Love Iranian-American Style

By Steven Zeitchik

Published January 13, 2006, issue of January 13, 2006.

In “Love Iranian-American Style,” director Tanaz Eshaghian tackles the subject of marriage in the Persian-American community, where she interrogates, challenges and otherwise needles her relatives over their views on coupling. The Eshaghians fled the ayatollah’s brutal regime after the 1979 revolution, but the totalitarians they left behind need not worry; Eshaghian’s questioning might be considered its own brand of torture.

In their Southern California Iranian community, marriage is chiefly an economic vehicle, an obligation whose value is determined by a strange formula of (male) status and the speed with which one rushes toward it. Nearly all of Eshaghian’s female cousins have wed young and virginal, and it’s expected that she will, too. Eshaghian’s family, insistent and incredulous, is pure Big Fat Greek Wedding, all fawning and misguided Old World-ness. Of course, the more Eshaghian resists their matchmaking, the more she becomes their project.

For most of us, this setup might occasion a long chat with friends, maybe a therapist. To Eshaghian, this is inspiration for a film. The result is a clunky bit of self-indulgence in which the director constantly abandons moments of productive inquiry to congratulate herself for challenging her family’s immigrant naiveté. “Don’t you want to find connection?” she pecks endlessly at her mother and anyone else who’ll listen.

But the (not-so) dirty secret is that for all our heroine’s supposed rebellion, she actually hasn’t gotten very far away at all. The appearance of several non-Iranian ex-boyfriends, who late in the film describe with jolting clarity how Eshaghian’s plunge toward commitment doomed their relationships, confirm what we’ve suspected: Eshaghian’s questioning of her family’s values isn’t a defiant stance — it’s wishful thinking.

The film does crack open a window onto a colorful and relatively young immigrant Jewish community. Outside a synagogue in a modern-looking Los Angeles, parents scurry about in the kind of shidduch-peddling that might fit nicely in, say, Boro Park. The layering of a traditional Iranian song over a classic shot of a palm-lined Beverly Hills street is a wonderful touch. But there’s little contemplation of the provocative questions. Why, for example, does a basically secular community feel so strongly about legislating marriage in the first place? Is it a holdover from the Old Country, or a more farsighted method of self-preservation?

Instead, the feeling is one of those endless dinners with a friend whose strenuous denials of a marriage obsession wind up reinforcing the case. Eshaghian’s challenges to her family will produce a nod of recognition to any of us who has ever listened to someone protest the pull of his or her parents a little too much.



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