Fatemeh Motamed Arya, Saeed Aghakhani, Reza Babak, Mehdi Hosseini Nia, Roya Javidnia, Neda Jebraeili
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…has great spatial awareness and makes the most of the setting of Shokoo and Reza’s house to further the levels of awkwardness that the film relies on to heighten the unnaturalness of the situation.
For some, the thought of living with and taking care of an ex-husband — let alone a frail one — is the last thing on their minds, while for Shokoo (Fatemeh Motamed), it’s nothing short of acceptable. That’s at least the general concept behind Mona Zandi Haghighi’s African Violet, but in its 93 minutes, the apparatus of the film never holds and crackles under ambiguous plotting and minimal coherency.
Haghighi has seemingly become so fixed on creating a tumultuous love triangle, whilst gradually hinting at troubled marital issues and the wider strain these issues have on those around us. The former makes for interesting back-and-forths, but the latter never holds firm and borders on cliché, and does not really say much about what this strange and sudden arrangement means.
That arrangement being Shokoo’s decision to bring and take care of ex-husband Fereydoun (Reza Babak), whose former friend Reza (Saeed Aghakhani) happens to be the current husband of Shokoo. Shokoo is perhaps the character with the most humanity in this small community and it is through her that most of the cause and effect chains in the film are divulged — one of which includes a vague subplot involving the absence of a young girl who leaves the country and her own mother.
Motherhood is also the most prevalent theme in the film, and the strands of nurture and care that it encompasses form the heart of Shokoo’s character. Sure, her situation is a bit more challenging and might not be as easy to identify with for Western audiences, but her shared involvement in the matters of those around her and her very gentle demeanour make Shookoo a very likeable protagonist and one worth sympathising with.
It is also worth mentioning that the film has great spatial awareness and makes the most of the setting of Shokoo and Reza’s house to further the levels of awkwardness that the film relies on to heighten the unnaturalness of the situation. There is also a heavy dependence on tight framing in the house and how it keeps the main trio so involved with each other —intimacy and the lack of freedom is paramount to savouring the interactions here.
In hindsight, if one wanted to see a subversive marital film that is complimented by riveting performances and offers an introspective look at the strenuous nature of marriage and divorce, this wouldn’t be the film to watch. Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story offers the aforementioned whilst also keeping a central focus on how we love and how much we love.
That said, African Violet is an unfamiliar story and quite an unnatural story for people based in the West, but it is wholesome and shares universal values that most can connect with.