Mina (Forough Ghajabagli) is an overweight secretary who works at a cosmetic surgery office. Vahid (Mehdi Saki) is a singer in high demand at his mosque for funerals. Hessam (Amir Hessam Bakhtiari) is a bodybuilder and personal trainer who is looking to branch out into acting. Though they are very different people, Mina, Vahid and Hessam are all connected by a deep loneliness. Tehran: City Of Love follows the disconsolate trio as they try to find love.
The three protagonists of writer-director Ali Jabaransari’s second feature are not your usual kind of leads. Sad, spiky and cold, it’s rare to see a smile from any of them. With less careful handling they could be viewed as unsympathetic, but there’s something very appealing about the way they hold themselves apart from the world whilst still craving connection. Mina has a habit of stealing the numbers of handsome clients that come into the office, sending them sexy pictures she finds on the internet and arranging a date, and then going to the café to watch their reaction as they realise they’ve been stood up. On the face of it, it’s a cruel thing to do, yet it’s still eminently understandable that a woman who has been pushed off to the side because of her weight would want to reclaim some of her power in her relationship with men. Jabaransari is on the side of his characters, even if nobody else is.
While both the action and the protagonists are rather maudlin, there’s a dry, eccentric vein of comedy running throughout Tehran: City Of Love that never misses the mark. The film in which Hessam lands a role is set to star French actor Louis Garrel, and there’s an amusing running joke about how no Iranians have the slightest idea who he is – the sight of a brawny Iranian man asking an utterly bemused shop cashier if they have any puzzles with Garrel’s face on them (so he can inform his jigsaw-loving dad who Garrel is) is one of the movie’s highlights. There’s also a lot of humour to be found in Vahid – the most melancholic of our threesome – making the transition from funeral singer to wedding singer.
Although the milieus couldn’t be more different, there’s a distinct whiff of Wes Anderson around Tehran: City Of Love, both in the comedy and in the shot composition. Like Anderson, Jabaransari likes to frame his shots symmetrically. This is another frequent source of mirth: just look at the scene where Hessam’s tiny dad is watching TV in the middle of the sofa, flanked by his son and the similarly well-built object of his son’s affection. There are many moments like that scattered throughout the film, where the composition is enough to cause a chuckle without anyone needing to say a word.
Weird and witty, with bucket loads of empathy for its seemingly unlovable protagonists, Tehran: City Of Love is an offbeat treat.