×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Rona, Azim’s Mother’

Jamshid Mahmoudi's heartfelt family drama is Afghanistan's foreign-language Oscar submission.

Director:
Jamshid Mahmoudi
With:
Mohsen Tanabandeh, Mojtaba Pirzadeh, Fatemeh Hosseini

1 hour 29 minutes

Official Site: http://nooripictures.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=170:rona-azims-mother-rona-madar-e-azim&Itemid=68

Afghanistan-born, Tehran-based brothers Jamshid and Navid Mahmoudi continue their examination of life among Afghan refugees in Iran with the touching drama “Rona, Azim’s Mother.” Written and directed by Jamshid and produced by Navid, this tale of a middle-aged son facing a life-and-death decision regarding his gravely ill mother provides an illuminating picture of family tensions and bureaucratic frustrations that arise in a community trapped in a seemingly never-ending state of limbo. Selected as Afghanistan’s submission for the foreign-language Oscar category, “Rona” made its international premiere in Busan — the stop on what promises to be a healthy festival run.

Following their Jamshid-directed, Navid-produced debut “A Few Cubic Meters of Love” (2014) and the Navid-helmed, Jamshid-produced “Parting” (2016), the Mahmoudis (who also write and usually edit their work) have completed a remarkable hat trick of foreign-language Oscar submissions with “Rona.” In keeping with the previous films, the siblings’ mission here is to speak for the millions of Afghans forced from their homeland over the past several decades.

“Rona” begins with simple scenes of daily life for Azim (very well played by respected Iranian actor-director Mohsen Tanabandeh), a night-shift laborer on Tehran’s municipal maintenance crew who’s called the city home for what seems to be at least 10 years. Unable to have children with wife Asemeh (Fatemeh Mirzaei), Azim considers himself to be in a state of repentance until such time as God gives him a baby.

Popular on Variety

As the title suggests, Azim’s life centers on his mother, Rona (Fatemeh Hosseini), an elderly woman soon to be smuggled illegally to Germany with son Faroogh (Mojtaba Pirzadeh) and his family. After a farewell party full of high-spirited singing and dancing, Azim is told by community elder Uncle Rahmat (Ollah Ahangaran) that Faroogh, without any proper explanation, has decided not to take Rona with him.

Azim’s fury at his “shameless” and “without honor” brother is the trigger for events that bring the plight of those without a secure home or full citizen’s rights sharply into focus. After suffering a fall, Rona is diagnosed as severely diabetic and in need of an immediate kidney transplant. In a sequence that’s confronting on any number of levels, Azim and his friend Fazel (Alireza Ostadi) find a mute Iranian man who’s willing to sell one of his kidneys, for a price. Serving as interpreter and sign-language communicator is the man’s young son, who barely bats an eyelid during the robust and explicit negotiation process.

The sadness and despair that’s been escalating in Azim reaches a boiling point when he secures an agreement for the kidney in question, only to be informed by authorities that it’s illegal for Iranian nationals to donate organs to foreigners. As his beloved mother’s condition deteriorates, Azim contemplates risking his own life by giving up a kidney, which in turn brings his sister, Hengameh (Fereshteh Hosseini, “Parting”), and other members of the Afghan refugee community into the frame as potential donors.

The decline of Rona from a lively and loving matriarch to a bedridden and helpless living corpse could be interpreted as a metaphor for Afghanistan itself. Despite the best efforts of many around her, there seems to be no feasible solution to her condition.

Whether viewed as metaphor or as a straight-ahead family drama, “Rona” is likely to move many viewers with its refusal to indulge in melodrama, as well as its compassion for those attempting to attain a greater degree of self-determination and live with dignity in a system that’s often stacked against them. Critically, Iranian authority figures in the film such as Dr. Khalidi (Mehran Mamdou) are not shown as villains. They are caring, but constrained by rules beyond their control.

The Tehran that Azim and his community occupy is captured in the gritty images of cinematographer Koohyar Kalari (“Parting”). Shots of Azim performing back-breaking work in the dead of night on beltways and sewers are frequently backlit with blinding white light, giving the sense that he and fellow refugee workers exist in a world cut off from the mainstream of the city. All other technical work, including Sahand Mehdizadeh’s delicate score, is right on the money.

