It is the last Wednesday Eve before the Persian New Year and all of the inhabitants of Tehran are out celebrating in the streets the festival of “Chaharshanbe-Soori”. Also known as the Persian Fire Jumping Festival, it sees the locals making large bonfires in the street and then proceeding to jump over the flames for what is considered a cleansing ceremony in the hope that enlightenment and happiness will follow in the coming year. As well as the bonfires in the street, fireworks are also being constantly let off, and nary a moment goes by without the sound of a cracker exploding. When young housemaid Roohi is sent to the apartment of Mozhde and Morteza by her company to help the couple with the cleaning of their place before they head off for an extended holiday to Dubai the following day, she unwittingly becomes involved in fireworks of a completely different manner. It is on this day that emotions boil over between Mozhde and her husband Morteza after she is convinced that he is having an affair with a neighbour. Mozdhe is such an emotional mess regarding the situation that she appears on the verge of a nervous breakdown, but no matter how much she accuses her husband of infidelity, he always has evidence to back up that she is mistaken. The accusations and suspicions are taking its toll on this couple, but is there anything to justify these suspicions or is Mozhde completely paranoid? Through brief conversations with the neighbours in passing, Roohi understands they all think Mozhde is crazy, and her interactions with the woman herself earlier in the day seem to prove this theory as well, but with her entering this world of strangers with fresh eyes, Roohi is able to pick up on a number of lies and mistruths being told. Without knowing the full story or who is actually telling the truth, she has to decide whether or not to get involved in this couple’s problems.
“Fireworks Wednesday” is Iranian director, Asghar Farhadi’s third feature film and like all of the others that I have seen, is really impressive. Like always for a Farhadi film, the screenplay is fantastic and rooted in absolute honesty. The dialogue is intense and with the huge amount of dialogue that is presented in the film, it makes the atmosphere within the film very tense and it is actually quite exhausting to watch because of this. You understand right from the beginning the ramifications of the disagreement; if the couple cannot work out their problems on this day, they will not be together for very long after it. The intensity is brought on from the fact that we have a character who is on the verge of having a breakdown; she is seriously affected by everything that is going on or what she assumes is going on and as such her actions are not always well thought out, nor is what she is saying half the time. The big example to highlight this is when she sends Roohi, a girl she had never met before today, to pick up her son from school while she attempts to spy on her husband who turns out to be innocently doing his job at his place of employment.
One aspect of the film that I admit I found incredibly distracting was the loudness of “Fireworks Wednesday”. Obviously Asghar Farhadi always strives for realism and in this regard I assume it must be factual, but the constant sounds of fireworks going off were painful. Also because of the intensity in the fight between Mozhde and Morteza, a large portion of the dialogue is actually shouted. Again, it makes the film feel very real, but it also made me feel a little uncomfortable.
While the screenplay is usually the strongest aspect of a Farhadi film, “Fireworks Wednesday” excels because of the brilliant performances by all of the actors. It is a supremely acted picture but without a doubt Hediyeh Tehrani, who plays Mozhde, steals the film with her raw and emotionally filled performance. She is amazing as she really does come across as someone who could break down at any second. She is incredibly intense and there are times when she walks around with this vacant look on her face as if she really has no idea what she is doing anymore. She also has a stunning scene in the bathroom with her sister when she confides in her about her suspicions. Tehrani gives a master class of acting in “Fireworks Wednesday”, but her co-stars are no slouches in that department either. Hamid Farokhnezhad, who plays Morteza, is similarly excellent as we see a man being weighed down by the constant accusations that ends up seeing him lashing out and doing things he normally despises in a man. When the film begins, Morteza has his hand bandaged after he punched it through one of the windows during an argument with Mozhde, and later in the movie he even strikes the woman, which he is disgusted in himself for doing (it is the first time he as ever hit anyone in his life), but it has gotten to the point where he, himself, has snapped. Both characters look exhausted throughout the film and you know if something doesn’t change soon, it is not going to end well. Even though Morteza does a lot of wrong (and uncharacteristic) things, through the sensitive portrayal of Farokhnezhad it is obvious that this is a good man who has just been pushed too far.
The thing I was most looking forward to in regards to “Fireworks Wednesday” was witnessing another performance from the beautiful Taraneh Alidoosti who plays Roohi here. What surprised me most though was how different she looked from her role in “Beautiful City”. I cannot put my finger on why she looks so different, but I will say that her infectious smile gives her away every time. In fact, her character Roohi, appears to be the only one in the film who is truly happy. She is a bride-to-be, due to be married in days, and she has a beautiful, bubbly personality. She is the light of this dark tale, and of course she is fantastic. It is funny, because at times I actually thought her character was a bit manipulative during the course of the film but I think that I was misreading certain scenes as they played out in front of me. Roohi is put in the middle of a difficult situation and obviously does not know what to do and who she should be trusting or befriending, so she just does what she thinks is right in the moment without giving too much thought about it.
One thing I will briefly mention is that I always praise Asghar Farhadi for his ability to disguise events or objects that will turn out to have significant importance later in the film. For the first time, however, in “Fireworks Wednesday” I was able to pick up on one of these things immediately. As soon as the moment happened (which I refuse to reveal), I knew it would have significance later on and sure enough, I was right. Knowing this though, did nothing to stop me enjoying the moment later on.
Finally, the visual style of “Fireworks Wednesday”, I found to be really stunning and quite unlike most films that come out of Iran. Some of the framing and cinematography from Hossein Jafarian was really surprising (in a great way), and I was really impressed by a number of overhead shots looking down on the action that aren’t all that common in Iranian cinema. My favourite visual moment though was the scene when Morteza travels down the elevator to street level to confront his wife. The camera is in the elevator with our actor and briefly leaves when he does, but as he confronts his wife, the camera retreats back in the elevator as it goes up again and we witness the violence performed on his wife from a distance. It is a brilliantly staged and timed shot.
Overall, “Fireworks Wednesday” was another enjoyable and emotional film from Asghar Farhadi. While smaller in scope than his previous film “Beautiful City”, it is no less intense. The film is littered with brilliant performances; none better than Hediyeh Tehrani who plays the fragile Mozhde. Normal to Farhadi’s films, “Fireworks Wednesday” does not have a conclusive ending although it is fairly easy to assume what will happen next in the lives of Mozhde and Morteza. Even though the constant noise from the fireworks drove me to distraction, I still thought “Fireworks Wednesday” was a great piece of cinema and it has got me primed and excited for Asghar Farhadi’s new film “The Past” (which he shot in France).