Rita Mahtoubian is Not a Terrorist

Directors : Roja Gashtili and Julia Lerman

When I was younger my aunt asked me why I liked movies so much, so worried was she about my indoorsy, isolated habit. I couldn’t think of any other response than, “I just do.” Now that I write about film, that response no longer works. Yet there are times when I have enjoyed something so much that all I can think to say is - Just watch it. You’ll love it. This usually happens when a film hits so many marks, that I become paralysed by all the things I want to write. This is what happened with Rita Mahtoubian Is Not a terrorist. I first watched this months ago and have rewatched and ruminated on it ever since. It’s a funny, affectionately told film about the introverted Roshanak. Renamed Rita by her American aunt when she is dispatched by her mother from her native Iran, to LA. The spiritual home of the extrovert. The story is told from the point of view of an unnamed homeland security agent (Patrick Fugit, resurrecting some of the boyish fascination he exhibited in Almost Famous) who has been alerted to Rita after a series of unfortunate events. It starts with his conclusion, that Rita isn’t a terrorist but a lonely young woman (played excellently and in relative silence, by Della Saba) who, following an inspiring Rosh Hashanah dinner decides to transform her isolated life. Inspired by her namesake, Rita Hayworth, she decides to become the type of woman who dyes her hair, who keeps a garden and who hosts the perfect dinner party - all of which lead her to trouble. The script is a real force that manages to be intricate, wry and satirical. It’s perfectly matched by the neat and elegant direction, both of which are the work of Gashtili and Lerman. There are hints of Wes Anderson, but not enough to deny that the two directors, who made this film as part of the AFI Directing workshop for women, have their own unique style. At seven and a half minutes, it’s a substantial snack of a movie, that mirrors the fear of the foreign, the ignorance of isolation and the minor misconceptions that, only when exposed, reveal their absurdity. All in all. it’s thoughtful and funny. It’s rhythmic in its storytelling and elegant in its direction. Just watch it. You’ll love it.

Ami Guest