One of the greatest perks of living in a cinematic hub like Toronto is the large number of festivals and retrospectives that run all year long. TIFF is, of course, the parent festival and the organization's year-around activities are the prime destination for any cinephile living in this city, but the smaller festivals offer their own share of pleasures. This year saw the inaugural edition of Scarborough Film Festival, founded by Sergei Petrov, whom I've had the pleasure of knowing from a few years back when we crossed paths somewhere along the TIFF hierarchy. The festival, located at the beautiful Fox theatre along the seaside, southeastern edge of Toronto, was a success by all measures and will surely grow into a landmark summer event as years go by, since Scarborough's culturally diverse demographic and the dreamy locale that hosts the festival provide the perfect platform for a rising festival slightly removed from the frenzy of downtown.
The festival's closing film was from Iran, making me doubly excited to be there. It's a film called A Respectable Family, by director Masoud Bakhshi. Bakhshi's first film, Tehran Has No More Pomegranates! has found something of a cult following among Iranian cinephiles so I was quite happy to catch up with his work here. All the more so when the jury announced prior to the screening that the Bakhshi was the runner-up for the festival's best director prize.
A Respectable Family tells the story of Arash (Babak Hamidian), a young Iranian university professor who has spent the last 22 years of his life serving the academia in Europe. Upon receiving an invitation from the University of Shiraz in his native city, Arash heads back home to spend a year as a guest professor; but Iran's many political upheavals have created an entirely different atmosphere from the one he'd left behind. Yet, it isn't his unfamiliarity with the academic system or the city of Shiraz at large that discomforts him the most; it's his dysfunctional family, ravaged by decades of betrayal and war.
Arash's father, an ostensibly pious man who provided people with food during the Iran-Iraq conflict, had actually committed one of the greatest crimes during that war: hoarding. The minimal amount of resources he provided to the people in need paled in comparison with what he hid in his storage to sell for magnified prices. His personal life was no less tainted than his social one - he had been married prior to his communion with Arash's mother (played by two of my favorite Iranian actresses, a young Behnaz Jafari and an older Ahu Kheradmand), though the marriages had been kept secret from both wives. Arash, as a result, had two brothers: a half brother called Jafar (Mehran Ahmadi) from his father's previous marriage and a blood brother who has been killed in the war after his father had persuaded him to join the forces. Arash's mother, blaming her husband not just for cheating, but for losing their son to war, had shunned the man and chosen to live the rest of her life alone and on a very minimal income.