Reza Mirkarimi continues to probe social issues through a restrained, tightly focused character drama with “Today,” his third feature to be chosen as Iran’s foreign-language Oscar submission. Following a Tehran cabbie through a day that stretches well into the next once he crosses paths with a distressed young woman, this is a quietly effective portrait of decency and self-sacrifice. Continued festival travel and niche offshore home-format sales are signaled.
That taciturn taxi driver Younes (a fine turn by veteran Iranian star Parviz Parastui) is a man of principles — if very, very few words — becomes obvious right away, when he ejects from his vehicle a plump businessman heard threatening to ruin someone’s reputation with fabricated evidence over the phone. Soon afterward, our protag’s lunch break is interrupted when the tearful, agitated Sedigheh (Soheila Golestani) slips into his backseat. Heavily pregnant, she wants to be taken to a particular hospital, though she can’t recall its name or precise location. Once they find the second-rate, under-equipped facility, she begs him to accompany her inside, so it won’t look like she’s alone — i.e. like the disgraced, unmarried woman with child she most likely is.
While the doctor she’d sought here is apparently long gone, Sedigheh is admitted, not least because she promptly faints in the reception area. Once examined, she turns out to have numerous physical problems, the result of serious beatings and possible “unhygienic prior abortions.” Hospital staff figure the 60-ish Younes is her father, husband or lover — but in any case, they blame him for her predicament. Realizing his accidental charge has no one else to lean on (or to take legal responsibility for her hospital fees), he refuses to correct them, let alone simply leave and get on with his own everyday business. Even when he’s verbally and otherwise assaulted as her assumed abuser, he keeps his mouth shut. An assertive chief administrator (Shabnam Moghadami) is the only person here who eventually recognizes his true role as an exceptionally Good Samaritan.
Taking its cue from that no-nonsense protag (and in contrast to the atypically rich palate of Mirkarimi’s previous film, “A Cube of Sugar”), “Today” is terse and unadorned in nearly all aspects. That rigor lends slow-burning impact to a story (and in particular an ending) that might easily have been played for mawkish sentimentality. Houman Behmanesh’s crisp lensing is the dominant element in the professionally assembled package; there’s no music at all until a bedside conversation provides some belated emotional release for the two leads, its poignancy aptly underlined by Amin Honarmand’s score.