Director: Behnam Behzadi
Cast: Sahar Dolatshahi, Ali Mosaffa, Roya Javidnia, Ali Reza Aghakhani
Watch Inversion online in the UK: Curzon Home Cinema / iTunes / Amazon Instant Video
Screened in Un Certain Regard section at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, Inversion – going by the name Varoonegi in its native Persian – is the latest film from director Behnam Behzadi. As in his critically acclaimed The Rule of Accident (2013), we’re once again presented with a cross-generational strife among a family in modern day Iran.
Inversion’s heroine, Niloofar (Dolatshahi), appears to be the epitome of a successful modern Iranian woman – she runs her own business and is happily single. But the realities of Iranian society, and the equally suffocating pollution in Tehran, are revealed when Niloofar’s mother (Shirin Yazdanbakhsh) suffers a pulmonary embolism. The doctor orders that she be relocated to the clean air of the countryside, and Niloofar’s brother (Mosaffa) and married sister (Javidnia) make it clear where Niloofar’s duties lie.
The film’s title is a reference to thermal inversion, the meteorological condition that contributes to smog, but is more directly a description of Niloofar’s fate as familial obligations trump her desires. Watching this plucky, optimistic woman’s life being unpicked stitch by stitch is heartbreakingly reminiscent of George Bailey’s downward spiral in A Wonderful Life. But Niloofar’s sense of duty isn’t her own, forced on her as it is by her siblings and in-laws; she’s the unmarried sister, so she’s the one who has to look after mother. Right? Watching these mean-spirited individuals bend tradition to mask their own self-interest is maddening.
The screenplay is more functional than sparkling, although its characters are well drawn, and the set-up is inspired. The story rather fizzles out and doesn’t make the most of the stakes raised earlier in the narrative. But, with the addition of a well-utilised Tehran – the city shrouded in smog is truly shocking – this is a slow-burning but compelling character-piece, with a wonderful central performance from Dolatshahi.
As a metaphor for the position of women in Iranian society, it’s subtly subversive. Observing the unfolding crisis throughout is Niloofar’s young niece who clearly idolises her liberated auntie. The truth she learns is a woman can be free in Iran, so long as the men in her life don’t mind.
Inversion is available now in UK cinemas and on VOD.