Somewhere in northern Tehran, a young couple rides a motorbike into town. They laugh, they play, she teases him, and then, her chador gets stuck in the gears of the motorbike.
“Whom are you hiding from?” he asks her, pointing to the stuck chador.
“You,” she teases him.
So begins one of Asghar Farhadi’s chamber pieces, Fireworks Wednesday (Chaharshanbe-soori), a movie that starts open and isn’t confined to any one room but is suffocating and confining nevertheless.
Farhadi, who won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film with A Separation (2011), is an Iranian-born filmmaker whose stock is on the rise. Initially released in 2006, Fireworks Wednesday finally receives a proper stateside theatrical run this week, giving American audiences a chance to see one of Iran’s great dramatists in an earlier stage in his career.
The woman on the bike is Roohi (Taraneh Alidoosti), a young bride who takes a job as a housekeeper to earn some money for the wedding. But the couple Roohi is hired to help is far from the playful period Roohi and her fiancé share: Roohi soon realizes that the wife, Mozhde (Hedye Tehrani), is losing it from suspicion and stress.
Mozhde believes that her husband, Morteza (Hamid Farokhnezhad), is having an affair with the next-door neighbor, and she’s driving herself crazy listening through air vents and imagining the worse. The house is in disarray, their child is suffering under the tension, and Mozhde is using Roohi as a spy, sending her to the beautician to prep for her wedding day, but only if she eavesdrops while there.
As one might expect, Mozhde’s suspicions are not unfounded, but Farhadi is not one to merely throw Morteza under the bus. Instead, Farhadi paints a pained but balanced picture, one where social manners are the confining aspect. Even Roohi trying to get into Mozhde and Morteza’s building complex is a source of frustration. The buzzer to Mozhde and Morteza’s apartment is broken—they cannot communicate with themselves, and they cannot communicate with others—and none of the neighbors want to let Roohi in for fear of being known as the one who let a stranger in.
And it doesn’t stop there. Morteza complains to a friend that his wife is no longer cooking for him. He doesn’t complain that he is hungry but that the neighbors no longer smell her food. What could they be thinking? What is the whole town thinking? What does Roohi think? Here, action is secondary to perception.
All of this is set against the backdrop of Persian New Year—the Wednesday before the spring solstice, punctuated by an endless parade of fireworks—where life may be born new again. But that life is not Mozhde and Morteza. Farhadi seems to have the least interest in them. Instead, Farhadi is much more interested in Roohi and her fiancé (Houman Seyyedi), a couple with hope, especially if they discard the past. That chador that hindered them in the opening scene, Roohi leaves it behind early on, and though they spend the movie trying to regain it, they never do. Good for them.
Fireworks Wednesday (2006)
Directed by: Asghar Farhadi
Written by: Asghar Farhadi, Mani Haghighi
Produced by: Jamal Sadatian
Starring: Hamid Farokhnezhad, Hediyeh Tehrani, Taraneh Alidoosti, Hooman Seyadi
Grasshopper Films, Not Rated, Running time 108 minutes, Opens April 8, 2016