In 1979, Iran finds itself in the throes of a revolution. People are arrested for supporting the Shah, religious ideologies are put to the test and citizens–neighbors, family, friends–find themselves on opposing sides of civil and religious resistance at the center of a country ready to implode from tensions. And this is putting it simply, which is ultimately one of the problems of “Septembers of Shiraz.”
Isaac (Adrien Brody) and his wife, Farnaz (Salma Hayek), have lived a good life. Along with their children, they’ve made a home for themselves and as a Jewish family, have prospered in Iran without any issues. Their eldest son has just moved to the United States for college and Isaac’s jewelry business is doing well. But in 1979, their prosperous life changes into one of devastation as Iran’s revolution begins. Isaac is arrested and taken in for questioning. Farnaz is left behind to tend to the life her husband has left behind. The rift in ideologies is most blatantly displayed during conversations between Farnaz and her housekeeper, Habibeh (Shohreh Aghdashloo), whose son, Morteza (Navid Navid) has newly open hatred for Isaac and his family. Isaac and Farnaz, separately, have to deal with jail, looting, invasion of privacy, and torture before being able to possibly start over.
It’s honestly depth-less portrayals of major events in a film such as “Septembers of Shiraz” that come across as largely lifeless. It’s almost like the film is trying to fill a quota and is throwing in the theatrics to try and see how many people can be swayed to feel sorry for any of the protagonists. The Iranian Revolution isn’t something one can nail down in a film, as there’s so much going on and it’s so multi-layered that to sweep most of its nuances and crucial moments under the rug is a disservice. Sure, choosing to focus on one family during this turbulent time in the country’s history could simplify things and bring heart, but the lead characters are one-dimensional and their trauma is not properly presented due to a lack of development.
Brody and Hayek are miscast as Isaac and Farnaz. They spend half the movie apart and everything about their struggles is so overly dramatic that it’s hard to take seriously without any proper context to fill the void. For example, there is no buildup to Isaac’s eventual arrest. Tensions are rising in Iran, but we’re only given a brief conversation between Brody and Hayek when Brody declares that “It’s bad!” after watching the news. Then, he’s arrested and forced to face a masked interrogator. The conversations between them aren’t interesting and only brush the surface of what’s really going on and why he’s arrested in the first place. His eventual release is all the more perplexing as we’re led to believe that, after torture and scare tactics, he’s free to go after his interrogator suddenly, and abruptly, develops sympathy. It doesn’t add up.
But even more confusing are Hayek’s conversations with Shohreh Aghdashloo’s character. They bait each other at every turn, but the discussions are disjointed and cut short every time. The explanations of the opposing sides are tainted in black and white of who’s right and wrong and instead of really getting involved in all of the politics, the film decides to try and raise tensions with open-ended conversations between two people that ultimately lead nowhere.
“Septembers of Shiraz” takes the easy way out and asks us to see everything through blurred glasses. The plot never builds up to anything significant, the character relationships are vague and staged for dramatics, and the film doesn’t begin to understand what it’s thrown itself into before attempting to avoid most of its major conflicts. The lack of emotion and depth makes for a movie that is hard to sit through, and all because it decides to tell and not show. It’s unfortunate to say that director Wayne Blair doesn’t do the plight of the characters, or the Iranian Revolution, any justice.
The lack of emotion and depth makes for a movie that is hard to sit through, and all because it decides to tell and not show. It's unfortunate to say that director Wayne Blair doesn't do the plight of the characters, or the Iranian Revolution, any justice.