Film review: SEPTEMBERS OF SHIRAZ, from ‘Built For Speed’

The awkwardly titled Septembers of Shiraz, a cinema adaptation of the successful 2007 Dalia Sofer novel, has been pilloried by critics. Much of the invective is justified although this film isn’t quite the monstrous squawking turkey filmgoers might fear.

Septembers of Shiraz places us amid the epochal events of Ayatollah Khomeini’s 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran. The focus of the story is Jewish businessman Isaac (Adrien Brody) and his wife Farnez (Selma Hayek) who live in Tehran and supposedly because of their wealthy privileged life, are declared public enemies by the revolutionary regime.   When Isaac is imprisoned, Farnez fights for some sort of explanation but she soon realises their only hope is to escape Iran.

This should have been a moving, potent and politically relevant story but its simplistic rendering of a complex history, lack of narrative subtlety, cardboard characters, clunky and at times unintelligible dialogue, scenery chomping performances from Brody and Hayek and clumsy direction from Aussie Wayne Blair, means it fails as a drama and does not do justice to a critical period in modern history. It touches on issues such as the economic inequality and imperial corruption that inspired the revolution but doesn’t examine these political concerns in any depth.

The film mostly alternates between clichéd interrogation scenes where Isaac is tormented by his Iranian captor and melodramatic scenes of his wife squabbling with authorities.  Admittedly, some of the scenes in which Isaac is tortured are reasonably confronting and the prison has a strange, intimidating, other worldly quality reminiscent of Midnight Express.

The film’s latter stages, however, introduce some unconvincing action scenes that further damage its credibility including a ludicrous car chase in which a motorbike pursuing Isaac and his family seems to be travelling about the speed of a sleepy tortoise.

The film is bolstered, though, by a strong performance from veteran Iranian actress Shohreh Aghdashloo as the family’s maid who begins to question the economic and social disparities between the average Iranian and the wealthy westerners who profit under the Shah.

Despite its embarrassing flaws, the plot of this film is at least coherent and the milieu of 1979 Tehran is fairly convincing so, instead of an outright dud, Septembers of Shiraz comes off as a second rate telemovie that has somehow slipped onto the big screen.

Nick’s rating: **.

Genre: Drama.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Wayne Blair.

Release date: 7thJuly 2016.

Running time: 110 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.

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