Maryam

Writer-director Ramin Serry's rough but charming debut feature is set in the late 1970s, but its subject — ethnic profiling during a time of international crisis — could hardly be more contemporary. It's 1979, the year of Iran's Islamic Revolution: The Shah has been deposed and the exiled Ayatollah Khomeini has made a triumphant return. In suburban...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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Writer-director Ramin Serry's rough but charming debut feature is set in the late 1970s, but its subject — ethnic profiling during a time of international crisis — could hardly be more contemporary. It's 1979, the year of Iran's Islamic Revolution: The Shah has been deposed and the exiled Ayatollah Khomeini has made a triumphant return. In suburban New Jersey, Mary Armin (Marriam Parris), an ambitious Iranian-American high-school student, awaits the arrival of her Iranian cousin, Ali (David Ackert), who's coming to study physics at the local university. Ali, whose father was killed years earlier under mysterious circumstances involving the Shah's secret police, is a recent convert to Islamic fundamentalism, so Mary's father, Dr. Armin (Shaun Toub), warns her to be respectful of traditions that may at first strike her as strange. But Mary isn't prepared for the hatred Ali carries with him — hatred for the United States, which he refers to as the Great Satan, and hatred for Dr. Armin, whom Ali blames for his father's death. Ali does warm up to Mary — though he insists on calling her by her traditional Persian name, "Maryam" — despite the fact that he disapproves of her Western ways. But however much the friction between Ali and Dr. Armin upsets the household, it's nothing compared to what follows the storming of the American embassy in Tehran, when a group of Iranian students take 52 Americans hostage and a wave of anti-Iranian sentiment sweeps over Mary's once-peaceful community. The film is in many ways typical of such family dramas as MISSISSIPI MASALA, in which first-generation immigrants find themselves at odds with children who, unconcerned with their heritage, are assimilating faster than their parents. Mary is often at odds with her traditional father, who forbids her to date or wear makeup, but is secretly encouraged by her far more lenient mother (wonderfully played by Shohreh Aghdashloo). But what makes this film special is Serry's ability to take what is essentially a contained family conflict and put it into a much larger historical context. As the community turns against Mary and her family, she must recognize her cultural identity and, in a sense, become Maryam. The English-born Parris is also an asset, both a feisty talent and a welcome face in the otherwise bland pool of current teenage actors.

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  • Released: 2002
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Writer-director Ramin Serry's rough but charming debut feature is set in the late 1970s, but its subject — ethnic profiling during a time of international crisis — could hardly be more contemporary. It's 1979, the year of Iran's Islamic Revolutio… (more)

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