Having previously brought a Dostoevsky tale to the screen in his debut Bridge of Sleep, The Old Bachelor sees Iranian director Oktay Baraheni turning his focus to the destructive nature of patriarchy. Weighing in at over 3 hours, Baraheni’s latest charts the spiraling tensions within an Iranian family headed by a monstrously abusive father.
When he moves a alluring divorcee into their dilapidated Tehran apartment block with hopes of marrying her, simmering jealousies bring this damaged family unit to breaking point. Described as a “gripping domestic saga of bad blood and worse men”, The Old Bachelor promises to be a tense and atmospheric character study examining the crushing effects of male domination. With echoes of Shakespearean tragedy, it has the makings of a film that sparks discussion around pressing social issues.
Unforgettable Portraits of Damaged Men
At the dark heart of The Old Bachelor is Hassan Pourshirazi’s Gholam, the hulking, heroin-smoking patriarch prone to brute violence when defied. His lumbering physicality and talent for verbal cruelty make him an instantly compelling villain.
We learn Gholam’s savagery has already driven away one wife, while his surviving sons Ali and Reza have been warped by decades under his crushing thumb. As the brooding, submissive Ali, Hamed Behdad radiates the gentle spirit of a good man broken by ceaseless tyranny, with the mercurial Mohammad Valizadegan excelling as younger sibling Reza. More hot-headed yet insecure, Reza remains desperate to earn his father’s validation.
Arriving later is Leila Hatami’s alluring mystery woman, whose casual magnetism sets this precarious family on a path to destruction. Keenly aware something is amiss but ignorant of Gholam’s vile intentions, Hatami brings presence and complexity. Yet The Old Bachelor undoubtedly belongs to Pourshirazi, his portrayal generating a pressure cooker tension that detonates with ultimately bloody results. He leaves us Gambon-esque: this is a villain for the ages.
Hard-Hitting Social Commentary
While crafted as an intimate family drama, The Old Bachelor has wider intentions in its crosshairs. Within this insider’s glimpse of an Iranian household wrecked by hyper-masculinity, Baraheni spearheads discussion around enduring patriarchal attitudes.
Through Gholam’s vile behavior, the film spotlights the crushing damage caused when sexism and discrimination are left unchecked, with economic instability only exacerbating tensions. Yet Baraheni’s greatest success is balance; avoiding polemical lecturing in favor of layered character study. We bear witness as Gholam’s diseased worldview poisons those around him, captured unflinchingly by a filmmaker in command of his craft.
While a distinctly Iranian story, The Old Bachelor speaks to universal societal flaws. Its supposed villains are better considered victims of circumstance, of systems that nurture chauvinism. Few will leave the film with absolute heroes or villains, but many may emerge more thoughtful on what power imbalances can unleash.
Evocative Visual Storytelling
Beyond the committed performances lies considered craftsmanship in realizing this tense family portrait. Shooting on location in Tehran, Baraheni maximizes the squalid apartment’s cramped hopelessness through tight frames and moody low lighting. The grimy authenticity of its drug dens and back alleys echomatically reflect characters clinging to the margins.
Yet the production design articulates without words: paintings allude to better times, while numerous half-finished methadone bottles showcase present decay. Beauty and domesticity linger through furnishings from the dead mother, now drowned out by takeaway containers and cigarette butts.
Just as families can rot from the inside, we feel the building crumbling around this one, brick by sooty brick. The Old Bachelor may sprawl over three hours, but through visual details and queues Baraheni fosters immersion in this living, breathing world, where environmental factors hold as much agency as any player.
Simmering Resentments Boil Over
Central to The Old Bachelor is the fraught dynamic between Gholam and his two adult sons, Ali and Reza. Weary of their father’s tyranny, the brothers hope selling the dilapidated apartment block will grant escape. But Gholam refuses, opting to rent an upstairs room to a captivating divorcee. Smitten from their first meeting, Gholam pursues her with ill intentions.
This disruptive presence lights the fuse on simmering tensions, with Baraheni ratcheting pressure through a series of intensifying incidents. Prone to mocking his eldest son Ali’s sensitivities, Gholam delights in targeting perceived weakness. Yet when Ali and the woman show mutual affection, jealous rage consumes Gholam. The middle act’s most striking scene sees Gholam brutally humiliate Ali when discovering them together. For the already timid son, this public shaming proves the final blow.
Reza meanwhile grows increasingly volatile, bouncing between sycophancy and homicidal urges towards his dad. With masterful restraint, Baraheni strings the audience along this knife-edge, suggesting the horror to come through piercing glimpses not sustained spectacle. When the gruesomely cathartic finale arrives, The Old Bachelor has earnt its climactic gut punch. By then, we feel lockstep alongside these souls suspended over the abyss, with economic and societal factors leaving them scarce hope of salvation. Few will depart the cinema unmoved.
A Towering Achievement Demanding Attention
In an age when audiences increasingly favor brevity, The Old Bachelor makes no concessions towards truncated storytelling. Yet its sprawling runtime feels fully vindicated in service of multidimensional portraits examining why family units shatter irrevocably. Through Baraheni’s script, camera and performers, we invest in even the vilest souls, hoping for their salvation from cycles of abuse.
While challenging in its unflinching descent into suffering, The Old Bachelor rewards those who fully surrender to its cloistered nightmare. Critical plaudits seem assured, matched hopefully by discerning arthouse crowds wise to never underestimate Iranian cinema’s power.
For navigating such sensitivity around gender dynamics, Baraheni confirms his status as a leading cinematic voice. Few films in recent memory have prompted equally vigorous debate on what a just society should resist tolerating even in the name of unity.
The Old Bachelor
Tackling urgent societal ills with maturity and nuance, The Old Bachelor cements Oktay Baraheni as a filmmaker of insight and integrity. While an undoubtedly demanding viewing experience, its unflinching examination of masculinity’s darker manifestations make for vital thinking.
- Powerful performances, especially by Hassan Pourshirazi
- Strong direction and writing by Oktay Baraheni
- Timely social commentary on patriarchy and toxic masculinity
- Evocative cinematography and production design
- Builds substantial tension across its lengthy runtime
- Over 3 hour runtime could limit appeal
- Unflinching descent into family suffering is challenging
- Pacing drags at points in second act