The first question that will likely come to mind while watching Asghar Farhadi’s Fireworks Wednesday will be about why the film is only now being released in the U.S. ten years after its initial release in Iran. To those ends, there are perfectly reasonable explanations. But later. The important thing is that the famed Iranian dramatist Farhadi’s film is a divine work of subdued mystique. Fireworks Wednesday offers a microcosm of entwined individuals in a relatively modern Iran: workers engage with the middle class, wives and husbands spar, children play, and folks will gossip. But everyone has their own story, their own motivations and secrets. It just takes a little bit of fire to bring it up.
It’s a particularly nervy and exhausting Wednesday. The Chaharshanbe Suri, the Festival of Fire, is in full swing. It’s a precursor to the Iranian New Year, marked by endlessly crackling explosives and small fires. As a tradition, everybody jumps over these little explosions in streets, parks, and schools. It’s a holiday about facing fears, rooted in ideas of lost spirits reuniting, but the effect is nerve-rattling since nobody knows when some kid will throw down firecrackers under the guise of festivity.
This Wednesday, we meet Rouhi (Taraneh Alidoosti) and her fiancé. She’s a working maid and beyond thrilled for her coming nuptials. Rouhi comes into the employ of Mozhde (Hediyeh Tehrani), a woman of means who’s also emotionally obsessive and wound-up. Mozhde is married to an emphatic but sometimes scary man, Morteza (Hamid Farrokhnezhad). Rouhi, Mozdhe, and Morteza function as the film’s core trio, while other individuals and storylines spring up. Perspectives shift, and the perceptions of each character shift even more.
Rouhi is more than ready to be wed, but money is scarce. In taking on temporary work for Mozdhe and Morteza, her enthusiasm about the bedrock of marriage immediately comes under attack. Details are slowly teased out by Farhadi, often through eavesdropping or ambient conversations picked up here and there from empty hallways. The second Rouhi arrives, one begins to wonder about the whole scenario. Why are the windows broken? Why’s everyone in a rush to leave for Dubai? Is there a schism between Mozdhe and Morteza? Who’s the hairdresser next door, and how does she come into play? And Mozdhe and Morteza have a son. How do the actions of his parents make the boy feel? What do people hear? What will they say? How is Rouhi processing all this information, when she’s given so little? While that’s plenty to mull over, Farhadi takes his time to work out these concerns.
The film possesses a quiet, considered tension that draws the viewer in. In the spirit of Rohmer, Farhadi is less fascinated by grand moments than in immersing himself in the dilemmas of everyday people, with the choices and consequences of their actions. Can lies be sustained? Can love last? Are there some feelings too complicated to interrupt, or best left to experience? The narrative is in the words and interactions of these people; there are no knock-down fights. Fireworks Wednesday witnesses, with great patience, the fires within.
It’s rewarding to see a film where one’s handle on characters, and the mood of any given situation, is unstable at best. Come Fireworks Wednesday’s end, every character could be argued as well-or-ill-intentioned, but what’s more important is how real and flawed Fireworks Wednesday’s individuals are. There’s legitimate poignancy, tragedy, and the occasional bit of comedy to Farhadi’s characters.
Fireworks Wednesday could work just as well as a chamber play as a film, but Farhadi uses the medium to careful, cunning effects. The film excels at presenting strife through narrow hallways and some reflective lensing of mirrors and glass. And the simple sound design is a key trait; the fireworks come, and aggressively elevate any moment. The simple metaphor of truths revealed like explosives waiting to go off, presented with ever-present fireworks around the frame are inherently cinematic. Wednesday captures a reality, a curated and observed one that is best served by a micro-budget film. The ten-year delay in release is inexplicable, but what matters right now is that Fireworks Wednesday is getting a theatrical release at all. Like the film, the wait for this drama is less important than the present sensation of experiencing it.