Beautiful City

  • 2004
  • 1 HR 41 MIN
  • NR
  • Drama

While touching on subjects as serious and diverse as capital punishment, the devaluation of women in Iran and the true Islamic concept of forgiveness, this powerful melodrama from the Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi is anything but a message movie. Two years after murdering his teenage girlfriend in a fit of passion, 18-year-old Akbar (Hossein Farzi-Zadeh)...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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While touching on subjects as serious and diverse as capital punishment, the devaluation of women in Iran and the true Islamic concept of forgiveness, this powerful melodrama from the Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi is anything but a message movie. Two years after murdering his teenage girlfriend in a fit of passion, 18-year-old Akbar (Hossein Farzi-Zadeh) has been transferred from the youth detention center in the Shar-e Ziba ("Beautiful City") neighborhood of Tehran to the adult prison where his sentence — death by hanging — is to be carried out. The only things keeping him alive this long is the fact Akbar was a minor, and that his victim's father, Rahmati Abolqasem (Faramarz Gharibian), has been unable to pay the compensatory blood money that, in a bizarre and uniquely Iranian twist on Sharia law, he's required to pay Akbar's family. And even though in Iran the blood money is half what it would be had Akbar's victim been male, it's still far beyond what Mr. Abolqasem can afford. A'la (Babak Ansari), a young thief who befriended Akbar at the detention center, is determined to use whatever time Akbar has left to secure the one thing that can save him from the gallows: the forgiveness and consent of the plaintiff, Mr. Abolqasem. Immediately upon his release, A'la visits Akbar's beautiful older sister, Firoozeh (Taraneh Alidoosti), the unhappy wife of an addict who peddles soda, cigarettes and illegal drugs from his kiosk. Firoozeh, however, is far less optimistic about A'la's mission: She's already made countless attempts to win Mr. Abolqasem's consent, but has received only blows and curses for her efforts. Even though Mr. Abolqasem's own cleric urges him to leave justice to God and forgive his daughter's killer, two years of unrelenting grief has only hardened his broken heart. Undeterred, A'la appeals first to Mr. Abolqasem with a begging letter from Akbar, then to Mr. Abolqasem's more kindly disposed second wife (Ahoo Kheradmand), who devises a plan: If he and Firoozeh can come up with the money needed to cure her disabled daughter, she'll speak to Mr. Abolqasem herself. Unfortunately the cost of the operation is far more than either can afford, but his dedication to his friend — not to mention his growing love for Firoozeh — lead A'la to consider returning to a life of crime. While far more polished and less lyrical than the films of many of Farhadi's compatriots, this finely rendered film still packs a punch. While offering a refreshingly positive explication of Islamic concepts of justice, guilt and retribution, Farhadi also looks to Hollywood for inspiration: His ending rivals the final moments of THE HEIRESS for pure, unadulterated melodrama.

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