26th Annual Festival of Films from Iran: YAHYA DIDN’T KEEP QUIET (2015) review
written by: Tala Motazedi
produced by: Tina Pakravan
directed by: Kaveh Ebrahimpour
runtime: 80 min.
release date: February 28-29, 2015 (Gene Siskel Film Center, Chicago, IL)
“Yahya Didn’t Keep Quiet” is about a young boy’s coming-0f-age tale, one in which the titular child is not quite ready to come -of-age yet. The resilient boy has trouble figuring out the confusing world around him and the one closest to him eventually feels the repercussion of his perspective. It’s the feature-length debut for Kaveh Ebrahimpour, who is fortunate enough to work with multi-award winning Iranian actress Fatemeh Motamed Arya here, who also starred in “Avalanche”, the film that opened the 26th Annual Festival of Films from Iran at he Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago, IL. This makes her the alpha and omega of the festival and deservedly so – she’s fantastic.
Set in an inner-city neighborhood of modern-day Tehran, Tala Motazedi’s screenplay opens with an introduction to Yahya (Mahan Nasiri), a seven-year-old boy who we see orphaned by his father and left with his mysterious-yet-kind Aunt (Motamed Arya), who has earned a reputation as the volatile and creepy old lady on the block. She is indeed set in her ways and has secretive dealings with locals who arrive at her door seeking medical attention, which confounds the eavesdropping Yahya all the more. Together, the two of them develop a kinship developed by patience and acceptance on both sides. Yahya’s only friend is Leila (Neda Jebraili), a troubled teenage girl who lives with her father, Mr. Ardakani (Touraj Mansouri), across the alley and the two quickly form a needed connection. However, Yahya is influenced by the rumors the bullying neighbor kids in the alley, who label his aunt as a “baby killer” and soon he starts to act impulsively out, which will eventually result in trouble for his aunt.
In a film that relies heavily on characterization, its integral for the two main actors here to be able to carry Ebrahimpour’s film. They do so with ease. Nasiri is not only adorable, he also has the stubborn independence of a seven-year-old boy down pat. He also conveys a good degree of understandable curiosity and vulnerability – he explores his aunt’s home and discovers that a doctor used to live there, taking a stethoscope as his own and wearing it everywhere like a medal and we also see how he learns the hard way the cruelty of the local unruly boys. As the aunt, Motamed Arya delivers an intriguing nuanced performance which conveys a painful history just by her expressive emotions. She is a complicated character and the more we get to know her, the more we understand why. She tries to provide a caring and fun home for Yahya, but the clandestine services that she offers to others and the rumors that’ve spread throughout their neighborhood, find the boy unraveling all the attempts she’s made to provide a sufficient environment for him.
Director Ebrahimpour and screenwriter Motazedi explore themes of perception and misconceptions and how they both effect relationships both in family and society. It’s easy to jump to conclusions and sum people up by their actions and accept whatever labeling they are given – but, it’s never really who an individual is. The supporting characters are managed well here, never overpowering the two leads and yet providing enough information to offer an idea of where they are in this somewhat precarious environment.
The film is a solid drama that unnecessarily tinges with thriller conventions instead of just relying on an already compelling story. Ultimately, “Yahya Didn’t Keep Quiet” is a wholly satisfying two-character tale that provides a complicated look at lonely, discarded and tragic individuals.