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The Old Bachelor

Father and son battle for the love of a seductive young woman, in this elegant however prosaic Iranian drama-turned-crime-thriller from Iran - in the Official Competition of the 23rd Tiff Romania

QUICK AND DIRTY: LIVE FROM TIFF ROMANIA

Two middle-aged brothers spend most of their time at home doing little more than play video games. Quiet, introspective and average-looking Ali (Hajir Sam Ahmadi) has never had a girlfriend and been in love. He’s presumably a virgin. His brother Reza (Mohammad Valizadegan) is a little younger and a lot more more handsome. He often bullies his brother with uttermost sadism, his perverse laughter immediately subduing the ugly duckling. The third person in the house is their unscrupulous and formidable father Gholam (Hassan Pourshirazi), a man incapable of love, who constantly humiliates, gaslights and competes with both of his two sons. The place is a mess, with broken furniture and dirty dishes spread all over floor and the furniture. The three men can barely operate the washing machine, leaving Gholam to go commando.

Gholam is extremely reactionary. He believes that intellectuals could destroy their nation, and he is a big fan of the Iranian Revolution. To boot, he is also a great admirer of Donald Trump, whom he wishes would bomb the Middle East and Russia. He perceives affection as a sign of weakness, and instead uses intimidation and cash in order to assert himself at home, with his friends, and with women. He becomes desperately smitten by the young and beautiful Rana (Leila Hatami), a modern artist struggling to make ends meet. So he tries to buy her “love”, allowing her to move to the flat above directly them for close to no money, and showering her with presents (ranging to a dishwasher to bags overflowing wth money). His friends have reliably informed him that the sight of large quantities of cash will make “her eyes pop out”, and he follows such advice ad litteram. The problem is that Rana falls in love with the sweet, ugly and timid Ali instead, evoking the wrath from the old man, and triggering a fierce father-son duel.

What starts out as a profound study of toxic masculinity, abuse and manipulation, gradually morphs into the Manichaean battle of good versus evil. Father and son are entirely flat characters. Gholam has dishevelled long hair and a scruffy beard, a repulsive man with a mortifying maniacal laughter. Ali has neatly trimmed hair and beard, and he’s soft-spoken, his head often tilting forward in submission. It works for a while, but eventually lapses into banality after dad loudly lols just about everyone else for the 47th time. Ahmadi does little more than convey fragility, in a lukewarm and straight-faced performance. Reza abruptly morphs from disgusting bully to affectionate brother, in a clunky and inexplicable switch of allegiance.

The only genuinely multilayered and complex character here is Rana, a dignified woman tempted by the prospect of a more comfortable life, torn between love and paying her bills, between tradition and modernity. On one hand, she creates luscious art pieces and frequents underground parties with posters of Maya Deren and David Bowie adorning the walls, and Queen, Roy Orbison and Gnarls Barkley blasting the speakers. On the other hand, she wants to secure a safe future, and the prospect of handling self-righteous, disgusting old man might be just about manageable.

At a whopping 191 minutes (that’s almost three hours and a quarter), and boasting an exquisitely warm and elegant cinematography, The Old Bachelor loses steam in its first third. Loose ends and cumbersome backstories do not help to lift the narrative arc. This includes the mysterious reasons why the mothers of Ali and Reza departed, and an extremely bizarre scene in which Reza tries a wig and lipstick on (which presumably belonged to his mother). It gets even worse in the final half an hour, as the struggle descends into very graphic violence and chaos. I think you can guess who wins. The outcome is gratuitous, predictable and over-bloated.

The Old Bachelor is in the Official Competition of the 23rd edition of Tiff Romania.


By Victor Fraga - 21-06-2024

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

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