Movie: Taking a look around at events in recent years, I've come to the conclusion that our society, for all it's freedom and diversity, is not as tolerant as most would like to believe. For those who think such practices are the exclusive domain of the White race or religious right, I have a bridge to sell you. The truth is, people seem to feel more comfortable associating with other people that share the same values and beliefs as they do. Movies that address this topic are legion in number and much of the time, seek to inform the viewer that even with our differences, we're all very much alike. In an independent movie that addresses this theme, Maryam, Director Ramin Serry uses his own life experiences to show us that tolerance is not such a bad thing.
The movie is set during 1979. At the time, the American Embassy in Iran was stormed by a bunch of radicals who violated international law and took everyone in it hostage. There was also a gasoline crunch where the prices rose dramatically in a short period of time. The Soviet Union was invading Afghanistan and the world seemed poised on the brink of madness. The mood of the country was definitely not favorable to those perceived as "outsiders". Mary is a young gal in high school who was born to parents from Iran but has no memory of life there. She has her place in the world and just wants to fit in and have a normal life. Things seem okay until a cousin of hers, Ali, comes to stay with her and her family while attending college. Having just come from Iran, Ali has a different take on the Shah being treated for cancer, and the hostage crisis in general.
To Ali, the Shah was the bad guy and the Ayatollah was a savior working for God (Allah). The hostages were all spies and deserve whatever they get as far as he's concerned. Mary rightfully sees his comments as dangerous and the local backlash against Iranians in general due to the ongoing hostage crisis seems unfair. Suddenly, those who were her friends act like she's somehow connected to the events taking place on the other side of the world. Ali's blind devotion to his faith makes her uneasy and the movie looks at what happens with these two as they fight against what they perceive as wrongs.
The acting by the principle leads, Mariam Parris and David Ackert was generally very good. There were a few times when they seemed to falter and I think the commentary explained much of that reasonably well. The low budget usually wasn't a big problem although it became apparent more than once. I wish the movie had been allowed a bit more breathing room in terms of working out some of the dialogue quirks that didn't quite fit. Otherwise, the story made a lot of sense and helped use current events to drive home its points. Part of what we are as a people is our greater tolerance than many other countries allow (which are almost all more homogenous than we are). By caving in to a mob mentality, we become somehow less than we were and that's a danger in such an open society. On the flip side, those who think they have a right to do as they please without recognizing the responsibilities attached to the rights we enjoy are also to blame for the problems.
So, if you're looking for a movie that explores themes of culture clash and trying to fit in during times that could only be viewed as dangerous, you will likely think of this one as Highly Recommended. It had some flaws that bugged me but overall, it was a solid effort that showed a personal touch to events that seemed anything but tolerable when they took place. I don't pretend to understand how Iranian-American's felt about the events as depicted here but as someone who lived the other side of the coin, I clearly remember the many problems that took place.
Picture: The picture was presented in 1.85:1 ratio anamorphic widescreen color. For a low budget independent movie, it looked very clear with few problems for most of the movie. There were moments where grain was a problem and a few bits of video noise but the colors were accurate and it could easily have been a "made for television" movie on network TV.
Sound: The audio was presented with a choice of either a 5.1 Dolby Digital or 2.0 English track. The vocals and music were both clear although some spots weren't as polished as others. I didn't think either track used the format to its fullest advantage and the 5.1 track seemed almost identical.
Extras: The best extra, by far, was the audio commentary by Director/Writer Ramin Serry and Producer Shauna Lyon. In it, the two describe a lot of interesting tidbits about the movie, it's production, and the setting of the show. There was also a short Behind the Scenes feature, some filmographies, and trailers but no insert.
Final Thoughts: There's a very real possibility that the USA attacks Iran in coming months and already there have been a number of attacks on people of Middle Eastern descent here in the states since September 11, 2001. This might be a good movie to watch for those who conveniently forget that one of this countries greatest strengths is the fact that for all our differences, we're very much alike and judging people based on anything but their individuality is a recipe for disaster. Check it out.