American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
With the through-the-roof achievements of his penetrating marital drama “A Separation” in 2011, Asghar Farhadi leapt over several of his world-renowned countrymen to become the most internationally successful Iranian auteur yet. After capturing the Golden Bear at Berlin, the feature, Farhadi’s fifth, went on to rake in unprecedented earnings for an Iranian film as well as a stream of honors that culminated in its becoming the first Iranian film to win the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.
Given the wide interest the film excited, it’s hardly surprising that curiosity regarding Farhadi’s little-seen earlier work has grown since. While he subsequently made a well-regarded drama set in France (“The Past,” 2013), U.S. viewers have recently been given the chance to see the two terrific films that preceded “A Separation”: “About Elly” (2009) was released last year, and “Fireworks Wednesday” (2006) arrives this week.
Although the three films can’t be called a trilogy, in a sense they form a group. Farhadi’s first two features, “Dancer in the Dust” and “Beautiful City,” were more typical of Iranian films in their relatively conventional (if very assured) styles and especially in their focus on lower-class or marginal characters. With “Fireworks Wednesday,” Farhadi turns his attention to the Iranian middle class and the strains within the marriages of people who are materially comfortable. Farhadi also introduces a style that is cooler, more intricate and refined. While “About Elly” displays these qualities at their most expansive and dramatically charged, “Fireworks Wednesday” is inarguably the film that most resembles “A Separation” and lays the groundwork for its brilliance.
The main location in both films is the apartment of an upper-middle-class Tehrani couple, yet the characters include not only that couple but also one from the lower social echelons. With a bit of clever misdirection, “Fireworks Wednesday” introduces the poorer characters first. Roohi (Taraneh Alidoosti) is a bright-eyed, young servant-for-hire who’s due to marry her boyfriend next week. Soon after we meet the two, they’re riding his motorbike on a mountain road when her chador gets caught in a wheel, forcing them to an abrupt stop. Though they laugh it off, the troublesome chador will recur in the film, essaying both symbolic and dramatic roles.