Hamid Nematollah's "Boutique" begins on a deceptively light note only to darken in tone gradually yet remorselessly. It's hardly the first Iranian film to deal with the frustrated lives of young people, especially women. Since Nematollah is covering familiar territory, it is unfortunate that his pacing is needlessly slow, because his people and their plight are painfully real and engaging.
Nematollah writes perceptively and is skilled with his cast, but at 113 minutes his film overstays its welcome by half an hour. Despite its well-defined key performances, "Boutique" is too slack to be more than a minor effort, yet surprisingly it was named best film in the 22nd annual Fajr Film Festival.
Mohammad-Reza Golzar's Jahan is a handsome, reflective young man who clerks in a shiny Tehran shopping mall clothing store. He lives with a group of friends in a large, rundown apartment in a building apparently slated for demolition. Among his roommates are a former medical student reduced to selling chickens and another who is mentally unstable and in frequent need of shock therapy and medication. A lot of screen time is spent on the roommates sitting around talking, often about nothing in particular, way past the point of tedium.
There's hope that the film will pick up when Jahan, driving around with his pals, spots a young woman walking down a street and recognizes her from the shop where he works. She is a beautiful 16-year-old named Etti (Golshifte Farahani), so it is no wonder she catches the eye of Jahan. He ends up offering to sell her the jeans she admired but was unable to afford on an installment plan. Etti's assertive manner ill-conceals a vulnerability that Jahan cannot resist.
Once Etti decides to trust in Jahan's kindness he swiftly and amusingly gets much more than he bargained for. It seems that Etti, a student, has been thrown out by her roommates because of her inability to pay her share of their expenses. Then there's the matter of her toothache. Jahan's desire to see that Etti gets the jeans she wants swiftly leads to him having to find a place for her to stay and then a dentist. Etti comes on as a feisty girl who just wants to have fun, but she desperately and seriously wants to go abroad to seek a better life -- and she in fact has good reason not to want to return to her family. Farahani is adept at making Etti seem more appealing than she is exasperating.
Etti and her dreams bring the film into focus, but Nematollah can't seem to resist diffusing it with sequences that go on too long. Reza Rooygari is thoroughly repellent as the boutique owner whose superficial displays of hospitality cannot conceal his corrupt character, but Nematollah lingers on him too long as well. Nematollah also relies almost entirely on Golzar's brooding star presence to hold the film together. Iranian filmmakers in recent years have made many world-class movies, to which "Boutique" does not measure up.
MPAA rating: Unrated
Times guidelines: Adult themes, some off-screen violence
An IR release of a Hedayat Film presentation. Writer-director Hamid Nematollah. Producer Morteza Shayesteh. Executive producer Mostafa Shayesteh. Cinematographer Mahmoud Kalai. Editor Mohammad Reza Moeini. Costumes Mehdi Ataie. In Farsi with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 53 minutes.
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