The Oscar success of Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation (2011) and the critical acclamation at this year’s Cannes Film Festival for his first European film, The Past (2013), has paved the way for a revaluation of the Iranian director’s earlier work. Last year saw the theatrical release of the sublime About Elly (2009), and now Farhadi’s third feature, Fireworks Wednesday (2006), is now available to own on DVD. An intimate portrait of the eroding sanctity of marriage set against the backdrop of the Persian New Year, Fireworks Wednesday depicts the strained dichotomy between the middle and lower classes of capital city Tehran.
A complex ballet that sees tradition clash with the liberal condition of affluent Iranians, Farhadi’s story is refreshingly told almost entirely through a female vantage point. We begin with Rouhi (Taraneh Alidoosti) and her fiancé as they flirt with each other on a motorcycle ride into town. She’s on her way to secure some temporary work as a cleaner, but their journey is halted when her chador becomes caught in the bike’s back tire. Distraught, she tries to hide from her future husband, ashamed that someone might see her. However, her traditional views are soon tested when she arrives at her assignment: cleaning the apartment of a married couple in the middle of a heated dispute.
Privy to a marriage that’s evaporating in front of her eyes, Rouhi finds herself used as a pawn throughout the couple’s endless confrontations and exchanges. Concluding with a final scene soundtracked by the exploding fireworks of New Year’s celebrations, the film begins to resemble a war epic, an appropriate metaphor for the everyday conflict in these characters’ lives. As with all of Farhadi’s films there’s a frailty behind his characters, with their insecurities and moral dilemmas bubbling to the surface as the director slowly raises the temperature in this pressure cooker of domestic strife. Nervous editing and sinuous cinematography also give the impression that Farhadi is choreographing his stars rather than directing them.
Repeatedly shifting our perspective, we’re forced to question our assumptions about these imperfect individuals through a combination of classical storytelling and some deft moments of intelligent wordplay and cogent composition. By involving us so deeply in these characters’ lives, Farhadi manages to make even the most mundane interaction feel important. Enhanced by the layered and nuanced performance of Hedyeh Tehrani as the depressed and suspicious wife whose malleable demeanour anchors the film with a sense of darkness, Fireworks Wednesday is a masterclass in the art of back-to-basics filmmaking – something Farhadi excels at.
Whilst the class and gender politics at the heart of the story reveal much about modern Iran, Farhadi’s humanist viewpoint make this a far more universal drama about the role of women in society and the global concern of a world governed by a domineering patriarchy. This corrosive account of male/female relationships is beautifully captured in one remarkable shot as we follow the husband in an elevator, only to find his distrusting wife disguised in Rouhi’s chador as she checks up on him at work. This image of man descending from his pedestal of power to demonstrate his dominance elegantly captures the central concerns at the heart of Farhadi’s wonderful film.