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April 28, 2015

Appropriate Behavior

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Desiree Akhaven - 2014
Kino Lorber Region 1 DVD

On a broader scale, Appropriate Behavior is about traversing through the various aspects that make up one's identity, how it is used, and what parts are shared, how one reveals one's self, and with whom. That Shirin is a young woman, Iranian-American and bisexual, tells only part of the story.

The film begins with Shirin moving out of the apartment she has shared with her girlfriend, Maxine. Shifting between past and present, we see how the two women met, their life together, and their breakup, in between scenes of Shirin trying to make her way professionally, as well as sexually while pining for Maxine. Part of the tension between Shirin and Maxine is based on Maxine's demand that Shirin out herself to her parents, in some ways still traditional Iranians.

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Shirin accepts a part-time job teaching filmmaking, only to discover that her students are a small bunch of anarchic five year boys. Dates and spontaneous flings go awry, especially with a very awkward threesome. There are times when Shirin can be abrasive, as when she tells another young woman, a friend discovered dating Maxine, that the has "the sex appeal of a ferret".

Shirin doesn't spare herself either. Some of the self-deprecating humor and the Brooklyn locations are lightly reminiscent of Woody Allen.

What I found interesting about the locations is that there was no attempt to dress up Brooklyn. It's a place of open garbage cans, a few cramped stores, and dingy dives. This is a Brooklyn where no one attempts to clean up the graffiti. One might consider that Appropriate Behavior is about the search for romance in the least romantic places.

The questions Shirin asks of the woman she is sharing an apartment with are how do couples first meet, and how does one maintain the feeling of love for that person, questions that might be considered universal. What Shirin is going through is not a problem of self-acceptance, but of accepting that how she identifies herself and how she acts on those parts of her identity may not always be embraced by others. Being bisexual is as much a part of Shirin as is her being a young woman of Iranian descent.

Desiree Akhaven wrote and directed her debut feature as well as playing Shirin. In interviews, she has stressed that the film is not autobiographical although it has been inspired by parts of her life. Akhaven benefitted from being able to make the film on her own terms, making this a very promising beginning.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at April 28, 2015 09:52 AM