On first glance Empty Nets may sound like a typical old-fashioned Iranian film with the oft-used tale of a poor boy in love with a rich girl. However writer-director Behrooz Karamizadeh distinguishes his film from a flurry of other socially conscious love stories by instilling political overtones and adding a visual panache.
Amir (newcomer Hamid Reza Abbasi) is working as a delivery boy for a catering company in a seaside town in northern Iran. His meagre pay just about supports himself while his mother, with whom he lives, earns a little bit by making and selling homemade pickles. Amir is in love with Narges (Sadaf Asgari, one of Iran’s best young actresses), whose father owns a patisserie and is a few steps higher in the wealth class. Though they both love each other, Amir cannot realistically aske for her hand in marriage. They even have to meet in secret, which makes Narges complain of being tired of this “hide and seek”.
Amir’s characteristics and moral fibre are established by two events in the film. First is when he tries to intervene when the boss of the catering company threatens to cancel the food for a wedding because the couple haven’t paid up yet; which leads to Amir losing his job. As if that was not bad enough, the arrival of a suitor for Narges, who is deemed suitable by her parents, puts Amir in a run against time to somehow collect enough money for the required dowry. Amir looks desperately, and unsuccessfully to land a job. Any job. Scenes when Amir and hundreds of others are volunteering for a few jobs available are reminiscent of movies like On the Waterfront. Eventually he gets a job as a helper with a group of fisherman. Since he is an adroit swimmer and hungry for money, he is quickly given more daring tasks and more money. We see another facet of Amir’s character here when he points out that what the fishermen are doing – fishing for caviar – is illegal. But it’s a take it or leave situation for Amir and he can’t afford not to take it. We even see that he is environmentally conscious, when he starts to pick some of the rubbish washed up to the beach. But he is quickly reprimanded by the old fisherman to leave them be in the sea, “which is already full of garbage”.
Will Amir last in this hazardous occupation to earn enough money to propose to Narges? Will he take up another young man’s offer to take him by boat in hazardous weather to the border in exchange for a large sum of money? Will his morals and ethics get him into trouble? Will love survive all these obstacles? A news item on a TV in the background highlights the financial pressure put on the Iranians, specially the working class, by the international sanctions. This has led to widespread unemployment and a huge increase in the immigration of Iranians, specially the young generation. To anywhere.
There are enough twists and turns in the script to maintain the tension. What really impressed me was the very creative use of locations, which adds a highly expressive visual element to the film. Some of the dialogue in the film indicates that it was written by someone who has not been living in Iran (Karamizadeh lives in Germany) but this actually works better for the subtitles for foreign audiences. Karamizadeh ends the film with a shot which is a silent and strong political statement. Empty Nests is an impressive film by a director hitherto largely unknown and makes Karamizadeh a name to follow in the future.
Ali Moosavi started writing about cinema while editing his university’s newspaper in the UK. He writes for several print and online film journals and has contributed to the second volume of the The Directory of World Cinema: Iran (Intellect, 2015).