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New Release Review - TEHRAN: CITY OF LOVE

tehran city of love review
The travails of three lovelorn Tehranians.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Ali Jaberansari

Starring: Forough Ghajabagli, Mehdi Saki, Amir Hessam Bakhtiari, Behnaz Jafari

tehran city of love poster

A few months ago, a friend of mine was left by her husband. As a bystander you are very limited in what you can do in terms of support and sympathy in such cases: the hermetic nature of relationships means that each one is their own private beast, with each particular coupling held together by its own idiosyncrasies and peccadilloes which an outsider could and should really never get to grips with. And so, when a relationship breaks up, you feel like the loneliest person in the world (I would imagine). There’s a reason why they call them ‘your partner’, after all. Back to my abandoned mate; at the time, everyone sort of made the right sad noises and soothingly intoned platitudes about ‘giving it time’ and suchlike. But I’m there thinking, fuck that. Being single, living your live unattached to another person, open to the unlimited opportunities of life and love and lust, it’s like being given the keys to Paradise every single evening. Being single makes each day a potential thrill, every night a new adventure. Time to step up, homegirl! I mean, do you ever see films about ‘couples’ who are ‘happily in love’? No, you do not, because it would be deeply boring. Now, I realise that this is not a popular opinion (an awareness reinforced by reactions to it over the last few months), but it’s a point of view which allows a certain reading of Tehran: City of Love, Ali Jaberansari’s dry-as-martini funny and deeply human study of three lovelorn individuals in the Iranian capital.

tehran city of love review
My internet dictionary defines the adjective ‘lovelorn’ as ‘being without love’; a condition so imperative that we have a name for it. Our hapless trio are in turn defined by their singledom: there is Hessam (Amir Hessam Bakhtiari), a deeply closeted bodybuilder; Mina (Forough Ghajabagli) an embittered receptionist who is what society’s so-so hegemonies consider ‘overweight’; and (most sad) Vahid (Mehdi Saki), a religious/club singer who is dumped (BY PHONE FOR SHAME) by his Mrs at the start of the film.

[ READ MORE: Review - Tehran Taboo ]

Instead of luxuriating in their singledom, each of our characters feel incomplete, as if not being with someone means that they are somehow not valid. It is this social ennui that Tehran: City of Love presents; this hope we have that being with someone will in some way accomplish our existence. Apart from Hessam, it’s not as if the characters even have a specific object of desire who they pine for from afar (which is, I will admit, a killer). Instead they have an intangible longing which they believe partnering up will fulfil. When Vahid is given the elbow over the phone his main concern is looking destitute in front of his parents, and the break-up sends the shy man into malaise, which manifests in him singing dirges at the work-for-hire which is his living.

tehran city of love review

Mina works at a cosmetic surgeon's, a loaded location which implicates how we are willing to chop and change our own flesh and blood not for ourselves (in this film, at least), but in order to better appeal to some unmet Prince or Princess Charming (apparently Tehran has the highest nose surgery rate in the world ☹); she spends her day recording the numbers of insecure men who book appointments, and her evenings putting on a sexy voice and anonymously ringing them up to meet on a date, which she then stands up at a distance (it is savage).

[ READ MORE: Review - 3 Faces ]

Which leaves Hessam, the character whom the film reserves its true heart for. A muscle-bound lug with my favourite ever hair style (receding and pulled back into a ponytail), who finds himself falling for a younger gym bunny, and becomes increasingly more infatuated with the handsome young buck. But even this understandable dynamic is not without insinuation: is this straightforward lust, or is it fortified by Hessam’s fading fortunes and the first cold shudders of a midlife crisis? I’m not one for giving a film points for political/social representations (it’s all about the art, maaaan), but it’s worth remembering that in Iran being in the gays is illegal, so fair play for this tender and poignant portrayal of forbidden desire. The pseudo-courtship is played out in coded visual puns: both lads sitting on a sofa giving it mutual wrist action as they shake their protein drinks, smoothly potting the balls and holes of a pool table and, of course, pumping for all they are worth in the gym. Bakhtiari is a magnetic presence, moving through the film with the heavenly grace of someone who will never ever need to prove their strength, and exuding a palpable and resigned sadness.

tehran city of love review
As the knowing irony of its title becomes increasingly clear, we see Tehran: City of Love exploring not relationships per se, but instead presenting three studies of loneliness, and the ensuing hopelessness of attempting to remedy that solitude through connections with other people, rather than the characters working it out on their own terms. For example, no one calls Mina fat, it is her own self-perception which leads to her spiteful actions. What makes Tehran: City of Love so compelling is its good humour and complete lack of pity for its characters, whom it never patronises. This is a rather lovely and witty film which has an abundance of affection and understanding for its star-crossed triumvirate. Maybe I’ll show it to my pal.

Tehran: City of Love is in UK cinemas October 11th.


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