Here, as in ABOUT ELLY/’09, A SEPARATION/’11 and THE PAST/’13, writer/director Asghar Farhadi uses his favored narrative technique of incremental revelations to shift the narrative winds & keep us guessing. In this early feature, a constant eruption of Tehran New Year’s celebrations jar from every street corner as a young bride starts a new job cleaning the apartment of a squabbling, near irrational couple. The place, a mess from a recent, violent dispute, barely gets touched before the young woman finds herself caught up in a series of half-truths, running ‘special favors’ for one spouse or the other that could well implicate her in some fresh deceit. Like the couple’s young son, she winds up stuck in the middle. But as one side tugs against the other, Farhadi brings in his dramatic masterstroke and has the girl drop neutrality to take sides. Audience surrogate or scheming participant? Technically, the film is less polished then Farhadi’s later work, and shows the strain of keeping all the pieces of his puzzle moving each deception along. Like a not quite air-tight ‘well-made’ play, you hear the gears grind. But even when it’s too tricked up for its own good, the portrait of stressful modern city life among a certain level of middle/upper-middle class Iranian society is striking.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY/DOUBLE-BILL: Farhadi’s best balanced film remains A SEPARATION, but he’s got to break out of this structural vise of reverses & revelations before it becomes a crutch.