AFRICAN VIOLET – Review by Jennifer Merin

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This week’s Movie of the Week is African Violet, a winsome femme-helmed narrative from Iran that reveals an intimate view of family life from a woman’s perspective.

Directed and co-written by Mona Zandi Haqiqi, the film centers around Shokoo (Fatemah Motamed-Aria), a middle aged housewife who is very attached to the idea of doing the right thing.  She has a good life with Reza (Saeed Aghakhani), her second husband, with whom she shares household chores and works the family’s home-based wool-dying business. Shokoo is deeply troubled when she finds out that her ex-husband Fereydoun (Reza Babak) — from whom she’s been divorced for years — has been placed in a nursing home by their daughters. She decides spring him from institutional living by bringing him to the home she shares with Reza and caring for him there. Reza has agreed to this, but is really not happy with the idea.

Fereydoun arrives at Shokoo’s home in a wheelchair and is basically non responsive, but he quickly recovers both his will and ability to speak and to walk around the two-story house. As he becomes more of a presence in the household, past truths begin to surface and domestic tensions rise. Ever patient and self-composed, Shokoo tries to mediate the environment of unspoken discord by soothing her two troubled men with gentle attentiveness and heaping servings of good food.

The complicated emotion-laden relationship between the three of them is compellingly authentic, and extraordinary kindnesses are expressed when least expected. And, truly, it is the fundamental kindness of this film that completely engages and enthralls you.

African Violet is exquisitely envisioned and crafted so that carefully composed images replace wordiness in conveying the story. With their beautifully nuanced performances, the actors express profound emotion with subtle looks and gestures that replace incessant dialogue. Natural sound prevails in establishing environment without an ongoing stream of music. Cinematographer Farhad Saba holds the camera on the actors’ faces just long enough to allow you to read their thoughts, and this shooting style is fully supported by Bahram Dehghani masterful editing.

African Violet is Mona Zandi Haqiqi’s second feature, and I’m certainly eager to see more from her.

EDITOR’S NOTE: African Violet is AWFJ’s Movie of the Week for August 21, 2020 

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and About.com. She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is also a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).