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Appropriate Behaviour - Glasgow Film Festival

Monday 2 March 2015, by Nisha Ramayya

Appropriate Behaviour is the first feature film from Desiree Akhavan, who writes, directs, and stars in this self-consciously superficial study of identity politics. The protagonist interrupts a discussion about bias against the queer community in the criminal justice system to make herself known and to make her ex-girlfriend Maxine jealous: ‘I thought we were going to talk about marginalised women today – ’‘My name is Shirin. I am an Iranian bisexual teacher and I would like to take you out for a drink.’ Shirin is a marginalised woman – the film highlights the many communities in which she does not fit in – and she is eager to submit herself as a case study.

Appropriate Behaviour engages with a number of identities: Iranian American (‘Shirin? What is that, Libyan, Armenian, Argentinian? Iranian, wow! Iran! What do you think of that whole situation?’ ‘It’s a mixed bag.’); bisexual (‘I know that I don’t look like I’m into girls, and I was just talking about being a boner killer, but I am super sexy and super into girls.’); gender-normative woman (‘You know it’s like I didn’t think I deserved a bra because I don’t see myself as a real woman.’); and middle class (Giambattista Valli dresses the actress who plays Shirin’s mother).

Shirin stumbles through categories, dragging markers from one scene into the next. Shirin and Maxine attend an Iranian New Year party, depicted as an abundance of floating candles, jewel-tone dresses, goldfish, selfie-smiles, and a fire-jumping ceremony that shimmers in purple (‘Liberace’s wet dream’). Maxine criticises Shirin’s relationship with gay culture in a club filled with metallic balloons, rainbow flags, wigs and feather boas, and illicit kisses exposed under pink lights. Maxine destroys the underwear she had bought for Shirin after an argument about lesbian orphanhood and coming out, which leads Shirin to try on a pastel peach corset in a boutique lingerie shop. Surrounded by white lace and orange curtains, pastries and fruit arranged on tiered platters, and silver photograph frames, Shirin deceives her family.

Although Appropriate Behaviour is ostensibly about love and heartbreak, Akhavan suggests that the key relationship is between Shirin and her various selves. Shirin and Maxine’s relationship serves as a point of intersection between identities, and the film follows its protagonist as she constructs and deconstructs herself with awkwardness, insight, and coordinating colours.

Dir. Desiree Akhavan, 2014

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