The overlapping tales of three Iranian women who live in a poor Tehran neighborhood unfold by revisiting certain plot points from different perspectives. Each revisit reveals new insights into the characters’ motivations and struggles. The story centers around the people who frequent Cafe Setareh and who play important roles in the lives of each of the main three female characters.
Fariba (Afsaneh Baygan), owner of Cafe Setareh and main character of the film’s first act must put up with her abusive and unemployed husband Fereidoon (Shahrokh Forutanian). Meanwhile, Khosro (Hamed Behdad), a patron of the Cafe already unhappy with Fariba’s husband for his failure to deliver a promised work visa for Japan, is sent into a rage when he finds out that Fereidoon has gone too far with illegal activities and their relationship takes a tragic turn, impacting not only Fariba but also the lives of the other two women.
Salome (Haniyeh Tavasoli), main character of the second act, cares for her semi-blind father who is well respected in the neighborhood. She hopes to gain his blessing for marrying Ebi. Ebi is hesitant to propose because he fears his current economic situation is insufficient to provide for a family. The third act revolves around Molook (Roya Teimourian), a single landlady who hopes to find a husband. After getting a promising prediction of romance, she sabotages her own satellite dish in a ploy to get the attentions of Khosro.
Saman Moghadam’s “Cafe Setareh” paints a compassionate triple portrait of three women living in an ancient, shabby but picturesque pocket of Tehran. Moghadam’s pacing leisurely suggests that this neighborhood exists in a time warp, even though it is endangered by urban development and most of its people are struggling to survive. A filmmaker of considerable subtlety who presents the same events from the differing perspectives and stories of his three main characters, Moghadam celebrates the strong sense of community in this tiny neighborhood, views its inhabitants’ naivety with affectionate humor and laments their hardships – especially those of the women, with their second-class status. Moghadam is not a dynamic stylist or fiery protester, and Café Setareh therefore is not strong in obvious crossover appeal. Even so, it’s safe to suggest that Iranian American audiences and those interested in Iranian movies for all their diversity are likely to connect with it. -Kevin Thomas, Los Angeles Times
The itch for change felt by three women living in a poor Tehran neighborhood is palpably expressed in Saman Moghadam’s finely nuanced “Cafe Setareh.” The rare film equally influenced by Quentin Tarantino, Jean Renoir and William Saroyan, this time-winding triptych has a deep humanist sense and a feel for working-class folk whiling away the hours. Pic also reminds that, in a country theoretically oppressive of women’s full expression, Iranian cinema is second to none as a delivery vehicle for rich dramas about women. Solid local B.O. last August may be matched Stateside, if a wider aud can be tapped. After a striking title shot lensed through a goldfish aquarium, opening section, “Fariba,” reps the most conventional of the three parts. Cafe Setareh’s owner, Fariba (Afsaneh Baygan), barely holds the biz together as her boozing, unemployed husband Fereydoon’s (Shahrokh Forutanian) sponges off her. The rare film equally influenced by Quentin Tarantino, Jean Renoir and William Saroyan, this time-winding triptych has a deep humanist sense and a feel for working-class folk whiling away the hours. -Robert Koehler, Variety