Modest Reception (2012) — Image via

Modest Reception

Directed by Mani Haghighi (2012)

Modest Reception (Paziraie sadeh), the latest film by Iranian director Mani Haghighi, is a provocative piece of work that starts out in the realm of dark comedy and progresses in a more serious direction without losing its absurdist edge. Set amidst expansive, desolate scenery and bookended with bursts of experimental jazz, Modest Reception offers a unique take on the clash between Iran’s urban rich and rural poor while avoiding the temptations of mere allegory.

Leyla (Taraneh Alidoosti) and Kaveh (Haghighi), two wealthy and urbane residents of Tehran, are driving around the mountains of the Kurdish border region with a trunk full of cash stuffed into plastic bags. Their goal is to distribute these bags to the needy, one at a time, taking video recordings of each transaction on their iPhones. However, many of the people they meet are reluctant to accept money for nothing, and Leyla and Kaveh respond by constructing elaborate lies to explain why they need to get rid of the money and why their targets are doing them a favor by taking it.

Modest Reception (2012) — Image via globalfilm.orgAs the film progresses and Leyla and Kaveh become more and more impatient to unload their cargo, their actions become increasingly questionable. And as they unleash a different set of lies on each person they encounter, viewers are left wondering who they actually are and what is actually going on. Are they husband and wife, brother and sister, or neither? And are they genuinely trying to give alms to the poor, or are they trying to piece together some kind of mean-spirited YouTube video?

Ultimately, however, Modest Reception‘s payoff comes not in the answers to these questions, but rather in the unexpected ways in which the tables are turned on Leyla and Kaveh. Relatively early on in the film, it becomes obvious that the pair’s actions are going to have consequences that they can neither control by (literally) throwing money at them nor ignore by laughing at them. The film could easily wrap up with these characters “getting what they deserve” in some sensationalistic fashion, but Haghighi follows a more open-ended path. Leyla and Kaveh are given an opportunity to grow and learn from their experiences, but it is not abundantly clear whether they will take that opportunity or just retreat into their comfortable routines. Altogether, Modest Reception‘s shifting ground of mystery, surprise and reflection adds up to an engaging experience.

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Eric Prindle

administers Bad Entertainment. He is also an attorney who leads a team of legal marketing copywriters at FindLaw. He is not Eric Prindle, the mixed martial arts fighter.

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