From Cannes: "Nahid" a Powerful Representation of Iranian Society

Dir. Ida Panahandeh (Distr. TBA)—4 Stars

As exemplified by Asghar Farhadi’s Academy Award-winning 2011 movie “A Separation,” Iranian realist films have experienced Western popularization in recent years. Ida Panahandeh’s debut film “Nahid” is the most recent in this group of films, and while it might not be as shocking as “A Separation,” it is still a sharp and poignant piece that captures some of the most important social issues in its country.

“Nahid” focuses on women’s rights in what many regard as a conservative and highly patriarchal society. The film follows the story of Nahid (Sareh Bayat), a divorcée with an increasingly ungrateful and rebellious son (Navid Mohammadzadeh), as she struggles to pay both her rent and her son’s tuition with the humble salary that she earns from her job as a typist. She is pursued by Masoud (Pejman Bazeghi), a well-off and gentle middle-aged man who promises to save her from her financial troubles. Nevertheless, although Nahid also has feelings for Masoud, it is forbidden by law for her to have custody over her son if she remarries. Cornered by social expectations and the law, she has to make a choice between her son and her lover.

While the premise of the film is something very dry—a law clause—it manages to portray a bigger picture of the problems in Iranian society. As the audience follows Nahid’s painstaking search for help, her story exposes the influence of Islam in daily life, the harmfulness of Iran’s patriarchal system, and the social violence that ensues from poverty. For instance, an important subplot of the film is the fall of Nahid’s son. While at the beginning of the movie he is just a misbehaving child who does not pay attention to his schoolwork, he learns about the power of money as he hangs around the street and is taught to acquire it in fast but dangerous ways. At the story’s end, he is involved in gangs, and it is suggested that he will end up with a life similar to that of his violent, unaccompanied father and thousands of other ne’er-do-wells in modern Iran.

Another virtue of “Nahid” is that it is not overly didactic, and subplots unfold naturally as the story progresses. While it is evident that the director holds a political and moral position on the social phenomena depicted in the film, she also tries to present different aspects of the Iranian society in a realistic, objective way. On some occasions, however, the structure of the film is a bit loose; the director seems to be presenting what she sees indiscriminately, and the film tends to go stray from its most important topic.

As a debut film, “Nahid” is surprisingly mature and gives a vivid and realistic representation of a mother struggling within social restrains. It invites the audience to share Nahid’s worries, happiness, and troubles, and to ponder broader questions about modern societies.

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