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Septembers of Shiraz (9/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 110 minutes.

Not for children.

When I was in law school at the University of Virginia Jim Bakhtiar was attending medical school there. He had been an All-American football player in 1957. By the time I got there for law school, he was in medical school and playing rugby along with a Law School classmate of mine. He was known as an almost superhuman, indestructible animal, in the best sense of the word, on the rugby field.

Although I didnít have anything to do with him he was the kind of guy you never forgot. He had been born in Iran and returned in the mid-70s, just in time for the Jimmy Carter Ė inspired Iranian revolution that put the Ayatollah Khomeini in power. Bakhtiar was arrested and imprisoned for a month, and realized he had to get out of Iran in order to save himself and his son. What followed was a long trek from Tehran to the Turkish border (my understanding is that he walked out, and itís approximately 656 miles!), which he did successfully.

While everybody knows what happened when the Islamic Radicals took over Iran and held a bunch of Americans hostage, knowing that the weak and feckless Carter would be helpless, nobody thinks what happened to the millions of Iranians who were not Islamic, and especially the Jews in Iran. This is that story.

This film is based on a novel by Dalia Sofer and from a script by Hanna Weg. It is well directed by Wayne Blair who keeps the tension rising throughout as Jewish jeweler Isaac (Adrian Brody) is summarily arrested at his office without warning, just because he is Jewish and had taken trips to Israel, and taken from his wife, Farnaz (Selma Hayek) and thrown into a dungeon prison.

I have no idea if the novel was inspired by Bakhtiarís story, but what Isaac goes through canít be far off that which was experienced by Bakhtiar.

This film expertly captures what it must be like to have your life suddenly turned around into total chaos, the hopelessness, the helplessness, and the despair that descends when thrown into a dungeon where people all around you are being executed on a daily basis. Brody does a superb job of acting, as does Hayek. The cinematography (Warwich Thornton) and production design (Anne Beauchamp) are exceptional and capture the ambience of the situation.

Added to the mix is the Aminsí longtime housekeeper, Habibeh (Shohreh Aghdashloo) who seems to support the revolution and her son who is active, and reveals many deep-seated ambivalences she has about her relationship with the Amins. This is one of the best aspects of the film, as it shows the conflicting emotions of different classes of Iranians and deals with them without taking sides without ever relenting on the basic story of the bare brutality and hypocrisy of the Islamic Jihadists that took over the country and turned our best ally in the Middle East into the most dangerous and implacable enemy we have ever had.

When producers Gerard Butler and Alan Siegel approached Sofer for the rights to turn her novel into a movie, she was initially reluctant because she said the story was so intensely personal to her she didnít know if she could bear to give it to a filmmaker. They convinced her that they could do a job that would satisfy her and she finally relented. From my viewing, they did their job well.