University, who leaves her husband in Tehran to take her ten-year-old son Sam and eight-year-old daughter Sara (played by Keyan Arman Abedini and Lauren Parissa Abedini) for a better life in the United States.

Since the children were born in Boston while she was a student, they are American citizens. Her brother, one of many Iranians to settle in Los Angeles after the Islamic revolution, is in Las Vegas when the three arrive at LA airport. Mistaking the mother to be a courier for the sale of a precious manuscript of Aristotle’s Poetics, two Caucasian gangsters (played by David Barry and David Wissak) kidnap her at the airport right in front of the adorable two children, who are thus stranded and virtually penniless.

While the gangsters foolishly interrogate her about a valuable manuscript that she does not possess, the children try to find their uncle. Police promise to locate Pari, and tell the children to await a social worker to provide accommodation; but they flee from the police station, fearing that the social worker will take them to prison. After the taxicab driver takes them to downtown LA, they wander around town in search of their uncle and discover much kindness as they meet those who do not "have the dough." A homeless man gives up his blanket so that they have some warmth while sleeping on a park bench during their first night in town. Hispanic "Homeboys," at first hostile, provide a telephone number to call in case of emergency.

After a second night on the streets, the owner of a Chinese restaurant allows them to eat in exchange for work. The next day, an African American family takes the children into their home, offers food and a bath, and the father takes them to an Iranian restaurant where they enjoy kebab and teach him how to eat Iranian rice; his characterization of LA is that the diverse population resembles a salad, not a soup. The Iranian restaurateur then takes on the search for their uncle while offering a New Year celebration, when there is much camaraderie among the expatriate Iranians except for someone whom the restaurateur calls a "crook." Humiliated by being called a "crook" at the party, the Iranian calls the Immigration and Naturalization Service to report that illegal aliens are working at the restaurant. Since INS seizes the children, whose mother has their passports, they call the Homeboys for help. Meanwhile, their mother escapes from captivity and heads for the same Iranian restaurant.

As she arrives, INS is trying to put the illegal alien employees and the children into a paddy wagon; the two gangsters show up to recapture the mother, but the Homeboys arrive just in time to save the day. Pari, reunited with Sam and Sara, shows an INS agent that the children hold American passports, and her brother (the uncle) soon arrives to take care of the family. For a filmviewer in Iran, the movie makes several powerful statements beyond the tagline "Reaching paradise is easy; survival is an art." The first revelation is that professional women in today’s Iran can defy their husbands. We learn that Iranian adults and children are tough enough to survive the worst in LA because they are operating as if they were in Tehran, where ordinary people are decent; Sam handles conflict by being assertive, complemented by Sara’s penchant to find commonalties with strangers.

Nevertheless, though dangerous on the surface and inhospitable in the downtown commercial district, LA has some very friendly and helpful minority people who are able to cope with a certain amount of discrimination, retain their root culture, and still enjoy the good life. Iranian expatriates are making a lot of money in LA, though they are not working at jobs appropriate to their qualifications; some Iranians try to cheat others, but most are honorable.

LA has both poverty and affluence, but humble jobs provide a comfortable living for those who are honest. The gangsters and Homeboys are portrayed as otherwise decent people driven to their profession out of lack of appropriate occupational skills in the high-tech LA society, a subliminal way in which the story appears to account for the failings of the clerical-dominated regime in Iran. The liberalization currently occurring in Iran, in short, is responsible for Surviving Paradise, which shows that an Iran following American free market principles and cultural tolerance will inevitably prosper the way Iranians have found success in the United States.

The director believes that the adventure of the children is a metaphor for contemporary Iran’s search for itself, but the film also exposes why immigrants experience as paradise the opportunities in America, where newcomers are respected for contributing their customs and values. MH


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"As long as you got the dough, you’re fine" is the way a taxi driver sums up life in Los Angeles in the film Surviving Paradise, written and directed by Kamshad Kooshan. But the content of the film, far more optimistic than the racial analysis contained in Grand Canyon (1992), belies his criticism of the City of Angels. The story focuses on an Iranian mother Pari (played by Shohreh Aghdashloo), with a degree in architecture from Boston