French stand-up comedian Kheiron’s directorial debut is the true story of his parent’s flight from Iran after the Shah was replaced in 1978 by Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic Republic. They eventually settled in France and Nous Trois ou Rien is a sincere and moving tribute to his parents courage and determination to live by their principles. But whether it combines the ingredients of a classic comedy is up for debate. French audiences have so far loved what this rising comic star has to say about political repression and subsequent assimilation into French culture. And Nous Trois ou Rien looks set to be the surprise box-office hit of 2015 with nearly 140,000 admissions in its first week. It boasts a fine cast including Leila Bekhti (Un Prophète), Gérard Darmon, Zabou Breitman (Entre Amis, Nos Futurs) and the comedian himself playing his own father.
Hibat (Kheiron) is one of 12 children growing up in a rural village under the rule of the Iranian Shah. He qualifies as a lawyer, but is more actively involved in a political movement to bring down the country’s brutal regime and establish a democracy. Imprisoned for 10 years for defacing a poster of the Shah, he is tortured and beaten until his release after eight years under Khomeini’s amnesty for political prisonners. But hopes of a democratic future for Iran are soon dashed and he is forced to flee the country with his wife Fereshteh (Bekhti) and their new born son. After arriving in France as refugees they are given an apartment in Pierrefitte, a rundown suburb to the north of Paris and become active members of its multi-ethnic community.
The earlier scenes of Hibat’s childhood, his militant activites and time spent behind bars are the film’s most comic and perceptive. His observations on growing up in a large Arab family where money was scarce are spot-on. And the humour he finds in the worst of situations while in prison is black comedy at its most trenchant. Yet even here he displays some of the over-sentimentality which mars the film’s later sequences. There’s a clumsiness to the ‘Oh captain my captain’ moment from his cell mates when he emerges into the prison yard after weeks in solitary confinement which distinctly lessens its dramatic impact. But let’s not nitpick, there’s still much to enjoy in Hibat’s boisterous relationship with his friends and siblings. And some of the funniest scenes involve his dealings with Fereshteh’s parents, the magnifient Darmon and Breitman.
There’s no shortage of recent French films to underline the difficult conditions for immigrant communities living in France’s notorious Cités-Bande de Filles, Papa was not a Rolling Stone, Dheepan,Qui Vive. Kheiron ignores the racial tensions, drug abuse and rampant crime on these housing estates to paint a rose-tinted view of harmony and co-operation which borders on the surreal. Of course all history is a question of interpretation and perhaps Kheiron can be forgiven for wanting to show his parent’s struggle to survive was worth the pain and sacrifice.