And they keep on coming: After the international critical and commercial breakthroughs of Asghar Farhadi's A Separation and The Past, Fireworks Wednesday represents the second of his earlier films to receive a belated U.S. release. As was the case with About Elly — made in 2009 but given a stateside theatrical run only last year — it proves to be not just interesting in how it foreshadows the filmmaker’s more mature works but also a gripping piece of storytelling in its own right.
Like A Separation and The Past, Fireworks Wednesday, Farhadi's third feature (from 2006), is a domestic melodrama featuring feuding spouses and the unfortunate souls caught in between. Unlike those later films, though, the focus here is as much on one of the bystanders as it is on the spouses, as cleaning woman Rouhi (Taraneh Alidoosti) finds herself in the middle of a dispute between her new boss, Morteza (Hamid Farokhnezhad), and his wife, Mojdeh (Hedye Tehrani), who suspects that her husband is cheating with their neighbor Simine (Pantea Bahram).
The title refers to the Iranian holiday just before the Persian New Year — a celebratory day marked by fireworks set off on the streets — but also indicates the near-boiling-point simmer of the drama, with plenty of tense exchanges occasionally spilling into shouting matches or physical skirmishes. As always with Farhadi, no one is absolutely right or wrong, as much as they may all believe, loudly or quietly, in the righteousness of their own positions. Mojdeh may have good reason to suspect her husband’s infidelity, for instance, but Farhadi also stirs empathy for Morteza’s frustration at the lengths she goes to in order to discover the truth. But that, of course, doesn’t excuse Morteza’s excessively violent reaction to discovering his wife's attempt to spy on him at work. Somewhere amid the hysterics is their poor son, Amir-Ali, who perceives more of his feuding parents’ situation than they would like.
But it’s Rouhi’s involvement in this tug-of-war that is the film’s real raison d’être. Introduced riding on a motorcycle with her fiancé (Houman Seyyedi), she’s a mere week away from tying the knot herself — which makes especially unfortunate the timing of this particular day, in which she bears witness to, and even gets somewhat involved in, an extreme example of the deceptions and negotiations that can go on between married couples. The contrast between Alidoosti’s girlish face and chipper manner and Tehrani’s craggier visage and wearier demeanor suggests a deeper theme beneath the melodrama: that of a young bride-to-be getting a sobering education in the difficulties that could await her in wedded life.
As is Farhadi’s naturalistic way, none of this is explicitly spelled out; all he needs to show us is the desperate look on Rouhi’s face toward film’s end to indicate how much the day’s experiences have rattled her — though to what degree is something the film leaves tantalizingly open-ended.