One of my favorite films is Rian Johnson’s Brick, a hard-boiled detective mystery set in a high school. It’s subtle, mostly non-aggressive in its lensing and action, and droll in a very captivating way. Don’t take those descriptions to mean “boring” or “lifeless,” though. On the contrary, Brick’s writing, performances, editing, cinematography, and direction coalesce into a very fluid, chill film which relies more on restraint than graphic detail.
A similar feeling found in The Persian Connection has unexpectedly endeared this film to me. So much so, I immediately restarted my screening copy to revisit scenes and re-examine certain details. Much like Brick, it relies on being laid-back where others could easily go nuts with shaky camerawork and furious editing to get any kind of superficial excitement across. Director Daniel Y-Li Grove isn’t trying for excitement or to make a Bourne film out of this gangster tale; it’s more of a dramatic thriller, if you will.
Sure, punches are thrown and guns go off, but they’re not intended to be the centerpiece, being relatively ancillary compared to the pulse-quickening story being told. We follow former Iranian child soldier Behrouz (Reza Sixo Safai) after leaving Los Angeles’ criminal underworld to pursue the American Dream as a real estate agent. Much of the film takes place in his direct presence or in his proximity, save for only a single one-minute scene. This allows for a lot of room for our imaginations to breathe and fill in what we might not see.
His daily life seems to be an assault from all sides. If it’s not his girlfriend Oksana (Helena Mattson) slapping him violently during sex, it’s his real estate boss’ club-kid daughter Sara (Nikohl Boosheri), whom he seems to have been appointed as caretaker and chauffeur. And if it’s not either of these two, it’s his crime lord father figure Cirrus (Parviz Sayyad) and his two minions, Farid (Dominic Rains) and Danush (David Diaan) browbeating him and pushing him around. Moreover, there’s Cirrus’ wife Lola (Laura Harring), implied to have had dalliances with him before the events of this film.
Behrouz’s only escape is the opium he buys at a grand per ounce from his friend Sepehr (Nikolai Kinski). It’s a momentary respite from the slog of his routine grind, and it’s a quieting of the wartime demons lying just underneath his skin which pervade his consciousness and slowly eat away at him. But, as gangster movies go, he finds himself back in the life he wishes to escape, only to meet with dire consequences after succumbing to Lola’s advances in an opium-induced stupor.
The first act of The Persian Connection rides a little slow, demonstrating the tedium of his life outside of the underworld’s shady backroom vibrancy. And vibrant it is, indeed; the mundanity of street-level L.A. and its inky black nights can’t compare to the enticing neon glow of Cirrus’ headquarters. Long, uninterrupted shots take us from the nondescript storefronts down foreboding hallways to the stylishly-lit rooms where pleasure, pain, and regret are for the taking. We’re slammed with a lot of exposition in this first act, establishing everyone’s relationship to Behrouz – including our own – whether it’s through a modicum of dialogue or one of Behrouz’s reveries about his time in Ayatollah Khomeini’s child army.
It’s a fascinating look into his history and his present, just before the latter two acts explode like a second stage booster rocket which propels us to the film’s fiery climax. Even though the tone shifts from an easygoing vibe (backed by a trippy ‘80s-synthpop-esque score by Photek) to a more urgent, violent feel, Grove never pushes into overdone territory. Graphic close-ups are avoided in favor of letting our minds fill in certain blanks. A fistfight at the start of the second act highlights Grove’s designs on this film’s action, framed through a doorway with the principals shoving each other back and forth, allowing the sounds of punches and grunts to affect us more than just aiming a camera the fight itself.
This kind of thoughtfulness and ingenuity is what makes The Persian Connection interesting, a word which should be taken as a compliment. From interest comes involvement; from involvement comes witness; and from witness comes appreciation. Grove’s efforts to maintain a solid, grounded feel are certainly appreciated, considering the avenues this film could have easily gone down. Fortunately, with Grove preserving a more artistic aesthetic over titillation, we’re left with a gangster film unlike any other I’ve seen in a genre full of exemplary entries. It’s relaxed without being dull, and it’s thrilling without being action-packed, if you can dig it.
» MOVIE REVIEWS » The Persian Connection
Daniel Y-Li Grove, Daniel Zolghradi, David Diaan, Dominic Rains, Gregory Kasyan, Helena Mattson, Julian Sands, Laura Harring, Michael Bricker, Movie Review, Nikohl Boosheri, Nikolai Kinski, Parviz Sayyad, Photek, Reza Sixo Safai, Steven Capitano Calitri, The Persian Connection