There is considerable value in My Tehran for Sale’s tackling the topic and the milieu that it does. Iran today is so repressive that young Iranians must “go underground” to participate in raves and other forms of youthful expression; the state does not allow such activities. Progressive theater is likewise forbidden.
The protagonist of writer-director Granaz Moussavi’s film is Marzieh, a young actress in Tehran whose love affair with Saman, an Iranian-born visitor from Australia, presents a way out of Iran’s voluminous and inhuman restrictions—until he learns that she is HIV-positive, at which point he brands her a “slut” and tosses her aside. (Marzieh reasonably counters, “How do we know that you didn’t transmit this to me?”) Marzieh decides to emigrate on her own to Australia, where, it turns out, she has much difficulty arguing her case for asylum.
One wants to like this movie; as I said, its topic is current and important. The non-linear mosaic of its presentation, with bits of scenes constantly shifting time and locale, makes for an intriguing piece of work; but everything is more or less undone by the trite, cornball, melodramatic plot that this presentation is intended to mask. This incredibly bad film widely misses the mark of a satisfying blend of fiction and documentary.
Moussavi, herself, is an Iranian-born Australian, and she has said that she drew upon personal experience and the experiences of people she knows, including her lead actress, Marzieh Vafamehr; but the story is too flimsy to do justice to the theme of dire political oppression. Compare Roman Polanski’s The Pianist (2002).
By way of compensation, Bonnie Elliott’s gorgeous color cinematography and the danger and rawness of the surreptitious filming on-location in Tehran. The use of hand-held camera is exemplary, but Moussavi’s film sinks, ironically, from lack of weight.
The title is ambiguous, but it may refer to the facts that Marzieh must sell everything she owns in order to exit Iran and that parties detained by the police, if they are wealthy, can easily buy their way out of arrest, jailing and being whipped. The film’s star was herself arrested for participating in this film and sentenced to one year in prison and to receive 90 lashes. Fortunately, an international furor over this judgment gained her release.