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I Want to Dance (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 4, 2020

I Want to Dance


Starring Reza Kianian, Mahnaz Afshar, Mohammad Reza Golzar, Reza Behbudi, Payam Dehkordi, Saber Abar, Pardis Ahmadieh, Sahar Dolatshahi, Behnaz Jafari, Ali Milani, Melina Moghise, Behnaz Nazi, Roya Nonahali, Ahmad Sa’atchian, Ali Sarabi, Maryam Shirazi and Armine Zeytounchian.

Screenplay by Omid Sohrabi.

Directed by Bahman Farmanara.

Distributed by FilmIran. 95 minutes. Not Rated.

Screened for The 1st Iranian Film Festival New York.

In the US, dancing is not at all controversial. However, in Iran, this bittersweet comedy by a well-known filmmaker caused a bit of a stir.

The story seems pretty straightforward here, if just a bit fanciful. Reza Kianian plays an aging writer and widower who is racked with depression and writer’s block since the death of his wife years earlier. At wits end, he visits a therapist, but he is of no help. Then the writer meets a mysterious young girl, giving out CDs on the street.

He takes one, and after listening to it, finds that music is constantly in his head, like a tuneful form of tinnitus. It seems the only way he can keep it under control is to dance, and suddenly he is dancing everywhere. People around him – family, friends, neighbors – think he has gone mad. (And that is not off the table, he does seem to have a bunch of odd hallucinations that come with the problem.) The audience is left to wonder – is the music making him a happier, more open man, or is it simply driving him mad?

It seems like a simple enough story, but it was controversial in his homeland – it was banned for a few years and only allowed to be released when they removed the word “Dance” from the title. (It played there under the name I Want To….)

Seeing I Want to Dance in a country where even Footloose was ridiculously behind about music and dancing the times 35 years ago, it’s hard to see what the big deal is. However, apparently the movie is much edgier than we realize from across the world.

Which is a shame, because I Want to Dance is a sweet and fanciful little film; a little odd, a little dark occasionally, but basically with a good heart and light feet.

The repressed and depressed author is Bahram (played by Reza Kianian, who looks like a bit like Robert De Niro crossed with Kurt Vonnegut). A formerly famous author in his sixties, who has long ago lost the ability to write and is still in mourning for his late wife, goes to a doctor for depression. Driving home from that appointment he meets the little girl with the music, and his life is changed. Despite his concerns, the constant loop of music in his head brings him happiness and a renewed sense of purpose.

It makes for a smart, charming and eccentric look at a community as his family and friends see the changes in him. It is also a fascinating look at a friendship which he makes with Maryam (Mahnaz Afshar). She is a young grifter whose scam is getting men to pick her up on the side of the road, and then extorting them for having the audacity to pick her up. They meet when he falls prey to her con, but she finds a fellow lost soul in him and starts to kind of like the weird old guy.

I Want to Dance has an odd mix of moods – and I mean that in a good way. At many points it is charmingly quirky. At other points it is disturbing. Sometimes it is very funny. Sometimes it can be morose.

That ambivalence extends to the crowd’s reaction to the hero. While the audience luxuriates in Bahram’s obvious delight in rediscovering purpose and happiness, there are a series of flash forwards throughout that hint at a darker future. At most points he seems sweet and charming, but in other scenes it appears that he is a bit delusional and may even be a danger to himself.

Which is fine. People – and life – don’t come in black and white. Sometimes you need to cry. Sometimes you need to dance. No matter what the people around you say.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2019 All rights reserved. Posted: January 10, 2019.

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