Fri, Aug 24, 2012, 01:00

Directed by Maryam Keshavarz. Starring Nikohl Boosheri, Sarah Kazemy, Reza Sixo Safai 107mins, club, IFI members

Well-heeled Tehran teen Atafeh (Boosheri) is in love with left-leaning Shireen (Kazemy), an orphan from the wrong side of the tracks. The girls dream of escape to Dubai where glitzy hotels might host glistening soft-lens shower scenes and sheet-grabbing girl-on-girl action. In the meantime, their Sapphic crush takes their clandestine love underground, into an illicit, intriguing world of house parties and ecstasy. But will Atafeh’s brother Mehran (Sixo Safai), a recovering drug addict turned devout Muslim, blab to the mullahs? “I pray every day so I know I’m clean,” he frowns at his sister: “I’m not so sure about you.” The ex-musician’s beliefs are informed by religious fervour, a dim view of girl power and – here’s the rub – his own crush on Shireen.

Keshavarz’s politically charged premise pivots on the tensions between modernity and theocracy; Mehran attempts to spy on the girls with cameras hooked up to a Mac Book Pro; a shot of a hijab- wearing woman serving tea to men in Speedos provides a shocking snapshot of sexual inequality; exemplary Islamic youngsters dub bootlegs of Sex in the City and Milk. Moments like these remind the viewer that they’re watching a landmark film and a necessary antidote to western representations of a docile, feudal Iranian population.

Even in Beiruit, here a stand-in for the more oppressive Tehran, the filmmakers felt the need to send a fake script to the Lebanese authorities, lest Hezbollah get wind of their true intentions. The shoot was disrupted by a police raid, nonetheless. The cast and crew, all drawn from the Iranian diaspora, likely won’t return to Lebanon or their ancestral homeland any time soon; the film and its director have already been banned by the authorities.

It’s ironic that a drama so deft in mining the schizoid oriental- occidental divide in Iran is almost undone by moments of unadulterated western cheese. The gloss and golden hue of Brian Rigney Hubbard’s cinematography is impressive, especially considering the budgetary constraints. If anything, it’s all a little too glossy, particularly set beside Jafar Panahi’s unvarnished depictions of Iranian women in Offside and The Circle. The cast are solid but unnecessarily pretty for kitchen-sink realities.

Debuting director Keshavarz is commendably angry and exuberant as she comes out shooting at religion as a patriarchal pretext for the control of female sexuality; then she gives us bikinis, killer heels and softcore smooching. Even Hollywood doesn’t subject us to Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart anymore.