Film Review: ‘Rona, Azim’s Mother’

Reviewed online in Adelaide, October 6, 2018. (In Busan Film Festival – A Window on Asian Cinema.)(Original title: “Rona, madar-e Azim”)

Production: (Afghanistan-Iran) A Film House (in Iran) release of a Navid Mahmoudi production. (Int'l sales: Noori Pictures, Paris.) Producer: Navid Mahmoudi.

Crew: Director, writer: Jamshid Mahmoudi. Camera (color, widescreen): Koohyar Kalari. Editor: Jamshid Mahmoudi. Music: Sahand Mehdizadeh.

With: Mohsen Tanabandeh, Mojtaba Pirzadeh, Fatemeh Hosseini, Ollah Ahangaran, Mehran Mamdooh, Ahmad Hosseini, Fereshteh Hosseini, Fatemeh Mirzaei, Alireza Ostadi. (Persian, Farsi Dari dialogue)

More Film

  • Trusted reindeer Sven and curious snowman

    'Frozen 2' Heads for Sizzling $130 Million North American Launch

    Disney’s “Frozen 2” is heading for a hot $130 million opening weekend at 4,400 North American locations, early estimates showed Friday. That’s well above the $100 million launch that Disney was forecasting for the sequel, which will provide a much-needed jolt to the moviegoing business. The 2019 North American box office trails last year by [...]

  • The Banker

    Apple Delays 'The Banker' Release Amid Review of Family Accusations

    Apple is delaying the theatrical release of “The Banker,” originally set for Dec. 6 with assistance from Bleecker Street, insiders familiar with the company said. It’s being delayed as the filmmakers review accusations of historical inaccuracy and sexual abuse at the hands of co-producer Bernard Garrett Jr. The film was also set to premiere on [...]

  • Alex Ginno Fully Formed

    Brad Fuller and Andrew Form's Fully Formed Taps Alex Ginno as Head of Film (EXCLUSIVE)

    Alex Ginno has joined Brad Fuller and Andrew Form’s Fully Formed as head of film. The company has a three-year first-look deal with Paramount, where they recently wrapped production on “A Quiet Place: Part II” and are currently prepping Season 3 of the hit show “Jack Ryan” for Amazon. The second season recently bowed, with [...]

  • Queen and Slim soundtrack

    Album Review: 'Queen & Slim: The Soundtrack'

    “Queen & Slim,” the film, traffics in sudden tragedy and symbolic terror as it portrays the violence of self-defense and self-awareness in stark, painful terms. It deserves an equally audacious score and soundtrack, a job that has gone to another Devonté Hynes, the British singer, songwriter, guitarist, record producer and director in his guise of Blood [...]

  • Michael Jackson in concert in Milton

    Michael Jackson Music Biopic in the Works From 'Bohemian Rhapsody' Producer

    “Bohemian Rhapsody” producer Graham King has struck a deal with the Michael Jackson estate for the pop star’s life and music rights, with plans to make a feature film based on both. King has tapped “Gladiator” and “The Aviator” screenwriter John Logan for the project. The film currently has no studio or distributor attached. The [...]

  • Michael J. Pollard Dead

    Michael J. Pollard, 'Bonnie and Clyde' and 'House of 1000 Corpses' Actor, Dies at 80

    Academy Award nominee Michael J. Pollard, known for his roles in “Bonnie and Clyde” and “House of 1000 Corpses,” has died. He was 80. “House of 1000 Corpses” director Rob Zombie broke the news on Facebook early Friday morning. “We have lost another member of our ‘House of 1000 Corpses’ family. I woke up to [...]

  • Jonathan Pryce

    Jonathan Pryce on Early Roles, Reading Reviews and Advice He Got From Lee Strasberg

    Jonathan Pryce, who has done memorable work for 40-plus years, hits a career high in “The Two Popes,” a complex look at Francis, played by Pryce, and Benedict, portrayed by Anthony Hopkins. Though Pryce has played well-known figures before, such as Juan Perón in the 1996 “Evita,” he was hesitant to take on Pope Francis [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content