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movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Maryam

Starring: Mariam Parris, David Ackert
Director: Ramin Serry
Rated: NR
RunTime: 87 Minutes
Release Date: April 2000
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Sabine Singh, Michael Blieden, Jason Nash, Shaun Toub, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Maz Jobrani

Reviewer Roundup
1.  Harvey Karten review follows ---
2.  Steve Rhodes read the review movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

When President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered his address to the Daughters of the American Revolution, he began, "Fellow immigrants" to the shock of the good ladies in his audience. The D.A.R., erroneously considering themselves the real, native Americans, were just one group that warned against the acceptance of new people from abroad with different values from theirs, but even less conservative groups have from time to time discriminated against newcomers from outside Northern Europe. The most recent example of trouble is the dislike that some Americans appropriate against Arab-Americans, given the recent events of 9/11 and, in the light of the taking of American hostages by Iranian terrorists in 1979, Iranian-Americans did not fare well either. "Maryam" is the story of one Iranian-American girl who, though living in New Jersey for most of her life was directly affected just after the ouster of the Shah in Teheran and the 1979 standoff between the Ayatollah's anti-American government and our own country.

Presented with considerable humor to further punctuate its political resonance, writer-director Ramin Serry's well-paced and sprightly-acted movie has contemporary resonance despite its coverage of events that occurred twenty-three years ago. Just as the hostility of some Americans toward Muslims and Arabs living in the U.S. seems to have died down months after the destruction of the World Trade Center, the anger of some of our countrymen toward Iranians in '79 dissipated when hostages were released. While the most poignant scenes from "Maryam" deal with the way an assimilated Iranian family becomes the target of clashes during the hostage crisis, the core of the story is the relationship between the title character (Mariam Parris) and her cousin Ali (David Ackert) who had arrived on a student visa from Iran. The cultural dissonance becomes obvious from the first moments as Maryam, about to give a welcoming embrace to Ali, is shunned by the religious Muslim who refuses even to shake hands with a woman. As Ali, who is taken in by his uncle, Dr. Armin (Shaun Toub), settles into his new and unfamiliar quarters with Maryam's father and mother (Shohreh Aghdashloo), the dissonance between the two cultures increases incrementally. As Ali shows his disgust, first at the easygoing relationships between the boys and girls in Maryam's high school and later at the demonstrations against the Ayatollah's government, a family secret emerges that threatens the uneasy truce among the Armin family members but has political repurcussions as well.

To the credit of Ramin Serr in his debut feature as a filmmaker with "Maryam," the characters are not plot devices, each representing a single point of view. Dr. Armin, for example, comes across as a secular, Americanized doctor who even gives his daughter the keys to a car, but at the same time is overly protective of her to the extent of forbidding her to go to parties or even dating. While Ali's heart remains with the fundamentalist regime in his home country, his English is good and he appears at times almost to be embracing the hang-loose style he sees displayed around him by his hip countryman Reza (comedian Maz Jobrani). From time to time he cracks a winning smile and we expect him almost to chuck his uptight bringing, even to the point of flirting with his cousin, Maryam.

Serry seamlessly weaves in some actual news clippings of the time, including one of Jimmy Carter sharing a drink with the Shah and of the Ayatollah blessing the throngs of citizens joyfully expressing their satisfaction with change of government. Politics takes a backstage to the personal story of a teenager, winningly played by Mariam Parris, itching to blossom into her first romance with a classmate named Jamie (Victory Jory) while learning something new and shocking about her father news which draws her closer to her overwrought cousin, Ali.

Copyright 2002 Harvey Karten

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