By Daniel Barnes
*Opens today at the Landmark Opera Plaza in San Francisco at the Landmark Shattuck in Berkeley.
After the overwhelming acclaim of A Separation and a mini-crossover with The Past, the early films of Iranian director Asghar Farhadi have started trickling into American arthouses. His excellent 2009 film About Elly toured stateside arthouse theaters last year, and now his 2006 drama Fireworks Wednesday gets a brief Bay Area run.
Compared to his later works, the production values in Fireworks Wednesday are positively primitive, close to a glorified student film in the use of simple sets, so-so actors and stock sound effects. However, the maturity of the mise-en-scene and the quiet confidence of the storytelling indicate a significant talent, one that would flower in later and better films.
The story is simple but still a bit bloated. On the eve of her wedding, a cleaning woman gets trapped in the middle of a wealthier couple’s domestic dispute, held out all night as the suspicious wife and bellowing husband play out a bourgeois drama. It all takes place on the fireworks-heavy celebration that precedes the Iranian New Year, and the constant sound of explosions on the soundtrack makes for a brilliant (if on-the-nose) commentary on the narrative.
There are some slow passages but also some stunning sequences, such as a shot of a violent street scene taken from a moving glass elevator. It’s interesting to see Farhadi work out his thematic obsessions (the limited options for women in Iranian society, and the ways that bureaucratic systems rub off on their subjects) in an early and semi-formed effort.