This year’s Heartland Film Festival will be a combination of drive-in and virtual screenings. For a complete schedule and to buy tickets, click here.
Iranian film has been experiencing something of a renaissance the last few years, with “A Separation” and “The Salesman” both winning Academy Awards. Whatever our perceptions about that country and its relationship with our own, I’ve noticed that their movies tend to focus very much on families in conflict. “Diapason” is another such film, about a mother who faces a terrible choice.
Zhaleh Sameti plays Rana Salehi, a middle-aged woman who has embraced traditional values but is also an independent female in a culture that does not value her. She is either widowed or divorced (the film never says) and lives alone with her daughter, Hoda, who as the story opens is turning 17. Rana is a strict but good mother, bringing Hoda up modestly but encouraging her kindly spirit.
Rana is vice president of a bank while Hoda is preparing for dentistry university. She has a close-knit group of friends who are all studying for some sort of role in various medical fields. Their idea of a wild night is to take Hoda to the carnival for her birthday and ride the ferris wheel.
It can be strange to Western eyes to see a film where all the women are dressed essentially identically in black chadors that cover everything except their faces and hands. I admit I had trouble keeping track of names and faces. But their lively interactions and authentic smiles left me feeling warm-hearted.
Things quickly take a dark turn when the brother of one of the friends shows up and chastises her for being out in public without his or their father’s permission. Tempers flare, a scuffle occurs and something terrible results.
From there the story becomes something of a courtroom drama, as Rana and her lawyer have to decide what the best course of action is. One path involves forgiveness and no punishment for the perpetrator, while the other involves an antediluvian quirk of the Iranian justice system that explicitly values men over women. Rana finds herself having to go all over town to gather up money if she wants the justice she craves.
Virtually everyone encourages her to forgive, but Rana is adamant that she and Hoda will have justice. As the story goes on we begin to question what is truly the moral choice, as Rana’s anger is wholly justified but she’s trapped in a system where achieving release will just result in more pain for everyone — especially her.
Director Hamed Tehrani and screenwriter Hossein Tehrani are both young first-timers at the helm of a feature film, and make some of the usual rookie mistakes. There’s too much “process” footage of Rana traveling from place to place, and scenes that linger on too long. But they know how to hit the emotional high and low spots hard, so we really feel for what she is going through even if we don’t agree with her sometimes harsh mindset.
Though it moves a bit slow at times, “Diapason” still knows how to plumb the depths of people’s hearts and find out what makes them tick. We all love our children, no matter where we’re from, and here is a story that shows us how much joy and pain that can bring.