Not long into actor/director/writer/producer Ali Mosaffa's fascinating second feature, his character informs us in voiceover that he is, in fact, dead—though he's also very much alive through much of a film that loops unpredictably through various pasts and presents. An engineer, Khosro Shahidi died after a fall down a stairway he designed—at least that's what his actress widow Leyli (Leila Hatami of A Separation) tells their friend Dr. Amin (Alireza Aghakhani). But there are other possible causes, not least the risks taken by a 47-year-old man incongruously determined to skateboard down a busy Tehran street. Khosro's death is one of many mysteries here, from the tensions that periodically flare into argument between husband and wife to the lingering role of a long-ago suitor in her life. And just what level of intimacy makes Amin seem the third party in a triangle? An intricate, enigmatic puzzle at times reminiscent of Pirandello, The Last Step raises its myriad interpretive possibilities with masterful concision and cogency. (It even has room to kid the filmmaking process itself, as a movie Leyli is acting in becomes a comic nightmare of unprofessional behavior and overweening egos.) It's a densely layered film in the best sense—tricky, ambiguous, yet always accessible in its gamesmanship.
- Dennis Harvey