Suspicion wreaks havoc on a woman's psyche in Asghar Farhadi's wonderful drama.
There’s a part of being the victim of infidelity that isn’t often discussed: the suspicion of infidelity. Unlike the flare of rage that comes with the surprise of catching a cheat, suspicion envelops the mind slowly like quicksand, pulling an already fragile psyche deeper and deeper into the abyss until there’s nothing left but suspicion itself. Innocuous happenings become something more, something ominous, but they never quite manifest into damning evidence. All they do is fuel more suspicion, because if that last thing was almost proof, the next thing surely will be proof. Suspicion creates a lot of smoke, but usually without ever producing the gun. In Asghar Farhadi’s Fireworks Wednesday, the suspicion of infidelity wreaks havoc on the psyche of a woman in Tehran.
Rouhi (Taraneh Alidoosti) is a beautiful young bride-to-be whose wedding won’t pay for itself, so she takes a temp role as a cleaning woman for a family of three. On her first day on the job, Rouhi finds herself dealing with more than messy rooms and dirty windows. The husband and wife who have hired her—Morteza (Hamid Farokhnezhad) and Mozhde (Hediyeh Tehrani)—appear to be on the last legs of their marriage as they ferociously argue in front of their new hire about how Morteza broke his promise to have a serious talk with Mozhde about their future so he could go to work on his day off. Mozhde sees this not only as a slight but as a sign that her husband is having an affair. Mozhde recruits Rouhi to spy on Morteza, but even that grows into something more than she signed up for.
Other than the glow from the soon-to-be-wed Rouhi, the first thing that becomes a constant presence in Fireworks Wednesday is the perpetual hum of chaos. The film takes place on Persian New Year when fireworks go off in the streets all day and night (seemingly by everyone in town). The constant bursts of noise sound like a military skirmish, creating a low-level hum of aural unease. This sets the film’s tone, acting as a celebration and a backbeat for the unfolding drama.
The highlight of the film is Farhadi’s construct of, and Tehrani’s portrayal of, Mozhde. The chaos in the streets outside and in the apartment inside are nothing compared to the chaos in Mozhde’s psyche. She starts out as angry, a woman defending her marriage and not feeling the same level of commitment from her husband to save it. But that anger is ultimately powered by suspicion, and when her husband is at work, that suspicion tears her down as it builds itself up. Every number on caller ID, every conversation overheard through the apartment’s ventilation system, every other randomly discovered factoid that doesn’t feel quite right becomes more smoke without a gun. Like a person with a terminal illness begging for a mercy-killing, Mozhde simply wants relief from her pain. Without saying it, she knows that relief will only come with discovering the worst because there’s no way of disproving her suspicion. In an effort to expedite that relief, she enlists Rouhi’s help.
Poor Rouhi. The young girl only knows love and happiness with her man, not whatever it is Morteza and Mozhde have. But over the course of only one day, Rouhi shifts from bystander to witness to full-on participant in a very messy domestic game, and in the process learns about the frailty of marriage, the criticality of communication, the trickery of deceit, and the importance of honesty. It’s a wedding gift no one intended to give her, and one she shouldn’t try to return.
Put it all together and the director of A Separation and The Past has done it again, crafting an excellent exercise in weathering sustained chaos. There are early moments when the film doesn’t have the steam it should, but once it gets going it plays almost like a psychological thriller, although one stripped of that genre’s tropes. Tension mounts, characters evolve, and secrets are revealed. Yet even with all that, and with the ominous sense of discovery forever looming overhead, nothing is ever overwrought or overplayed. Fireworks Wednesday was first released in Iran in 2006. After a decade-long wait, the film is finally receiving a release in the US.