"20 Fingers" Review

By Deborah Young Variety

A provocative and fairly uncensored look at how urban men and women relate in today's Iran, "20 Fingers" gets points for boldness but few for originality, however spicy the dialogue might seem in the Mideast. Film is a derivative of Abbas Kiarostami's far more masterful reflection on woman's place in Iranian society, "Ten." Nonetheless, Mania Akbari, the sassy main actress in "Ten," makes a directing debut that will get talked about for breaking many post-revolutionary film taboos. Scant visuals and mucho dialogue will slow offshore sales, but, after opening Venice's new digital sidebar, pic should receive more fest bids.

Though screened in digital format to satisfy Venice, film has already been blown up to 35m for theatrical use. Akbari and her producer Bijan Daneshmand are the only actors. In a series of loosely connected conversations that generally take place on moving vehicles, the two discuss a range of issues representing typical arguments among couples.

The man is cast as the traditional southern Mediterranean male: possessive, fanatically jealous over trifles, ineffectually self-assertive. The woman becomes shrill and unpleasant pushing for the liberal view. There is quite a lot of tiring repetition in the dialogue as Akbari attempts to make her points.

Rather amazingly, these include some far-out things by Western standards. While he deflowers her (over a black screen) to make sure she's a virgin, she demands the right to abort his child so she can have more time for herself. While the police arrest a couple for kissing on the street, she defends adultery and admits she's very much enjoying a lesbian relationship.

The dialogues seem to take place between different couples, but the acting doesn't clearly distinguish them, at least to non-Farsi speakers. Framed mostly in close-up, Akbari and Daneshmand have a modern attractiveness about them. Lensing is adequate and no-frills.

Originally Published September 10, 2004

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