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Suspicious minds abound in 'Fireworks Wednesday' (unrated)

Someone once described it this way: Morals are about the differences between right and wrong; ethics concern the conflict between two rights. Good dramatists in any medium exploit that conflict, fruitfully, and the most vivid example on screen at the moment is provided by the sharp, unpredictable Iranian drama Fireworks Wednesday.

The film is only now getting a proper release. It’s the third feature by the writer-director Asghar Farhadi, who won an Academy Award for a later film, the superb divorce saga A Separation. In the wake of that movie’s success, last year an earlier Farhadi drama of riddles and secrets and ethical domestic tangles, About Elly, was put into American circulation. Now the same has happened with Fireworks Wednesday, a 10-year-old title well worth your time.

Saving up for her imminent wedding, a young Tehran woman (Taraneh Alidousti) is sent by an agency to work as a cleaner for an apartment on the other side of the city. The family in the apartment plainly is coming apart at the seams. The mother (Hedieh Tehrani) of a school-aged boy (Matin Heydarnia) barely seems capable of taking care of herself, let alone a child.

Mistrust is killing this woman by degrees. She suspects her husband (Hamid Farokh-Nejad) of an affair with the divorcee next door (Pantea Bahram), who runs a nail salon out of her apartment. Fireworks Wednesday is a tale of spies and spying; the mother persuades the cleaning lady to get her eyebrows done next door and report back, on the sly, regarding any suspicious evidence of marital wrongdoing.

Throughout the film, the Persian New Year fireworks explode in the background, jacking up the tension building inside and outside the apartment complex. Rouhi, the cleaning temp played with beguiling vulnerability by Alidousti, isn’t sure where her sympathies lie in this mess. Gradually she becomes a more active, and potentially destructive, player in the scenario. True to form for Farhadi, easy, moralizing conclusions lie just outside the frame. Like Rouhi, the audience becomes both observer and participant in a tightly wound cycle of white lies, evasions and subtle indictments of Iran circa 2006, and the pressures its society exerts on ordinary people.

Much of the action takes place in the couple’s haphazard apartment, but the movie really does feel like a movie, with Farhadi’s camera unobtrusively energizing the close-quarters exchanges, both verbal and nonverbal. The acting is splendid. By Farhadi’s standards there’s a rare happy ending of sorts, at least for one of the couples, neither contrived nor entirely free of its own potential issues of mistrust. Nobody’s nose grows when they lie in Fireworks Wednesday, but it can’t be accidental when Farhadi lingers a second on the son’s bedroom wall poster of Disney’s Pinocchio.

Cast: Taraneh Alidousti, Hedieh Tehrani, Hamid Farokh-Nejad, Pantea Bahram.

Director: Asghar Farhadi.

Screenwriters: Asghar Farhadi, Mani Haghighi.

A Grasshopper Film release. Running time: 104 minutes. In Persian with English subtitles. In Miami-Dade only: Coral Gables Art Cinema.