Review by Joseph Fayed
19 years after its premiere, Beautiful City has received a 2K restoration from the approval of its Academy Award-winning director Asghar Farhadi. The sophomore drama from Farhadi pits family and the fatigue over facing justice against each other. The result feels a bit drawn out, but nonetheless a successful exploration of the pitfalls of emotional attachment.
After killing his girlfriend at age 16, Akbar has spent the last two years in juvenile detention. Upon turning 18, he is transferred to an adult facility where he faces the death penalty for his crime. On the outside, A’la, Akbar’s former cellmate, and Akbar’s sister Firoozeh (Taraneh Alidoosi) team up to convince the father of his girlfriend for forgiveness, so that Akbar’s sentence can potentially be reduced to life in prison.
The film remains consistent in its tone of lost souls trying to make sense of Akbar and his actions. Our three main characters each come across as stubborn, initially slowly unpacking what the loss of the past two years has meant to them. The added layer of the difficulties of the Iranian justice system makes it feel that the legal system itself is a pivotal character in the film too. Farhadi’s best work includes characters whose motivations aren’t black and white. This is prevalent in the narrative of Abolqasem, the victim’s father. How his future — and that of his immediate family — hangs in the balance is made clear from the start. With two opposing sides in the battle over Akbar’s sentence, establishing a key element to the father’s role early on shows the importance of developing the three leads when it is clear how they all feel about Akbar, our catalyst.
The 2K restoration is a nice touch to the film. Its new lens is an improvement from the original, especially in close shots of each character. The clearer restoration is nothing groundbreaking, but it feels more like a present-day Farhadi film with its cinematography than anything else. Beautiful City is not a sophomore slump from Asghar Farhadi. It says — and certainly acts — like forgiveness is an uphill battle to achieve for all of those involved. None of the three leads feel under-utilized, nor does the story soften its stance on the difficulties of the justice system. Frequent Farhadi collaborator Alidoosi gives a performance that makes it obvious why she later starred in two more of his films. Resilience is conveyed beautifully here, and while some of its themes speak for a whole society, the three lead performers and their director elevate this story. 19 years isn’t too long to wait to watch this for the first time, as it will help you understand how it influenced Farhadi’s later work, and why you should check that out too.
Beautiful City is now available on VOD.