Beautiful City (2004)

Farhadi’s second feature is, in hindsight, a companion piece to A Hero—while it lacks the nuance of his later works, one can already witness his penchant for telling intricately-plotted dramas about morality.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review #2,377

Dir. Asghar Farhadi
2004 | Iran | Drama | 98 mins | 1.85:1 | Persian
PG (passed clean)

Cast: Taraneh Alidoosti, Faramarz Gharibian, Babak Ansari
Plot: Akbar, 18, has been held in a rehabilitation centre for committing murder at the age of 16. Now, Akbar is transferred to prison to await the day of his execution. A’la, a friend of Akbar, tries desperately to gain the consent of Akbar’s plaintiff so as to stop the execution.
Distributor: Noori Pictures

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Law, Tradition, Morality
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: Oldham Theatre – Asghar Farhadi Retrospective
Spoilers: No

Beautiful City, Asghar Farhadi’s follow-up to his debut feature, Dancing in the Dust (2003), is, in hindsight, a companion piece to his latest, A Hero (2021). It shares similar themes and plot elements, particularly centering on a protagonist who is granted some time out of prison to solve a problem.

In this case, Ala must save his best friend, Akbar, who awaits the noose on his neck after turning eighteen in a prison for juveniles. 

Working together with Firoozeh, Akbar’s sister, they try to obtain consent for a reprieve from an old man whose daughter Akbar had romanced and murdered. At this early stage in his career, Farhadi’s penchant for telling intricately-plotted dramas is already evident.

“So, it is possible to forget someone you love.”

Although Beautiful City lacks the nuance of his later works, and it does occasionally feel as if the scenarios that he draws out seem too black or white, this or that, give or take, Farhadi somewhat succeeds in making a moral quandary out of the narrative.

Scenes of Firoozeh’s home beside a railway track are some of the film’s more vivid parts, beautiful in its liveliness, which is a stark contrast to the old man’s residence, drenched in a solemn mood much like his mental state. 

Beautiful City explores an idea that would not be readily apparent to those without contextual knowledge of Islamic law—that of ‘blood money’, which according to the film is a kind of monetary compensation to the family of a victim who has been murdered. 

True to his style, Farhadi deconstructs it through a gendered lens in the course of the narrative, but whether he is complicating things for the sake of it remains to be said.    

Grade: B+

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