Freely adapted and set in modern Iran, Henrik Ibsen's 19th century classic play ‘A Doll's House’ allowed veteran Iranian writer-director Dariush Mehrjouee to fashion a woman’s struggle with the kind of deadpan nonchalant world that has torn her innocent sentiments apart.
With keen insight and searing intensity, Mehrjouee takes us on another trip through his richly developed psychodrama ‘Sara’ (1992), once again demonstrating his ability to localize a compelling play-to-film adaptation while crossing boundaries and finding its target audience.
This subtle, powerfully articulated and thought-provoking drama from Iran tells the story of Sara - the perfect young housewife. When husband Hessam is in need of costly medical treatment abroad, it is Sara who works for the funds. To repay her debt, she embroiders wedding gowns. She works secretly to pay the loan and save Hessam - until the truth is revealed and with it, the reality of her marriage.
While Mehrjouee’s film may end on a bitter note, it is overall a tragedy of a woman who watches her world fall to dust but then awakens to her own rights. ‘Sara’ was made ahead of its time, and the values of the film have remained untouched over time.
The film belongs to Sara, well played by Niki Karimi. Her despair dominates the film, and the audience feels it quite intimately – due not only to Karimi’s great work but that of Mehrjouee who wisely never strays from Sara’s point of view, enabling the viewer to experience her agony and resulting confusion.
Feeling kinship with Sarah begins from the very first sequences of the film, and we slowly enter a world that is in contrast to Sara's crystal pure world – a shrewd world that arises with rationality in front of Sarah.
Along with the pivotal role of Sara, who appears almost in every scene, Amin Tarokh and late Khosro Shakibaee are nothing short of remarkable, inhabiting their characters with an equal measure of startling influence and utter despair.
Niki Karimi says much more with just an elusive expression on her face than could possibly have been conveyed by words. Every bit a perfect match for Karimi is Amin Tarokh, as Hessam, a man who underestimates all his wife has done for him and lets his manly roughness aggrieve his wife.
As his eleventh cinematic work, Mehrjouee unravels this drama slowly, enabling us to observe the central character’s unfortunate plight. He tells us that it is not a matter of being a man or woman, rather a human being who comes to this stereotype world trying to preserve their innocence.
Taking a look at the film’s general style, ‘Sara’ includes almost constant motion through editing, camera and character movement. Dissolves are very important to the film, particularly to show despair, and even fades are used occasionally to mark important points in the film (e.g. in the rug store where Gashtasb explicitly threatens Sara or the ophthalmology scene where red fades are used to boost anxiousness). This dissolve turned out to be a kind of effects epiphany, because it shows the power of editing in merging concepts in poetic ways.
By any sense of justice, perhaps ‘Sara’ is one of the successful examples and a masterly piece of construction among the literary adaptations made in Iranian cinema to date. By bringing ‘A Doll's House’ into screen, Mehrjouee proved that cinema is not played out on stage, but ostensibly in the real world.
Last but not least, among some of the accolades bagged by ‘Sara’ are the Audience Award at the Nantes Three Continents Festival, and the Golden Seashell at the San Sebastián International Film Festival, where Niki Karimi won Best Actress award (Silver Seashell) for the title role. Yasamin Maleknasr also won Best Supporting Actress at the 11th Fajr Film Festival in Iran.