Saturday, 16 July 2016
My parents escaped Iran around the Iranian Revolution, in 1979. They’re Jewish, so like thousands of other people unwelcome under Ayatollah Khomeini’s rule, they fled.
A new film, called “Septembers of Shiraz,” isn’t just about the Iranian Revolution. It’s about a Jewish family’s experience trying to escape the country during the revolution.
The film is surprisingly close to my family history, and I knew I had to watch it with my parents.
My parents met, married, and started a family in New York. Growing up, I heard stories of their upbringing in Iran, the challenges of escaping, and their difficulties connecting to their family members who couldn’t escape.
The movie is fiction, based on a novel of the same name, but my parents found some of the details close to real life.
Adrien Brody plays Isaac, the family’s breadwinner, who runs a jewellery company. Salma Hayek is his stay-at-home wife. They have two kids — a grade-school-aged girl and a teenage boy. The boy is sent off to a boarding school in Massachusetts just as the Revolution was heating up. The rest of the family, though, couldn’t leave Iran just yet.
My father, too, made it to the US. He was able to seek refuge in West Virginia through a family friend connection before the revolution. He and my uncle lived on their own in a trailer and went to a high school there, knowing very little English. He didn’t see the rest of his family for ten years; my grandparents and two aunts couldn’t leave as easily.
Independent Iranian films have obliquely addressed the country’s theocratic rule, and in the cases of filmmakers like Jafar Panahi, they have been imprisoned or censored. Marjane Satrapi made “Persepolis” outside Iran, about her own experience in the Iranian Revolution.
“Septembers of Shiraz,” being made outside of Iran, is able to be explicit. Brutal, even.
Isaac is arrested, imprisoned, and tortured. His business is sacked by the Revolutionary Guard, who steal all the valuables from his office.
“Septembers of Shiraz” is a grim movie. It wastes little time getting into the persecution and there isn’t a joke in sight. An early scene depicts rallies in the street, with people waving banners with Ayatollah Khomeini’s face and fires in the middle of the street. The Revolutionary Guards don’t only search Isaac’s house, they also loot it. It’s a humiliating, dignity-robbing experience.
During the scene where Isaac is arrested and hauled out of his office, my mother said the movie is “too rough” to watch. “Mummy, it’s only a movie,” I told her, trying to comfort here. “It’s not a movie. It’s real life. People experienced this.”
On an objective level, the movie is blunt, melodramatic, and occasionally schlocky. Brody does well, but his accent isn’t quite right, and Hayek’s is only slightly more acceptable. She uses an anachronistic cordless phone on more than one occasion, and a late-movie car chase scene was, as my father described, “very Hollywood.”
But the melodramatic approach, for all its faults, is emotionally authentic.