‘Tehran: City of Love’ highlights search for identity in urban lifestyle

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Beginning and ending with the exchange of passengers at bus stops, Ali Jaberansari’s wistful “Tehran: City of Love” is a portrayal of the search for love and acceptance in the midst of urban indifference.

Mina (Forough Ghajabagli), a receptionist at an upmarket beauty clinic, catfishes attractive male clients in a fruitless attempt at revenge for her issues with self-image. Hessam (Amir Hessam Bakhtiari), an ex-champion bodybuilder turned personal trainer, turns down a casting call for a film starring “the most famous actor in France” in favor of a doomed infatuation with his newest client at the gym. Morose funeral singer Vahid (Mehdi Saki) tries his hand at weddings after an encounter with charming and composed photographer Niloufar (Behnaz Jafari) but inevitably returns to solitude.

Jaberansari’s depiction of the speculations, anxieties and struggles for self-definition that the characters face on a daily basis is offset by cinematographer Mohammad Reza Jahanpanah’s frank angles and love of symmetry. By framing the trio sharply from the side or with confrontational frontal shots, Jahanpanah reflects the trapped, stifled situations of the characters as they navigate the city and try to balance work, family, social expectations and the pursuit of a fulfilling love life.

This triptych plays out in the streets of contemporary Tehran, a city where the language of love and the language of business are interwoven as subtly as the relationships forged between its inhabitants. In this setting, an ice cream or a protein shake can hold as much romantic significance as a wedding or a date-night meal. Politics and policing are barely hinted at, with covert references to repressed homosexual desire, the shutting down of a “private” wedding and the lengthy process of applying for a visa acting only as minor elements in the tapestry of the film. The narrative focuses instead on the universality of disenchantment and the disappointed hopes that leave the characters heartbroken — but not earth-shatteringly so. There is a wry, bittersweet humor in the way Jaberansari shows his characters accepting how their odds are stacked yet again, turning the film into a thoughtful rumination on the transience of love and the unceasing momentum of everyday existence.

Contact Ruth Murphy at [email protected].