Daniel Y-Li Grove and Reza Sixo Safai’s New Wave neon Noir takes us for an exhilarating ride
Former Iranian child soldier Behrouz (Reza Sixo Safai) has never recovered from his experiences in the Iran-Iraq war. Years later, a tortured immigrant living in Los Angeles, he turns to opium for relief. His addiction leads him into the underworlds of the Persian and Russian mafias.
The visuals of the film are as important as the plot. Behrouz sports Robert Smith hair, a nod to ‘80s Goth, as New Wave music plays in the background of nearly every scene. This deliberate throwback to the 1980s reflects Behrouz’s inability to move past the era when he was traumatized. The screen is bathed in hues of rose, a significant color in Iranian culture. Fever-dream images of winding roads lit only by headlights, transitions from normal coloring—to pink and red-stained—to opaque magenta, then back to normal—render Los Angeles impossible to recognize, even for a native.
This update of classic Los Angeles noir deviates from the usual gangster machismo. Violence between male characters is homoerotic, their faces intimately close, their lips brushing, the camera’s gaze lingering in the erotically-charged space between hate and love.
Although a visual feast for the eyes, replete with stunning images of the city from the Hollywood Hills at night and graphic flashbacks to the war, much of the film’s strength lies in what isn’t obvious. A crucial fight scene is intentionally ambiguous—the camera focuses on a set of stairs as two male characters wrestle out of frame, only occasionally revealing flailing legs or arms (to whom these parts belong is unclear). Close-ups of painted fingernails, beards, and signs are clues to anchor us in the midst of jumbled flashbacks and mysterious dialogue. Behrouz’s boss, a successful real estate broker, is mentioned often in the film but depicted only in a For Sale sign on a front lawn, and on the cover of a magazine. During an important conversation, the characters are shown in profile and backlit, making the audience pay attention to determine who is who.
Despite the serious subject matter, the film contains funny moments, including a scene of deliciously obscene Farsi cursing with English subtitles.
The film falls flat only in Helena Mattson’s performance as Oksana, Behrouz’s Russian girlfriend. She slips in and out of an unconvincing Russian accent and delivers her lines too melodramatically in what is admittedly a melodramatic film. Motivations for Oksana’s behavior go totally unexplored.
During a question and answer session after the screening, Reza Sixo Safai (who co-wrote the screenplay) explained that his performance was based on the life of someone “dear to me, who fought in the frontlines of the Iran-Iraq war, and never really recovered.” He explained that this person had moved to Los Angeles and achieved the American Dream (“big house, wife, kids, a good business”) but eventually committed suicide, which Safai attributed to untreated PTSD. Safai hoped that the film would raise awareness both in the Iranian community and in the West of the effects of a war that claimed the lives of two million people.
Harboring his own motivations, director Daniel Y-Li Grove spoke of his love for Los Angeles. “The film is painted in a certain way because L.A. is painted in a certain way. It’s pinks and reds, not just gritty like how it’s shown in Chinatown and other LA noir films.” The Persian Connection’s acid-trip colors show a Los Angeles that’s outwardly colorful but inwardly dark—a not-inaccurate depiction of the city.
Lauren Marcus is a writer in Los Angeles.