Septembers of Shiraz
Directed by Wayne Blair
Starring Adrien Brody and Salma Hayek
2015; PG-13; running time: 1 hour, 10 minutes
Septembers of Shiraz is an adaptation of Dalia Sofer’s 2008 novel of the same name. It is based on true stories and echoes the shock and drama of the Holocaust, prior to which the Jews of Germany had enjoyed emancipation, assimilation and socio-economic stability. In 1979, the Jews of Iran were caught, like their landsman 40 years earlier, as frogs in a kettle.
Isaac (Brody) and Farnez (Hayek) Amin enjoy an affluent life in Tehran. Isaac, an established jeweler, sells gems to the Persian and British elite. The Amins own a lavish house and send their son and daughter to elite schools. They are neither Zionists nor politically active. Jews lived comfortably in Iran for over 2,000 years. When the Shah falls in 1979, the Amins, who love their home and their lifestyle, elect to stay.
One morning, two Revolutionary Guards barge into Isaac’s office and arrest him at gunpoint. Isaac is hustled off to prison, interrogated and tortured by the Revolutionary Guard Mohsen (Alone Aboutboul), who himself had been a prisoner of the Shah’s secret police, Savak, only a few years earlier. Mohsen accuses Isaac of, among other things, working with the Mossad (the national intelligence agency of Israel). Farnez desperately seeks to learn Isaac’s fate, only to be accused herself of political insurrection. The Amins’ life becomes as precarious as a “fiddler on a roof.”
In a powerful exchange during interrogation, Mohsen describes his own captivity at the hands of Savak and declares that now the tables are turned. However, Isaac warns his captor that Mohsen is still a prisoner of his past, held by chains of vengeance. Isaac tells him, “Your mercy may liberate me from these walls. But more than that, it will save you from yourself.”
As he languishes in prison, Isaac reassesses his attitude toward material things and must decide what he is willing to give to save himself and his family. That decision, as well as whether or not Mohsen will heed Isaac’s advice, will determine the fate of Isaac and his family.
Brody and Hayak give outstanding performances, and director Blair captures the horror of the early days of the Ayatollah Khomeini regime. He also convincingly shows us, through the Amins’ housekeeper and her son, the struggle between loyalty to the family that had taken them in years ago and allegiance to the new order.
Although the movie is only 70 minutes long, the middle portion drags, due to the limitations of telling a story of a man languishing in prison. The climax, though stretching the limits of credulity, injects life back into the proceedings and resuscitates the major themes.
Septembers of Shiraz reminds us of the frailty of life, the temporality of wealth, and how those who perpetuate cruelty are themselves prisoners in their own chains of hatred and bitterness.