As a film which luxuriates in drawling long takes and minimalist drama, Reza is the kind of viewing experience which demands patience. Only occasionally, however, does such patience feel truly rewarded in Alireza Motamedi’s directorial debut.
We’re introduced to the titular character (also performed by Motamedi) as dawn leisurely breaks over his motionless body, his eyes caught in a listless gaze. It’s the morning of his divorce hearing. Luckily for those of you still reeling from Marriage Story’s (2019) emotional gauntlet, it’s an altogether agreeable split. While Reza’s wife Fati (Sahar Dowlatshahi) openly admits her faded interest in him, their easy-going rapport is immediately felt as they begin to wade through the court’s bureaucracy. In an amusing early scene, they agree to deliver hyperbolic claims of their incompatibility to a judge in order to provide a convincing case for the divorce. Following their split, the film subsequently concerns itself with Reza’s quiet attempts to process his emotional upheaval as new women trickle into his life.
Reza is a drama which largely avoids histrionics and high stakes. It’s keenly focused on the ebb and flow of the everyday, slowly interpolating audiences into the aggressive inertia of a mid-life crisis. Much of it plays out through prolonged conversations captured in unbroken, almost static takes, often lingering past the point of comfort. It’s a decision which heightens Reza’s verisimilitude while rendering it curiously uncinematic.
I admire its minimalist ambitions, but the distant fly-on-the-wall coverage manages to lose its appeal even within its sub-90 minute runtime. Meanwhile, its mundane, quotidian dialogue is supplemented by Reza’s voice-overs, in which he waxes poetic and narrates an apocryphal tale about his own ancestry, the result of a writing project outside of his architecture career.
The film isn’t lacking in charm. Despite their excessive length, each shot is arrestingly composed and glistens with rich colours. There’s an Andersonian flavour to the obsessive attention to detail and self-conscious nature of each image, and Motamedi delights in stranding his wayward protagonist within intensely rigid, symmetrical spaces. The meticulous arrangement of his living quarters also suggests the obsessive micromanaging that has filled the void left by his personal life. Lyrical nighttime detours punctuate the endless conversation scenes, with Reza floating down the street to a sultry saxophone cover of Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’, or being enshrouded by the crackling bombast of Chaharshanbe Suri festivities.
Reza proves himself to be an endearing figure to follow through such fraught territory, although the film is perhaps a touch too enamoured with him. Motamedi’s performance is a masterclass in subdued deadpan, his slack posture conveying a deep sense of burden while remaining devoid of cartoonish affect. He also follows in the hallowed tradition of ageing male directors portraying themselves as irresistible bait for attractive younger women, although his grizzled charm effectively sells his moments of inadvertent seduction.
But for all its autobiographical inflections, Reza provides surprisingly little insight into its main character. It’s a movie with a compelling depiction of life after divorce and its ensuing, inescapable ennui, but it falters as a character study, failing to find any real shortcomings in its endearing and perpetually magnanimous protagonist. With a one-note character at the centre of such a personal, intimate film, the drama can’t help but feel somewhat untethered. However, I’m sure Motamedi is perfectly lovely and three-dimensional in real life.
It’s difficult to deny that Reza is an eloquent tone poem, resplendent in captivating imagery. It’s just a shame that such pretty, ponderous pictures are in service of a comparatively paltry protagonist.
Reza is showing at the Persian Film Festival which runs until 8 December. More info here.
Jamie Tram is a writer, filmmaker, and screwball obsessive from Melbourne, Australia. His writing lurks at Senses of Cinema, Kill Your Darlings, and other places. You can direct all your complaints to @tram_i_am.