This is a subtle exploration of the quarter life crisis, Tehran-style, guerilla shot with an apology to anyone inadvertently in the film.
Hanieh teaches in the outskirts of Tehran where it seems more rural than suburban. She navigates the administrative bureaucracy, mostly dispassionately, as she seeks a transfer to a school closer to home. She is not in sync with the religious indoctrination of the school and her efforts to transfer are not helped by the fact that she does not regularly cover herself more than legally necessary and doesn't know whether or not it is OK for students to expose their necks. Her headmistress admonishes the young girls to follow all the restrictions placed on them and is often yelling through a loudspeaker, telling them to stop kicking a soccer ball, to replace headscarves or to be careful now that they are becoming women. And yet Hanieh turns a student in for wearing nail polish and yells at the girls for dancing. Every time she enters her classroom she stares out the window, looking for some escape or excitement.
But she is suffering from ennui so there is little hope for much change. Her life has stalled due to the recent death of her parents, her seeming indifference to her boyfriend, her dislike for her job and her school and a failed an engagement. The only affection she shows is for her sister who is expecting a baby. These are the personal circumstances but it is clear that Hanieh is suffering from lack of opportunities for women in Iran. The larger religious and political context (and how it affects the most personal aspects of life) is explicit, simmering below the surface, but not commented on.
Hanieh's only development is a potential friendship with a man she meets in a coffee shop who seems to be some kind of antiques dealer. With this new acquaintance she can be free, even laugh a little. The intense fatigue which seems to hang over her lifts briefly.
In the most beautiful scene, she sits in a school bus staring straight ahead while the girls around her select a dance and then croon and dance to their hearts' content. Their joy and freedom are intoxicating and overwhelming. We can't know if Hanieh is indifferent or envious.
The impassive face of Dorna Dibaj, the lead actress, is mesmerizing. Her expression almost never changes and yet it suggests so much. Paradise, made by Sina Ataeian Dena, has few emotional ups and downs but remains compelling.
September 27 8:30 pm International Village #9