Film Review: Fireworks WednesdayAsghar Farhadi’s exquisite, complex family drama approaches class conflicts and contrasts in contemporary Iran with a richly layered story, mostly set inside an upper-middle-class family’s chaotic apartment.
Thanks in large part to the international success of the Oscar-winning A Separation, American distributors are now fortunately tapping into the growing cinephile interest in the exceptional writer-director Asghar Farhadi’s earlier work. Following the 2015 release of About Elly—Farhadi’s gripping 2009 mystery about the disappearance of a young woman during a seaside getaway in northern Iran—the newly formed Grasshopper Film is opening Fireworks Wednesday (co-written by Mani Haghighi), an outstanding, characteristically intricate domestic drama and A Separation’s closest thematic companion among Farhadi’s filmography.
An expert practitioner of the art of dramaturgy, Farhadi is known to construct his stories with layers of signature attributes where truth takes and is perceived in many shapes and forms, and from various vantage points until it sets in the eye of the beholder. Yet the ties that connect A Separation with Fireworks Wednesday reach far beyond this common denominator: Both films are microcosmic studies of two different social and economic segments of Iranian society that live and work in close proximity to each other. In A Separation, our entryway to the story is through an upper-middle-class couple with a growing dilemma, which gradually worsens especially after they hire a temporary maid. Contrastingly in Fireworks Wednesday, the subjects that form a seemingly similar premise are swapped in their order of introduction, as a young woman named Rouhi (Taraneh Alidoosti) from the lower ranks of the society leads us into the chaotic bubble of an upper-middle class about to burst.
Recently engaged and with a temporary job cleaning the apartment of Mojdeh (Hediyeh Tehrani) and Morteza (Hamid Farokhnezhad), Rouhi arrives at their residence in an apartment building to find a complete mess with boxes, misplaced furniture and various supplies scattered all around. Not entirely sure if she’s even wanted to do the job (as Mojdeh doesn’t necessarily welcome her with open arms), Rouhi tries to get through her work quietly until she finds herself more and more deeply involved with the couple’s situation, which isn’t any less messy than the state of their home. The increasingly frantic Mojdeh—who’s getting ready for a trip to Dubai the very next day with her family—suspects her husband is cheating on her with their next-door neighbor Simin (Pantea Bahram), who runs a beauty salon out of her apartment. She and Morteza constantly engage in hostile bickering. Nothing seems ready for their departure. And as if that weren’t enough, their broken buzzer adds to the list of complications on a very busy day (a deceptively insignificant detail that becomes crucial in unpacking the frenzied action later on), leaving them at the mercy of their neighbors to answer the door for their guests and vendors. A silent, innocent but nonetheless perceptive observer of it all, Rouhi in the end teams up with Mojdeh and visits Simin’s salon (What better excuse than her upcoming wedding?) with the hopes of gathering some information. Though she is not exactly told of what nature.
In a position to approach the truth from both sides of the coin, Rouhi slowly puts the pieces together regarding the couple’s dynamics and Simin’s potential involvement, yet Farhadi and Haghighi’s tightly knit story keeps us on our toes throughout, turning the eventual and precise arrival of facts (which inevitably lead to more questions) into a detective game of sorts. As in the rest of his work, interiors and physical space play an incredibly important role in Fireworks Wednesday, with rooms, doors, walls, hallways and even bathroom vents organically transmitting a narrative that often gracefully shifts its shape. The constant tease of imminent danger, skillfully aided and heightened by the frequent and aggressive outside sounds of firecrackers (the story takes place on a very festive Iranian holiday that gives the film its title)—whether it arrives or not—drives the suspense forward. Both inside and outside the apartment’s walls, Farhadi cleverly tiptoes around and hints at social issues such as women’s place in Iranian society and the future of its children (not dissimilar from A Separation in that regard either), as well as concepts like masculinity/machismo, fidelity, family and even feminism, to a degree. Fireworks Wednesday, like the entirety of the filmmaker’s work, is full of moments packed with meaning and clues. The resulting effect is so rich, satisfying and gratifying that you don’t wish to blink even for a split second, in order to not miss out on any of its subtleties.
A finely tuned, masterful work, Fireworks Wednesday argues that even the most mundane-looking normalcy in life can be pregnant with secrets, bidding its time to burst and crackle like fireworks, setting its contained universe on fire. It’s an argument that threatens everyone, ultimately encouraging and educating us all to become better observers and judges of conflict, be it familial or societal.
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