2016 | DIRECTOR: DANIEL GROVE | REVIEW BY ALEX MAYNARD.
I’d never heard of the Tehrangeles district that formed in Los Angeles following Iran’s revolution, yet writer/director Daniel Grove casts it through a lens of excess and opulence that makes sense in light of the context his film provides. Two exceptional opening sequences provide both the factual information surrounding the Iran-Iraq War and a glimpse at its impact on individuals. Subsequently, Grove depicts those lucky enough to survive emigrating to pursue the American Dream, including former child soldier Behrouz (Reza Sixo Safai). While Behrouz has legitimate career aspirations, he’s simultaneously an immigrant who will do whatever it takes to achieve the romanticised notion of a ‘better life’; THE PERSIAN CONNECTION is full of similarly minded people, from real estate moguls to drug kingpins. As alluded to above, the version of Tehranangeles on display here at first appears to reveal the glamorous outcome of this pursuit, indeed, the cinematography in club scenes during the film’s first half is stunning. Yet beneath the fluorescent glow we see danger, addiction, corruption and a sense of entitlement that stems from relying on others’ success. Worldbuilding is particularly crucial for any genre film, and Grove provides it in spades.
Meanwhile, Behrouz’s nadir and efforts at redemption may be archetypal neo-noir story beats, but Safai brings a range of emotions to the role that elevate him to a compelling protagonist. This is most apparent when he is coerced into assassinating Sepehr (Nikolai Kinski), an acquaintance with whom he shares a complicated relationship; despite their history, Behrouz is genuinely reluctant to go through with the task. I adored the following sequence not just for its brilliant directing choices such as emphasising brutality using different framing, but for the changes shown by Behrouz within mere minutes: he is merciful, desperate, ruthless and grief-stricken all at once. Likewise, the romantic relationship between him and Oksana (Helena Mattsson) typically feels like more than a simple genre requisite through Safai’s sincerity, for instance, suggesting that the couple take a holiday together because “that’s what people do” when they care about each other. Nevertheless, while the Oksana subplot connects cleverly to Behrouz’s main arc, it’s unfortunate that it drives so much of THE PERSIAN CONNECTION’s final third, culminating in a predictable and slightly melodramatic conclusion that was saved only by its effects and art direction. In my opinion, the script also could have used a little more polish, given there were several moments throughout where character dialogue felt awkward, especially from Farid (Dominic Rains).
THE PERSIAN CONNECTION’s embrace of neo-noir conventions will undeniably please genre fans, but it arguably deserves even greater recognition for offering a distinct perspective. Ultimately, this film is a consistently engaging and gritty watch that integrates culture and history into its narrative so seamlessly, you might learn something without even realising.
The Persian Connection is now available through Eagle Entertainment.