A man, a woman, and a baby that doesn’t belong to them – this is the backdrop of writer/director Nima Javidi’s Melbourne. Set in present-day Tehran, the film bears strong influence from Asghar Fahardi’s 2011 hit A Separation, not least because it also features leading man Peyman Moaadi. Tense and expertly edited, Melbourne digs deep into what goes on behind closed doors in an urban apartment building and how far people will go when responsibility, morality and self-interest collide.
Set almost entirely within the same apartment, Melbourne follows married couple Amir (Moaadi) and Sara (Negar Javaherian) on the day that they are set to leave for Australia on student visas. With personal effects packed up and appointments set for furniture removal and building inspection, it seems that the worst of the couple’s problems is the constant flow of friends and family lamenting and agonizing their departure. However, Sara’s acceptance to look after a neighbor’s newborn at the nanny’s insistence that she’ll return within the hour threatens to put a kink in their plans.
But one hour stretches into three and still Amir and Sara have the child. Meanwhile it becomes evident that the parents, whom the couple does not know well, are in the midst of a fierce custody battle. When an accident occurs in Amir and Sara’s apartment, panic subsides to fear, anger and despair as the consequences of a white lie explodes to everyone’s detriment.
It’s difficullt to discuss without giving too much away, but a constant theme throughout the film is blame-shifting. Whether it’s from one person to another, or a character blaming ignorance or fate, we see the fallout of when a person denies their accountability play out over and over. The drama is searing and frustrating to watch at times – perhaps because it feels all too real.
Moaadi and Javaherian are excellent, playing off of each other and the different emotional wavelengths that their characters inhabit as, surrounding them, the apartment becomes a metaphor for the life that they are seeking to escape. As the story progresses, the actors are shot increasingly in close up, amplifying the claustrophobia that sets in when Amir and Sara feel that they cannot do anything to improve their situation.
Even though there is nothing explicit that would normally turn audiences away, Melbourne is a somewhat difficult film to watch because of how well it reflects human nature. We see ourselves in Amir and Sara; we cringe at the course of action that they decide to take; but, if we were up there on the screen, could we do better?