Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire
Palmer's film is that rare concert doc that isn't for established fans only.
Girls just want to have fun, says Cyndi Lauper, and Maryam, a high school senior, is one of them. Yes, she's an honor student and anchors the news on the in-school TV program, but she also likes to hang out at the roller rink with her slacker boyfriend, and pot and booze are not unknown to her. In New Jersey in 1979, she is a typical teenage girl--until the Iran hostage crisis slaps her with an ethnic label that makes her an outsider at school and a rebel in her own home.
Maryam (Mariam Parris) is Iranian-American--or Persian, her father would say. Her parents emigrated from Iran before the fall of the shah, and settled comfortably into suburbia; her father is a doctor, her mother a warm, chatty neighbor, and Maryam (or "Mary," as she calls herself at school) doesn't think much about her Iranian or Muslim heritage. Then two things happen to force her to confront her history. The hostage crisis inspires knee-jerk hostility from her classmates (whose families also come from somewhere else), and her radical cousin Ali arrives from Tehran.
Ramin Serry's "Maryam," a film that cares too deeply for its characters to simplify them, doesn't indulge in tired cliches about the generation gap. Maryam's home life is strict but not unreasonable. Her father doesn't want her to date, places great emphasis on her grades, doesn't know about her boyfriend. He is not a cruel or domineering man, and Maryam, to her credit, knows her parents love her. She's caught between trying to be a good daughter and a typical teenager, and has found a workable middle ground before Ali arrives.
With Ali comes a history of family tension she knows nothing about. Ali is an orphan, the son of Mary's uncle, and so he must be taken in. It is more complicated than that. Her father, we learn, turned his brother in to the shah's secret police; he felt he had no choice, but is consumed by guilt. The blood-stained backgammon board Ali brings as a "gift" is an ominous reminder of times past.