Basically a conventional story-driven drama, writer-director Asghar Farhadi's Beautiful City is a different kind of Iranian filmfor New York audiences, at least. With best friend Akbar still in prison, facing the death penalty for killing his girlfriend at age 16, recently released Ala (Babak Ansari) recruits the condemned boy's sister (Taraneh Alidoosti, recently seen in I'm Taraneh, 15) to lobby the victim's father (Faramarz Gharibian) for clemency. At times resembling an Iranian Dead Man Walking, Beautiful City goes out of its way to give each character a fair shakea few patriarchal rages notwithstanding, even the vengeful father is treated sympathetically. But the script, overly laden with red herrings, forces its characters into some improbable dilemmasthe bereaved father has to choose between paying the blood money required for the execution (Iranian law stipulates the value of a woman's life as half that of a man's) and getting an operation for his wife's adult daughterand the ambiguous ending feels inconsistent with the too tidy setup. But as a director, Farhadi demonstrates a lighter touchthe paint peeling from the door frames tells us all we need to know about his characters' financial straits.
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