SIFF 2019 Review: ‘Orange Days’

Rating: B

Orange Daysis a tense drama about Aban, a woman in Northern Iran who runs an all-woman orange-picking crew.  She puts everything she owns on the line as she competes against all-male crews to get a lucrative contract with a top orange dealer in the area.  

From the first moments of the film Western stereotypes of the submissive Muslim woman are shattered.  Aban has the strength of rebar and she is just as unbending.  Single-handedly, she faces obstacles put in her way:  sabotage, theft, a rebellion of her pickers instigated by a young mother in the crew.  Her rigidity puts a barrier between her and others, including her city-bred husband who would rather raise tropical fish than farm. He is clearly subservient to his wife in both domestic relations and family business matters. 

Director and co-writer Arash Lahooti keeps the action taut throughout.  Orange Dayshas a feel of an action thriller without the gunshots, car chases, and explosions.  As an audience, we admire Aban’s tenacity against impossible odds, but it is difficult to really like her; the wall she has built around her keeps us out as surely as it does other characters in the film.  Towards the end of the film, however, Lahooti and the actress Hadieh Tehrani conspire together to bring about the most subtle change in Aban’s manner, a softening, as we discover the underlying reason why Aban has pitted herself against the world, especially against the men therein.  Her husband, played by Ali Mosaffa, also undergoes a subtle transition, becoming a stronger character.

American audiences might prefer moments of humor to relieve the crushing tension, and they might miss some of the subtleties at the end that an Iranian would not. Lahooti has previously been a documentarian, however, and he creates this gritty drama to appear as true to life as his documentaries would—a worthy achievement.  I left the theater having to first unclench my hands from the chair arms, but with a feeling of satisfaction that I had a new glimpse into a country that current Americans know so little about, and about which we have so many false views. 

This movie was reviewed as part of our coverage of the 2019 Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF).

By Karen Samdahl
Related categories: Movies, SIFF