Playing out over the course of one day over the Persian New Year, Asghar Farhadi’s 2006 film has only recently arrived in the UK, courtesy of Axiom Films. A sophisticated drama, Fireworks Wednesday is further proof of the formidable talents of the director of About Elly, A Separation and the forthcoming The Past.
Rouhi, played superbly by Taraneh Alidoosti (About Elly), is a young woman engaged to be married in a little over a week’s time. Farhadi introduces her riding on the back of her fiance’s motorbike – they are happy, carefree and at ease with each other. Though we spend little time with the couple Farhadi is deliberately showing us their happiness in order to contrast it with the anguish Rouhi will encounter in the Samiei household.
Rouhi heads to an employment agency in order to earn more money for the marriage and is hired as the maid for a middle class couple who love on the far side of the city. She gets to the apartment building only to find that the buzzer for the family she is to work for doesn’t work, and none of the other residents are willing to let her in. They are all immediately suspicious of outsiders and Rouhi’s lower class standing certainly seems to be on their minds. There are muttered comments about car stereos being stolen and the particular intentions of the building’s many visitors. In the building’s courtyard children fire BB guns and throw firecrackers at each other, the echoing booms of their toys are a recurring accompaniment to the domestic fireworks Rouhi is soon to encounter.
When Rouhi is finally let in she is dismayed to find the apartment is an absolute tip – the furniture is covered in dust sheets while clothes, rubbish and broken glass covers the floor. It is not at first clear if the couple are newly arrived or if there is some other reason for the disarray. At first only the husband Morteza is in the flat and he spends most of the time arguing on the phone while occasionally whispering directions to the startled Rouhi. Eventually his wife Mojdeh arrives home and a ferocious argument breaks out between her and Morteza – he is rushing off to work but she reminds him of his promise that they would talk that morning – neither bring up the problem of which they were supposed to be talking about but both find plenty of reason to hurl abuses at each other. After Morteza flees Mojdeh promptly tries to get rid off Rouhi, who is reluctant to leave as the money was important to her.
Once Rouhi leaves Mojdeh starts searching around the house, stares at the phone, and runs off after Rouhi. We learn that she suspects her husband is having an affair and has decided to enlist Rouhi’s help in investigating her husband’s activities. There’s humour in the contrivances that see Rouhi perpetually returning to the flat after she’s left, been sent away or finished for the day; she returns at one point to get her chador which she has left in the apartment and is subsequently rehired; later she is asked to look after the son. At least part of this is her persistent curiosity regarding the truth behind the conflict between Mojdeh and Morteza. Rouhi seems determined not to go home without learning the full story, and when she is sent away in the morning she lingers in the courtyard for a long time.
Farhadi changes the perspective within the film several times and each time sheds a new angle on the central mystery – is Mojdeh right to be suspicious of her husband or is her paranoia the sole cause of their now tempestuous marriage? At times Rouhi seems weirdly complicit in the conflict, as if she is trying to engingeer its outcome; why she would do this is a further puzzle. At other times she seems to be no more than an innocent bystander desperate to broker peace. At one point Farahadi has the audience convinced to one particular conclusion but the subtlest of gestures reveasl another twist. There’s a delectable thrill in unravelling the threads of Farhadi’s masterful drama.
As the day and the film draw to an end the action moves outside as the drama reaches a tipping point. The New Year celebrations are in full sway but Hossein Djafarian’s cinematography make them deeply sinister as fireworks explode in the streets and bonfires block the roads. It’s a tremendous climax to an absolutely riveting film.