Following the Iranian government's 2011 condemnation of one of the country’s most celebrate directors, Jafar Panahi, and following this year’s success of Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation at the academy awards, Iranian director Massoud Bakhshi’s drama A Respectable Family was selected to Cannes sidebar section Directors’ Fortnight. Bakhshi will hopefully benefit from this unprecedented international attention devoted to Iranian cinema. A Respectable Family is a camera d’or contender, a prize given to the best feature debut screening in Cannes, all sections mixed. Bakhshi had previously directed a fiction short film, Bagh Dad Bar Ber (awarded the Leopard de demain in 2008 at the Locarno Film Festival), and seven short documentaries, shown and awarded in several documentary festivals.
If in A Separation we saw a married womanstruggling for divorce so that she could move abroad, in A Respectable Family we see Iranian academic Arash back to his country for the first time in 22 years, but it would seem that he cannot wait to leave again. The malaise of contemporary Iran is portrayed in both films through the feelings of rejection and hopelessness of its characters towards Iranian society. But, whereas Farhadi exclusively focused his plot on the present, Bakhshi expands his reflection to the pastthree decades of the country's history, through the memories of his lead character and his not-so-respectable family.
“To me, Iran is impossible to grasp without taking the history of the past 30 years into account. I didn’t make up the story of A Respectable Family, it is a true story”, said Bakhshi, adding “the story of my childhood after the 1979 revolution, my teenage years during the war and of my experience today in Tehran.”
With such an ambitious task ahead, Bakhshi wrote an intricately crafted script. It starts in a suspenseful - shot in subjective pov - before quickly evolving towards a game of flashbacks and consequently returning to the present - a dynamic chronological approach that allows the film to depict both the lead’s childhood memories during the Khomeini years and his present problems under the Ahmadinejad regime.
The family affairs are as obscure (perhaps deliberately) as the relationships between the relatives, which sometimes leaves the audiences nearly as lost as Harash when confronted to the family’s financial issues and the country’s insufferable bureaucracies.
Babak Hamidian’s performance as Harash embodies a restrained restlessness, which may explode at any time. His look combines a disgusted incredulity and a desire for change, which, in the director’s own words, could easily represent “a youth that dreams of a tolerant Iran that is open to the rest of the world".