Review by Sean Boelman
There is an old adage that good things come to those who wait, and that couldn’t be more true than it is in the film industry, which requires a great deal of patience. The sophomore feature of filmmaker Mona Zandi Haqiqi, coming thirteen years after her debut, African Violet is a very understated movie, though it works as an interesting character study.
The film follows a middle-aged woman who, after finding out that her ex-husband has been placed in a retirement home by their children, decides to bring him into her home to her new husband’s dismay. Although this may sound like the plot of a soap opera, writer Hamidreza Bababeygi doesn’t get too caught up in the melodrama of the situation.
In fact, there isn’t a great deal of external conflict in the ninety-odd minute runtime of the movie. While it would have been an easy out for the film to get caught up in the potential love triangle at the center of the story, Bababeygi instead focuses on some of the ideas that have more impact on real-world society.
Perhaps the most interesting angle by which to take the movie is as a deconstruction of the patriarchal society in Iran. The two male characters seem to value masculinity above everything else, but it’s interesting to see how, through each other, they are able to subvert some of the expectations put on them as a man in their culture.
The other interesting aspect of the film is the idea of loyalty. Although the protagonist is loyal to her current husband, she still feels a sense of obligation to her former partner who is the father of her children. With this, the movie provides a more nuanced exploration of relationships than the love triangle ever could.
Of course, the film owes a great deal of its success to the subtle performances of its cast. Fatemah Motamed-Aria does an excellent job in her leading role, giving a very grounded performance despite the sometimes theatrical nature of the material. Saeed Aghakhani and Reza Babak both complement her well.
Haqiqi also brings a lively and elegant visual style to the movie. The pacing of the script is admittedly slow, but the vibrancy of the colors gives it a much-needed feeling of vitality. Cinematographer Farhad Saba’s work here is minimalistic but effective given the low-key nature of the film as a whole.
African Violet is just a lovely little movie. Although it certainly doesn’t have the most exciting of narratives, the sophisticated character study and refined visuals it offers make it a compelling watch nevertheless.
African Violet is now streaming online in partnership with indie theaters. Virtual tickets can be purchased here.