(director/writer: Mohammad Rasoulof; cinematographer: Pooyan Aghababaei; editor: Andrew Bird; music: Karzan Mahmood; cast: Misagh Zare (Iman), Soheila Golestani (Naimeh), Mahsa Rostami (Rezvan), Setareh Maleki (Sana), Niousha Akshi (Sadaf), Reza Akhlaghi (Ghaderi); Runtime: 168; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Mohammad Rasoulof, min Sadraei, Jean-Christophe Simon, Mani Tilgner, Rozita Hendijanian; Neon/Run Way Pictures; 2024-Iran/France/Germany-in Farsi with English subtitles)

“Amazingly shot in secret inside Iran.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The openly political Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof (“There Is No Evil”/”A Man of Integrity”) is sentenced in 2024 to an 8-year prison sentence by the Ayatollah’s Revolutionary Court, in Iran’s extremist religious regime, and flees the country in exile over its mountains. In 2022 he spent several months in the notorious Evin Prison for not following orders to stop making films in Iran.

The radicalized filmmaker presents a tantalizing political tale of violence and paranoia in modern-day Iran, that divides families as well as genders and the country. It’s set during the 2022 street uprising over the police killing the young woman, Jina Mahsa Amini, who wore an improper hijab.

It’s a powerful melodrama, that was amazingly shot in secret inside Iran. It condemns Iran’s rulers as murderers of innocent people and further condemns its draconian legal system.

The 3-hour film is told through the eyes of a conservative traditional family, with the father, loyal to the ruling party, as portrayed as one of those regime lackeys who made it impossible for Rasoulof to live in Iran.

The Tehran family man Iman (Missagh Zare) has just been appointed as an investigator, who is in line to become a judge. He’s a quiet but bad guy, who gets ratted-out on a TikTok post by liberals as the regime loyalist who rubber-stamps his signature on the death warrants of the protesters  without being allowed to read the evidence against them.

Iman’s pious wife Naimeh (Soheila Golestani) believes in the regime’s theocracy and is unaware of what her husband does. One of their daughters Rezvan (Mahsa Rostami) attends college, while the feisty Sana (Setareh Maleki) is still in high school.

When dad’s loaded gun disappears, that was given to him upon his promotion for protection by his office colleague, Ghaderi (Reza Akhlaghi), he was told to always keep it with him. He’s alarmed that it’s missing, and suspects his daughters of the theft. He then harshly questions them. This act rips the family apart, as the mother sides with her daughters while dad becomes isolated and selfishly only worries he might lose his job over the missing gun.

The story rips into the oppressive regime, as an ideological and generational battle takes place in the streets that goes on for too long without being pruned.

The title is explained in a prologue, telling us “a tree that seeds itself on other trees, sending roots into the air, eventually will cover and kill the host tree to become its sacred self.” According to the director, those who choose a society of freedom over repression, like the judge’s teenage daughters, will in time win the struggle for the soul of Iran and will take root and inherit the country.

Despite its editing flaws, this is a must-see topical political film by a courageous filmmaker, that is hard to believe it got made at all.

The director received a standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival, and so did his film.

REVIEWED ON 5/30/2024  GRADE: A-