Pouran Derakhshandeh is a pioneer and trailblazer in the Iranian film industry. Her work tackles sensitive and timely issues, such as drug addiction, pedophilia, disease, and sectarian conflict. She has a global perspective and often collaborates with foreign actors and producers. In her English-language drama “Love Without Frontiers,” she draws parallels between the Iran-Iraq War and gang violence in Los Angeles. Despite facing obscurity in the West for over 20 years, her film will now be released in the U.S. for the first time, showcasing her bold and impressive decision to work with an almost entirely American cast.
Although it may seem like a cause for Iranian film enthusiasts to rejoice, “Love Without Frontiers” is unfortunately a trite and clichéd melodrama that hardly reaches the standard of an educational program.
Also be sure to watch this interview.
The well-meaning but flawed script bears much of the responsibility. Danny Quinn portrays Bijan, a physician in Tehran who resides with his American spouse, Susan (Isabelle Dahlin), and their child, Bobby (Calvin DeVault). Susan is concerned about the ongoing violence in Iran and its negative impact on Bobby. She and Bijan come to the decision that it would be best for her and their son to relocate to Los Angeles. However, her hopes of finding safety in the U.S. are shattered when Bobby befriends a local boy named Tobey (Kahlil Nelson), whose brother is involved in drug dealing. As Bobby becomes entangled with the criminals around him, Susan takes on a reporting assignment to expose gang activity. Eventually, both of their lives are endangered.
There may be potential for a promising concept here. It appears, intermittently, to address the misconception that America is immune to the violence its leaders and celebrities condemn in other parts of the world. There is a suggestion that the bombings in Iran and Iraq and the violence in the streets of L.A. share a common source of senseless tribalism. While it may be an idealistic argument, it does offer potential for development.
Unfortunately, all of this ultimately amounts to nothing significant. Rather than being impactful and realistic, the portrayal of urban warfare is often comical. The young protagonist, Bobby, continuously finds himself caught in the middle of gang shootouts that become increasingly exaggerated. By the third time he takes cover behind a dumpster during a drive-by, it becomes difficult to stay engaged. It is never clear why he continues to visit his friend Tobey in dangerous locations, despite the obvious danger to his life. Similarly, Susan’s storyline is just as nonsensical; she decides to become a crusading journalist who believes she can solve youth violence by taking photos of gang members and asking simplistic questions like “why don’t you just go back to school?” The absurdity reaches its peak when she decides to park the car with Bobby and Tobey in the backseat during a massive gunfight, all in the name of getting good pictures.
The story lacks significance and it’s difficult to envision any cast that could bring it to life. Unfortunately, the acting is generally poor, which may be a blessing or a curse depending on one’s appreciation for “so-bad-it’s-good” entertainment. Dahlin’s performance as Susan comes across as infomercial-like, portraying her as a clueless and naive woman who fails to grasp the danger she has put her family in. While it is not enjoyable to criticize a young performer, Calvin DeVault’s portrayal highlights the common issues with child actors. He fails to appear as a genuine child, and the script does not allow him to share a touching moment with his mother. The only actor who brings any weight to their role is Danny Quinn, but he is given limited screen time along with the Iran plotline. By the time he reappears in the final act, it is too late.
To be fair, there are occasions when Derakhshandeh displays some skill behind the camera. Ironically, these moments usually occur during the action scenes, which have a cheesy charm reminiscent of low-budget John Woo films, with gang members dramatically dodging bullets and firing guns with both hands. If only the rest of the movie had the same playful energy, it could be compared to a PM Entertainment action film. Unfortunately, most of the film consists of dull dialogue scenes that feel like a public service announcement about saying no to drugs, with a similar level of funding. It’s so 90s that it’s hard to believe it was released near the end of the 20th century.
However, there is one particular scene that is truly fulfilling, although not in the way it was intended. This occurs when Susan conducts an interview with a group of gang members and inquires why they are not concerned about going to jail and why they do not make an effort to change their ways. The young men mock her and accurately identify her as an inexperienced, out-of-touch do-gooder. Then, one of the unidentified men delivers what could possibly be the most believable line delivery in the entire film.
“Madam, it appears that you are not comprehending this matter.”
It seemed as if he was conversing with the filmmakers directly. The film, “Love Without Frontiers,” promotes itself as a portrayal of the authentic world, but instead oversimplifies entire cultures and conflicts to the point of being unidentifiable. One could view it as a form of cinematic retaliation. After Hollywood has spent almost a hundred years reducing real suffering in the Middle East to insignificant entertainment, an Iranian director has done the same with the struggles in American inner-cities. It might have been intriguing if it wasn’t so monotonous.