"Friday’s Soldiers" - Masoud Kimiai (2004)

Friday’s Soldiers (Sarbaz-haye Jome, 2004), by well-known Iranian writer-director Masoud Kimiai (Gheisar, 1969; The Deer, 1974), offers another example of the popular revenge motif.  As is characteristic of the genre that helped make Clint Eastwood famous, much of the film depicts some gross and cruel injustices that are suffered by the protagonists, who then render a bone-crunching payback to the wicked perpetrators in the closing scenes.

This particular revenge story concerns the events around one particular weekend when some young Iranian soldiers get a weekend pass to visit the “outside”.  The story passes through five distinct stages: the introductory scene, three scenes that depict the poisonous state of their society, and finally the cathartic conclusion.
1. The Barracks.
We are introduced to three of the four principal protagonists in this scene.  Asef is a new recruit who chooses to install his belongings in the lower bunk of a bed, the upper bunk portion of which is occupied by Reza.  Reza resents the sent of Asef’s eau de Cologne (signifying Asef’s higher class status) and thuggishly challenges him.  A bloody fistfight ensues, after which the two are hauled before their gray-haired superior, the “sergeant”.  Despite the brutality of their fight, Reza and Asef dismiss the whole thing as a little macho-laden dustup, and soon they become friends.  Together with another conscripted soldier, Saeed, who wishes nothing more than to leave the army and the country altogether, they all decide to go on a weekend leave.  The sergeant also decides to join them, and they set off on their outing.  

2. Reza’s Place
Reza wishes to visit his ailing mother, but upon arrival he learns that she has already passed away and the mourning is already underway.  He learns that his elderly father had neglected and presumably antagonized the ailing mother by recently taking on a young sighe (temporary additional wife).  Reza’s sister has just murdered her abusive, drug-addicted husband and will face a cruel justice.  After the agony of much wailing and multiple revelations and recriminations, the four soldiers leave Reza’s residence and are joined by Reza’s brother. 

3. The Sergeant’s Place.  
The group now visits the sergeant’s home, where a young female family member is apparently suffering from epilepsy.  Asef watches the girl’s fit in horror and is evidently disturbed that the girl is likely doomed to be treated as a social embarrassment. 
4. Asef’s Place.  
After a stopover to observe Reza’s brother at a recording studio session, the group, now joined by Asef’s sister, Noghre, go to Asef’s luxurious family residence. The class difference separating Asef from his companions is clearly on display in this scene.  This sequence, the longest in the film, is centered around Noghre, a beautiful, educated woman who has recently descended into drug addiction.   Asef urges her to abandon drugs and return to a normal life, but she tells him that her drug addiction stems from despair over the murder of her beloved, a well-known professor famous for his knowledge of poetry and philosophy.  The professor was murdered, we eventually learn, by a jealous young gangster who lusted after the beautiful Noghre.  The depraved gangster then took advantage of the grief-stricken Noghre’s resulting weakness over her lover’s death and got her enmeshed her in drug addiction, his own professional specialty.  When our “Friday’s Soldiers” learn about this, they immediately commit themselves to taking revenge on the entire gang. 
5. Revenge at the Slaughterhouse
The four young men and the sergeant equip themselves with clubs and then get Noghre to guide them to the gang’s headquarters at the slaughterhouse.  As soon as they arrive, they start knocking heads, and the next two minutes of screen time show a blood-spattering melee, with the Friday’s Soldiers barely holding their own.  They eventually succeed in their mission, though, and they all head back to the barracks to get aid for seriously wounded Saeed.  However, the closing shots of the film show the soldiers’ return impeded by a political demonstration that is underway in the city, as the big city seems to swallow up the soldiers and their concerns as if they hold no significance.
Overall, Friday’s Soldiers has serious weaknesses, and yet there are some attractive features to it, too.  On the down side, the narrative lacks coherence, and the middle three acts to the film come across as random and disconnected.  The acting in the film also has serious limitations, with overwrought histrionics substituting for serious dramatics.  This difficulty is exacerbated by Iranian social custom, which is typically highly emotive in many social situations, such as during grieving periods after a family death.   Thus the emotional scene at Reza’s place, with all its crying and wailing, seems artificially overwrought, insincere, and unconvincing.

Despite the overall mess of the story, however, the over-the-top, impressionistic images presented here have their mysterious upside, too.  They turn the film into a weird impressionistic phantasmagoria that plays according to its own mad logic.  This is particularly effective in the lengthy fourth act, “Asef’s Place”, where Noghre’s half-crazed recounting of her tragic descent begins to take over the entire film.  Her story begins to infuse the film with an overall theme.  These soldiers, for various reasons dropouts from their particular social circumstances and from Iranian society as a whole, couldn’t deal with all the contradictions and dissatisfactions in their lives.  But once they hear Noghre’s story, they have had enough; they resolve to stay and fight for justice.

Although the word “Friday” in the title may merely suggest that this is the last day of their brief weekend pass, it can also can carry the connotation of the Islamic holy day, the day of peace and mercy.  These “Friday’s Soldiers” see a society around them that is in decay, and action must be taken to set it aright.  The expressionistic cinematography emphasizes their emotional turmoil by constantly inserting  reaction shots of the protagonists, as they watch and react to one horror after another.

Unfortunately, such a moral interpretation of Friday’s Soldiers is undercut by the final, violent action of revenge.  Thrashing and stomping on those who are judged to commit wrong will not solve the problems in society; it merely perpetuates the cycle of hatred and violent reaction. All revenge films suffer from this basic moral discrepancy.  Such violent "retribution" may supply some visceral satisfaction, but it is only a primitive, animalistic response.

One final word needs to be said, however, in appreciation of the haunting, moody musical score by Peyman Yazdanian, who also scored the music for The Wind Will Carry Us (1999), Going By (2001), and Fireworks Wednesday (2006).  It’s so good that it alone elevates my rating of the film by half a star.

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