Details: 107 mins, Iran,
Synopsis: A photojournalist remains in Tehran with his young son whilst his wife, who is studying overseas, goes back and forth. After reading a book on Feng Shui, he becomes obsessed with the general lack of care for the environment. He initially photographs the abuse, then becomes a street sweeper to prove his commitment to the cause.
Comedic call to action hints at deeper issues.
beneath the whimsy are some harsh insights
The sweet, occasionally eccentric surface of Dariush Mehrjui’s Orange Suit hides a rather subtle, subversive take on modern Iranian life which may have slipped by the notoriously harsh national censors. The tale of one man’s obsessive quest to clean up the streets of Tehran while fighting a bitter custody battle has an ingratiating oddball charm, but beneath the whimsy are some harsh insights that counter, albeit with a feathery touch, the region’s orthodox beliefs.
Mehrjui is considered the driving force of the early-‘70s Iranian New Wave and the veteran director has often run afoul of the government scissor-men, most famously with his landmark work The Cow (1969), which he ferried incognito to the Venice Film Festival (where it won the Critics Award) while it was still banned back home. His subsequent works The Postman (1972), The Cycle (1978) and The School We Went To (1980) all suffered extensive sanctioned cuts or outright banning.
The 73-year-old employs a light mood in Orange Suit that belies the seriousness of his film’s focus, namely, the environmental damage done by a careless population. Inspired initially by a public crusader’s video to clean up the beaches, photographer Hamed (Hamed Behdad) is energised by the new-age teachings of his son’s English tutor, Miss Navaie (Mitra Hajjar), whose feng shui beliefs influence his psyche in life-changing ways.
Hamed’s realisation that his photographic essays are not having the desired impact is compounded by an angry encounter with a picknicking family of litterers. Hamed decides to forego his career and become a street sweeper, donning the titular garb of public works officials. His educated mind and passion for the work is noticed by his fellow janitors and soon, the local media celebrates his commitment to the wellbeing of the city. But his distant wife, the brilliant mathematician Nahal (Leila Hatami, working again with the director after 1998’s Leila), returns to convince Hamed to up his roots and travel with her as a family unit.
Behdad plays Hamed with tremendous warmth (the father/son scenes are truly delightful) but his tunnel-vision focus takes some suspension of disbelief to fully convince. Though he loves his son unconditionally, quitting his successful job and leaving his child in the care of others night-after-night paints him somewhat to be an irresponsible man. The character played by the always-reliable Hatami is not as strongly defined as her part in last year’s hit, A Separation; her disregard for the bond between her son and his father in favour of the life she wants recalls the selfish behaviour of Meryl Streep’s character in the third act of Kramer vs. Kramer (1979).
Orange Suit ultimately engages on a level that isn’t immediately apparent from the initial crowd-pleasing melodrama or warm characterisations. Mehrjui uses these elements to criticise the populace’s ignorance of the country’s finite natural resources and, by implication, the ruling body’s inactivity in turning the tide of public opinion. The film also examines the newly-defined gender playing field; Nahal’s career-over-family mindset and the action she undertakes to wrestle her son away from his father offers an incisive vision of contemporary Iran and its impact on traditional powerbases. With Orange Suit, the director proves as succinctly wily and deeply perceptive in his autumn years as he has ever been.
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