Movie Review: Septembers of Shiraz

In 1979, the world changed for the worst. Shi’ite Muslims in Iran over threw their government to install the first Jihad prone government in the Muslim world. Most westerners, American and otherwise had never heard the word Jihad before. But, starting with Iran it would become a household word in the years to come. Since their revolution Iran has become the largest purveyor of terrorism in the last 35 years. You might say they are the world’s first terrorist nation. And, are the main cause for the kinds of dangers we face today.

After the revolution Iranians found themselves living under two of history’s most tyrannical systems. A government run by shi’ite clerics imposing the worst totalitarian measures rivaled only by Nazism and Communism, compounded by Sharia law which is about the most oppressive system of ruling that can be found among any of the world’s great religions. General restrictions on the population abound, if you are gay, Jewish, a woman, or any other non Muslim you are in danger living in Iran.

I think we here in the West refer to it as “power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

A movie released last June “The Septembers of Shiraz,” adapted from the semi-autobiographical novel of the same name by Dalia Sofer, who was ten at the time her family left Iran in 1982. The movie shows this world from the inside, the hatred, torture, jealousy, and corruption which is embodied in that country until this very day. The movie follows the Amin family, in post-revolutionary Iran. They are Jews. Yes, once again it is the Jews who are the world’s minor’s canary. If you want to gauge governments on a scale from good to evil, just look how it treats its Jews. Iran is no different than the worst that has ever been out there.

“The Septembers of Shiraz” profiled in 2015 at the Toronto film festival was then released into the cable market on June 24, 2016. It stars Adrien Brody and Salma Hayek, and was produced by Millennium films, whose principles include Gerard Butler, the actor. Directed by Wayne Blair off of a Hanna Weg script who based her treatment on Sofer’s 2007 novel.

Adrien Brody’s character, Isaac, is arrested because he is a rich, well to do, Iranian cosmopolitan business man who gained his wealth in the jewelry business. Not unlike Jews in Germany 50 years earlier who were arrested for the same crimes, being successful in business and having material possessions that ruling oppressive thugs coveted and wanted and would take at will. We all know how that turned out. Luckily in 1979 and ’80 the world had learned a lesson about this kind of persecution. With the creation of the State of Israel and the World War II experience, the free world allowed for a safe haven for these Jews and others persecuted in this system to go elsewhere for asylum. Issac’s arrest, subsequent interrogations and torture spearheads the main story which is the insanity that gripped that country after the revolution and the lowlifes that ran it then and still run it today.

Isaac is forced into giving up his entire fortune in order to gain his release from prison. He then takes what he had left hidden for just such an occurrence and escapes with his wife and daughter to Turkey and eventually to freedom in the west. This is not an uncommon story for Iranian Jews during that time. Many of these people escaped with their very lives with little more than the shirts on their backs.

Some of these Jews ended up in Los Angeles where I live. The synagogue I go to has many of the children of these people who now have families of their own. And, yes, they have found success in their adopted America. Many more Iranian Jews ended up in Israel. They have become a material gain for that country with their acumen in academics, science, business, and the arts. What was essentially a Muslim loss in Iran has become a Jewish gain in Israel. Maybe that’s why Israel is on Iran’s radar for destruction. Who knows with those hooligans.

The movie on that account alone is worth watching. Just to get an insight into that time and how evil those people are. Regardless of whatever crime the Shah and his family may have committed, the new ruling class did not have the right to use their religion to also persecute the innocent.

However, the film fails in several essential areas. The movie’s title, I am not sure about. It certainly doesn’t make much sense in English. Shiraz is a type of grape in that region of the world used for making wine. I have a feeling the title is something translated from Farsi that does have some meaning to the story, but in English, it’s pointless. The producers should have chosen a more appropriate name.

The movie is done in English which takes a chunk of reality from the story. In 2016 we have learned that to understand history on film regardless of whatever liberties any film maker might take with the truth, one rule we no longer cross is to put it into English when it takes place in a non-English speaking country.

I understand why the producers signed recognizable names in the starring roles. To use Iranian actors in those roles would have hurt the movie’s chances for success. But listening to Adrien Brody and Salma Hayek speak English in a Persian accent ruined so much of the story. It would have been better if they had learned the script in Farsi even with American and Spanish accents. The rest of the actors are either Arabic or Iranian and their roles could have easily been in Farsi.

Either that or bite the bullet and use Iranian actors in those roles. That being said both Brody and Hayek along with director Blair did the best they could with what they had. Hayek is the daughter of a Lebanese immigrant father but grew up in Mexico and speaks Spanish as her first language which probably would not have helped the script anyway.

The story was compelling and should be told to the general audience. But, using English to tell it instead of Farsi is a joke. We are grown-ups now. We can read subtitles. The movie industry should recognize this and embrace it. Who knows maybe with small changes like that an Academy Award might have been available in the best foreign film category. It could have attracted an international audience instead of focusing on the American movie experience. Done in English the movie went straight to video, hardly anyone saw it and it made no money.

Still, you should see it from what transpired in the first part of this review. It’s currently available on Netflix.

About the Author
Larry Hart has been writing and commenting on Jewish issues since 1985. His body is in the U.S., but his heart is in Israel.