Mama's Guest

(Mehman-e Maman)


Most of the films that come from Iran deal with serious issues. Because of rampant governmental censorship, many couch their issues in metaphor. These films are sparse, simple, and to many people are dreadfully dull. Still, one needs to remember that not all films from Iran are like this. In fact, many of the films released here in art theaters, usually to critical acclaim, never find distribution in Iran, mainly because the government bans them. Mama's Guest is one of the films that is released in Iran. It sounds like an oxymoron - an Iranian comedy. It's release here is miniscule, primarily in areas with large Persian populations. Most likely only a handful of people who do not speak Farsi will see this film. The only other Iranian comedy released in recent memory was Low Heights...sort of. Worse, while there are subtitles for the dialogue, none of the credits are translated into English. So with great apologies to the filmmakers, this reviewer was unable to identify the actors, and thus cannot give them the credit they should receive.

So is Mama's Guest a good movie? It won Best Film at the 2004 Fajr Film Festival. An Army colonel and new his new wife are coming to visit their relatives, who live in small apartment complex. Mama wants to make sure that they get the best treatment possible, and arranges for a big feast. Of course, nobody really has a lot of money, and everything that can go wrong does. The whole thing plays out like a sitcom. And it has about the same quality as a sitcom. And sitcoms have about the same quality as many movies released here. So it is just as good (or as bad) as a lot of mainstream releases. The main difference is that everybody's skin is darker, and the women, wear chadors and other things that are more modest. The jokes and situations are similar. But the sheer novelty of watching everything play out in Farsi makes things a tad more interesting.

The mother is stressing because she is poorer and wants to impress the Colonel. The father is pretty lazy, and somewhat of a slob. He wants her to keep buying food, but doesn't give her any money. They have little food for a banquet, which stresses her even more. Her little son is somewhat of a scamp, so he keeps disappearing and coming back with random things like more food without explaining where it came from. They live around a bunch of neighbors including an old lady with chickens, a pharmacology student studying for an exam the next day, a couple that argues (the husband seems very violent and the wife is pregnant), and some other random people. There's a lot of yelling and chaos, but everybody will come together in the end, and somehow, everything works out. It approaches farcical levels near the end, as more and more things go wrong, but it does have a happy ending. The most amusing aspect is that the Colonel and his new wife want to leave, and Mama secretly wants them to leave, but every time they try to leave, everybody asks them to stay, just because it is the polite thing to do.

Dariush Mehrjui (To Stay Alive, The Mix) directed, and wrote the screenplay with Houshang Moradi Kermani (Tick Tack, The Jar) and Vahidéa Mohammadi (To Stay Alive). Mama's Guest stars (again, many apologies) Golab Adineh (Woman's Prison, Under the Skin of the City), Roya Alemi, Amin Hayayee (Disturbant), Amir Hoseini, Zhale Olav (Soltan), Parsa Pirouzfar (Protest), Farideh Sepah Mansour (The Lizard), Melika Sharifinia, and Hassan Pour Shirazi (Killing Mad Dogs). The chemistry between everybody is nice, and Mehrjui does a good job of juggling multiple characters and while increasing the level of insanity. One can only feel for Mama, who has to deal with all of this and cook dinner.

Mongoose Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 30 minutes, Farsi with English subtitles, Not Rated but would probably be a PG.

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