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Taking a Chance

Sting of Chance
Show Me the Business: Arman (Mohammad Ali Golabaz) isn't quite sure that Hollywood is the right place for him in 'Sting of Chance.'

Babak Sarrafan gives voice to a generation of Iranian-Americans

By Michael S. Gant

HE MAY NOT take as long as Stanley Kubrick to finish a project, but local filmmaker Babak Sarrafan didn't exactly rush his first feature, Sting of Chance, to the screen either. The film, made on the kind of budget that even Robert (El Mariachi) Rodriguez could admire, was shot in the Silicon Valley in 1995. Sarrafan, who attended San Jose State University, spent the next two years in post-production. As it turned out, the most expensive roadblock was creating subtitling for the large chunk of the film's dialogue that is in Farsi. It was a crucial decision. Sting of Chance focuses on the lives of Iranian-Americans, and the alternation between the language of the old country and that of the new is vital to a story of cross-cultural tensions.

Mohammad Ali Golabaz plays the semiautobiographical Arman, a young filmmaker torn between his desire to crack the big time and his disgust at the dictates of the marketplace, which include the stereotyping of Middle Eastern characters as bloodthirsty terrorists. After a meeting with a cable company that wants to turn his script into a vehicle for an action hero known as the Golden Rooster (whose battle cry is a keening variation on cock-a-doodle-doo), Arman spends the rest of the film struggling with his doubts. His brother (Mohsen Rastegar-panah), a workaholic pharmacist, thinks that Arman should do the proper immigrant thing and become a doctor. Uncle Kamal (Ramsin Eivaspour-adeh), a professor who has never reconciled himself to leaving his homeland, offers only elegiac snippets of poetry. Arman's roommate, Ali (Behzad Moghadam), a waiter aspiring to be an actor, is too busy taking a flyer in the stock market to help.

The young-filmmaker-on-the-verge premise has been done to death by too many young filmmakers, but Sarrafan does wring some laughs out of his parodies of Rambo movies and a farcical meeting with the powers that be (that's local TV and video critic Scott D. Appel doing his Quentin Tarantino imitation as Arman's agent). The best scenes, however, consist of nothing more than the everday interactions between Arman and his family members and friends: some loving close-ups display the wondrous celebratory dishes of Persian New Year and lead to a touching speech by Uncle Kamal about the importance of preserving old rituals; at the office of Ali's dentist father (David Daniel), Ali tries to wrangle $5,000 out of his skeptical parent while a panicked patient asks for liquid anesthetic and everyone else in the office crowds around to kibitz.

Unfortunately, as one of the characters tells Arman, the film needs an ending. Sting of Chance goes on well past several natural stopping points, accumulating a number of incidents that are either repetitive or inexplicable. Worse are the wordless interludes during which Arman and his friends swim, bike and surf in a variety of manipulated film stocks. These passages might have worked as stand-alone experimental shorts but are merely padding within the context of the story. Luckily, the core of Sting of Chance is strong enough to survive such distractions.

Sting of Chance (Unrated; 108 min.), directed and written by Babak Sarrafan, photographed by Jim Orr and starring Mohammad Ali Golabaz and Behzad Moghadam.

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From the Dec. 11-17, 1997 issue of Metro.

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