Atomic Heart full movie review - Two cool Iranian party girls run into a larger control threat.
Atomic Heart flies in the face of everything we know about Iranian cinema. It's a surrealistic version of Taxi, with two 20-something dyed-hair party girls navigating the wild night streets of Tehran in place of that film's earnest driver.
The girls begin as most un-Iranian heroines: self-indulgent, tipsy, indecorous, flashy, stylish, keen proponents of Western culture, as they sing "We Are the World" and cite Celine Dion. They're brassy when they talk to their male friend and a cop. In short, they appear to be two young women exercising a power we're astonished to see Iranian women have.
That passes. A couple of elevator scenes frame their change in attitude. In the first the redhead stops and starts the elevator doors from the outside, mischievously playing the machine. Later the elevator will run out of her control, with her friend first inside then magically transported to the high-rise's roof where her life is endangered.
Two things jolt the girls out of their sense of power. The first is a traffic accident. Driving the wrong way up a one-way street, they hit another car. The second is the mysterious stranger Toofan who crops up there and continues magically to till the end.
Toofan explains the history of Western toilets and their debt to Iran and China. After this humorous scholarship toilets become a pressing need for the girls. Toofan pays the man's car damages and disappears when the police come.
The police are surprisingly considerate, given what we hear of Iran. They're not alarmed by the girls' breath tests. The one escorting them to the police station asks for some intelligent criticism of the film Argo, so he can pretend he's seen it. The girls properly criticize it for its inaccuracies and for its insulting over-generalized representation of Iranians. Satisfied, he lets the girls off in order to question their male friend.
Toofan's reappearance shifts the film to surrealism. He brings Saddam Hussein into the car and has the girls drive him to a meeting in a limo. From then on Toofan takes control of the girls' lives and possibly their minds. If the girls began by being cocky about their freedom and power, Toofan subdues them, bending them to his will to the point of tempting them to a suicidal plunge putatively into another dimension. Of course their destiny is resolved by a game of paper, rock, scissors. (That could be a better course to world peace than the UN.)
To Toofan Tehran is paradise but he dresses Western cool. Without a clue about how this film would be read by its home audience, I'm wary about any interpretation. But I'd offer this: It extends its heroines an extravagant freedom in character and power but only to rein them in to serve a larger power beyond their normal ken. If the girls feel liberated from one level of control there's always another.