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Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in New York a couple years ago that gay rights wasn’t an issue in Iran because they don’t have any homosexuals. That earned an unintended laugh from the American audience.

Tehroun is surprising because it shatters the image presented by most Iranian cinema that Iran doesn’t have any prostitutes, johns, drinkers, or very much crime.

Dark Layers

Ibrahim's infant son helps with the begging
Ibrahim’s infant son helps with the begging

Ibrahim is a beggar. He lives with two friends, a short skinny taxi driver with big square glasses, and a handsome young bachelor who helps out around the house. Ibrahim has an infant son (which helps with his work as a beggar), and a wife back at home with her parents.

He takes an odd job one day and asks the bachelor friend to watch the child. The bachelor gets hit on by a prostitute, and he decides to take her up. They can’t find a hotel that will take cash in lieu of an ID, and when he tries one more hotel... he comes back out to find madonna and child have fled.

From here the story takes some interesting turns that I won’t spoil. With each new turn, another, darker layer is revealed in the underworld in Teheran ( Tehroun is the slang pronunciation).

Ibrahim is a beggar, but he has a boss, of sorts, who is capable of turning on anyone who crosses him. Ibrahim’s taxi driver friend is savvy enough to get a little deeper into the underworld, and he reveals a cruel streak that contrasts with his unassuming appearance.

Only Ibrahim’s wife is shocked by the desperation and amorality revealed in the dark parts of the city, yet she too gets drawn in before it’s all over.

Coming Out

There wouldn’t be much to remark on if Tehroun were an American film set in the West. But coming from Iran, it’s a big surprise.

Like the New Yorkers who laughed at Ahmadinejad’s remark, I don’t doubt that black markets and crime rings exist in Iran, just as they do in any big city. What is surprising is that an Iranian movie portrays them so directly.

Even the film’s production is a little surprising. Most Iranian movies (that I’ve seen) have very sparse soundtracks with little or no scored music. But Tehroun is filled with symphonic music and movie-tension soundscapes.

Maybe because the movie adopts the sounds and the frankness of the West, it invites comparison on that level. As such, it’s not a lot better than your average made-for-TV crime drama.

But if you know some Iranian cinema, catch Tehroun and see if you’re surprised at where the next generation of Iranian directors might go.