Film Review by Nick Kouhi
Memory, both recalled and manufactured, shapes Firouzeh Khosrovani’s Radiograph of a Family. Her memories of growing up in Iran, before and after the 1979 Revolution, complement those of her parents. In several respects, this striking docufiction hybrid is about, and for, Khosrovani’s parents and the gulf forged between them along lines of cultural and religious difference. That she expresses nothing but love for her mother and
father injects the well-worn dichotomies she raises between west and east, Islamism and modernity, with deeply personal nuance.
The film conjoins archival footage and photographs, many of them taken by Khosrovani’s father, Hossein, alongside fragments of conversations shared between him and his wife, Tayi. Their words, along with Khosrovani’s voiceover narration, are performed by actors, and the resultant effect is one which lends early passages of idyllic courtship between Hossein and Tayi an ephemeral undercurrent of melancholy.
Conflict seems inevitable first when Hossein asks his new bride to move with him to Geneva, then again when Tayi asks her husband to move back to Iran with their newborn daughter. The embarrassment and humiliation Tayi, a pious and devout Muslim, feels upon seeing Swiss women in “revealing clothes” provides empathetic recognition of Tayi’s status as an immigrant. More poignant still are the minute gestures which fuse transnational norms, complicating a simplistic narrative of cultural hegemony. Nowhere is this more touching than Tayi’s beloved nickname for Hossein, “Mousieu”, first spoken when she mispronounced “monsieur”.
Tayi becomes gradually more radicalized, first by the lectures of Dr. Ali Shariati and then by the nascent years of Khomeini’s Islamic Republic. Khosrovani recounts her sorrow as a child trying to maintain some equilibrium in a fraught household marked by her recurring nightmares that her mother would be killed on the front lines of the war with Iraq. As Tayi discards more “decadent” cultural accoutrements, the fictive recreation of the Khosrovani household in long, measured tracking shots provides the most explicit allegory for Iran’s changing social structure.
The film’s allegorical fusion of the societal with the interpersonal isn’t a seamless one, particularly in the gaping omissions of life under Pahlavi rule. And while it would have resulted in a less personal film, one can’t help but occasionally wonder how Khosrovani’s parents, particularly Tayi, could speak to their experiences in their own words. But while the film’s brisk 82-minute runtime doesn’t fully realize its director’s ambitions, Radiograph of a Family nevertheless lingers as a mournful evincement of diasporic trauma.