Radiograph of a Family review – unveiling a marriage shaped by Iran’s history

Firouzeh Khosrovani’s autobiographical documentary opens in a grand yet sparely decorated drawing room, painted in white. As an unhurried tracking shot pulls viewers into the strangely still space, a sense of mystery permeates: nearly all the furniture is draped in ivory-coloured cloth. Indeed, the film operates like an act of unveiling. Peering through the hazy gauze of the past, Khosrovani explores her parents’ complex against the shifting tides of Iranian history.

On her wedding day, Khosrovani’s mother, Tayi, married with only a photograph of her father, Hossein, present, while he was studying radiology in Switzerland. Having grown up in a religious household in Iran, Tayi was never at ease in Geneva, where she spent the early years of her marriage. When she became pregnant with Firouzeh, she urged a reluctant Hossein to return to Tehran, right on the brink of the Iranian revolution.

Photos, home videos and archival newsreels comprise the bulk of the film’s visual materials, showing how personal and collective memories deeply intertwine. Khosrovani deploys her family archive in a startling way. Instead of a simple slideshow, the camera gazes directly at the photos for an extended period, the slight unsteadiness in each shot mirroring the turbulence that soon seeped into the marriage. With an 18-year age gap between them, the couple had markedly different attitudes to their home country. Moreover, the more secular Hossein treasured western classical music, while Tayi became increasingly devout and conservative as the Iranian regime changed.

Still, these changes are observed without judgment, but with a child’s empathetic curiosity about their parents. While the audio re-enactment of Tayi and Hossein’s conversations are occasionally overly narrativised, this is a beautifully crafted work of family history with an especially powerful ending.

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