I predicted, when I first saw the trailer for the new Salma Hayek/Adrien Brody film that the Rotten Tomatoes score would be low with few reviews, and sure enough, only ten critics bothered to review the film and it has a very low (30%) critical score. How did I know? Septembers of Shiraz is the story of a successful Jewish family that has to flee the Iranian Revolution in 1979, and who suffers at the hands of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard much in the way that the Jews suffered in pre-Holocaust Germany, and the current narrative requires a serious downplaying of the similarities between Muslim regimes and the Nazis. In order to erase the “never” from “never again”, we have to first erase the “never” from “never forget”.
Isaac (Brody) is a successful gem cutter in Tehran with a nice business, who’s watching the revolution unfold onscreen with trepidation. His wife Farnez (Hayek) would rather he ignore all this TV news stuff, right up until his business is sacked by his faithless employees, and he is sent to a torture prison.
The cant these “revolutionaries” use had a canny resemblance to that from Che Guevara’s pals in Andy Garcia’s criminally neglected The Lost City which is not surprising, really, since this is part and parcel of the propaganda the Soviets used to destroy Western Civilization. It’s identical to the cant of the various identity groups active in the news today: They steal Isaac’s stuff for “justice”. They’re sure he was in league with the corrupt regime of the Shah. They try to wring a confession out of him, but there isn’t one to be had.
As with all these sorts of revolutions (and almost all revolutions), revenge is the biggest purpose of the thugs that ride around doing violence in the name of the new regime. Having identified success in the old regime as proof of criminality, the rebels define the failures of their own lives as the result of unidentified oppression caused by the hated groups.
The contrast in the success of this propaganda is seen in Habibeh (the great Shoreh Aghdashloo, Stoning of Soraya M. and who gets to be head of the Federation in the upcoming Star Trek Beyond) and her son Muezzin (relative newcomer Ben Youcef, who does a fine job here). Habibeh has taken to heart some of the messages of the revolution: Why should some people have so much and others have so little? Never mind that Isaac and Farnez didn’t start out rich. Never mind that they rescued Habibeh and Muezzin from the streets. Never mind that Muezzin’s the exact sort of loser that revolutionaries target, and the exact sort of loser who would use the strife as an excuse to steal from his benefactor. Never mind that he would go so far as to try to find a way to absolutely destroy Isaac.
But Habibeh is his mother, and she can be forgiven for thinking better of him than he deserves. And Farnez is haughty. Perhaps more importantly, and relevant to today, Farnez lives in a bubble where she is protected from certain strains of thought, and they’re so outrageous and obviously wrong that she tends to laugh at them when Farnez expresses them. This obviously doesn’t help her case much. But Habibeh comes to see her son more clearly as he expects to be able to use his newfound fundamentalism to order her around. By that time, of course, it’s too late. And this is arguably allegorical for all of Iran.
Tremendous performances all around, naturally. Brody won an Oscar for his breakout role as a persecuted Jew in The Pianist, and ten years has, if anything, enriched his ability to excite the sympathies. And while we’ve seen Hayek be proud before—something she’s excelled at over the years—there is a moment in this film where she realizes her own culpability for her situation (talking to Habibeh) which is excellent. And so on. On the basis of the acting alone, this is a good movie. (And I haven’t even mentioned all the players, like the torturer, who was chillingly brilliant.)
But the story is solid as well: It’s a classic tale of injustice and wrongful persecution, such as audiences love, except when Muslims are the bad guys and Jews are the victims, apparently. The ending has some solid moments of suspense, although I felt that perhaps director Wayne Blair (The Sapphires, on the strength of which we saw this film) and first-time screenwriter Hannah Weg may have been trying to avoid sensationalism by being less cinematic than the actual events warranted and that Dalia Sofer’s novel describes.
Nonetheless, while not the masterpiece that producer Hayek’s last overlooked film was (Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet), it’s still a fine piece of moviemaking. And all the carping from Muslims who don’t want to acknowledge that the Revolution purged non-Muslims from Iran, and all the Leftists who think the movie is a Jewish plot to incite the USA into war against Iran can’t change that.