustlers, squatters, thieves, prostitutes — remain frozen in time. And none of them was ever more memorable than Tiny, the 14-year-old [...]

  • Animation Studio Fire

    Revenge May Have Been Motive for Kyoto Animation Arson Attack

    Revenge for allegedly stolen ideas is emerging as a possible motive for the devastating arson attack on Kyoto Animation in Japan, which killed 33 people. Investigative sources quoted by Japan’s Jiji Press said Friday that the suspected arsonist, who is in custody, had a grudge against the studio. “Since [the studio] stole my novel, I [...]

  • Terminator: Dark Fate Gabriel Luna

    'Terminator: Dark Fate' Cast Proud of Latinx Representation in Latest Installment

    The stars of the Tim Miller-directed “Terminator: Dark Fate” stormed the stage of San Diego Comic-Con’s Hall H on Thursday, but it wasn’t until after the panel — which included appearances from Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton — that Natalia Reyes, Gabriel Luna and Diego Boneta reflected on what makes the upcoming installment in the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content