Somewhere on the mountain roads in Iran, there is a couple with a trunk full of money on a mission to give it all away to random people on their way. That’s about as much information as you can take for granted in this breathtakingly weird road movie that turns from absurd comedy to social drama to dazzling mystery thriller in the course of its 100 minutes.
It all starts with a hysterical fight between a nameless woman and a nameless man (they are given names in the credits, but I think it makes more nonsense if they stay anonymous) at a border control somewhere in a mountain region. Throughout the film, we never learn what the nature of their relationship really is because the two change from spouses to lovers to brother and sister and back. An armed soldier of the border patrol wants to check their papers when all hell breaks loose.
The woman goes completely ballistic and starts insulting her partner like a madwoman. The man follows suit and freaks out like a crazy person before he throws the woman’s cell phone out of the car window into the snow and asks the soldier to shoot him in the head so that he’d be freed from his misery. A little later, the woman opens the trunk of the car and throws two plastic bags filled with bundles of bank notes at the soldier. They drive off with the trunk open and clouds of Rial notes rain on the road like confetti at a parade. Welcome to the weird world of Modest Reception!
The man, who looks like a distinguished businessman from Tehran, and the woman, who is younger and wears a slightly silly hat and a slightly posh coat throughout the journey, make up the odd couple of this adventure which feels like Robin Hood had a threesome with Bonnie and Clyde. The two meet a street salesman, a café owner, two young boys, a truck driver, a security guard, and a man who buries his baby daughter on their way. Their task is as simple as it is irrational – distribute all the money, by the millions, to single people in the highlands.
Where the money comes from remains as unexplained as the general purpose of this altruistic act. The rules of this game seem to change during its course since the quick stops are interrupted by the discussions of the two partners about the general parameters of their mission. At first, they just seem to give their bags of cash away for fun, but later they discreetly hide them in places or even bury them in the ground. They force a worker to quit his job in return for accepting the cash and make up illogical rules that are connected to receiving the millions.
As a series of unexpected plot twists are followed by what seemed to be completely unmotivated developments in the chemistry between the two main players, I started to lean back, choosing to enjoy the open questions over trying to make sense of it all.
Apart from the daring narrative mystery of the story, Modest Reception impressed me with its precise camerawork and editing and the most energetic screen couple of the year (maybe after Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke in Before Midnight).
It’s a pleasure to watch Taraneh Alidoosti (from Asghar Farhadi’s Elly) and Mani Haghighi (who is also the director of the film) act out their more than complicated screen relationship – being allies whose alliance is unclear and whose partnership takes sudden turns when you least expect it.
I’m not going to jump on the critics’ train here and tell you with my brows high how all this is an analogy and a metaphor and a mirror and whatnot of contemporary Iranian society, capitalism, and class society in general. You might come to these readings for yourself or you might not. Before I destroy the pleasure of this ride, you should fasten your seatbelts and see for yourselves.
Modest Reception (Paziraie Sadeh), Iran 2012, 100 min
director: Mani Haghighi, cinematopgraphy: Houman Behmanesh, actors: Taraneh Alidoosti, Mani Haghighi, Vahid Aghapoor, Esmail Khalaj, languages: Farsi, distribution: Kairos Film
Berlin screenings: Fsk
We give away 2×1 tickets for the Saturday screening at Fsk (8.15 pm). Send an email to email@example.com, subject: Less Money, Mo’ Problems, telling me why you want to see this film.