Director Alireza Raisian started with a story by famed Iranian director
Abbas Kiarostami (A Taste of Cherry) for his 2002 film Deserted
Station. From this story Raisian was able to craft a beautiful
and haunting film that has many interesting elements, but has a hard time
connecting with western audiences.
Mahmood is a photographer from Tehran who is going on a pilgrimage with
his wife to be blessed by an Imam. On the way they get lost in the
desert, and their car breaks down when Mahmood swerves to avoid hitting
a deer. Looking for help, they discover a small village where the
local school teacher also serves as the barber and mechanic. Feziollah
is the only man in the town, the others have left to seek work in other
parts of the country, but he agrees to take Mahmood to town for a replacement
part for his vehicle. The only condition is that his wife needs to
teach his students for the day. Agreeing to these simple terms, the
men set off leaving the young lady with the rural children, an event that
will touch her deeply.
This was a slow and deliberately paced movie, and one that has a lot
going for it. The scenery is lovely, and the camera work creates
an environment that fits the tone of the action very well. The acting
is very subdued yet the emotions and feelings of the characters is easy
to discern. All of this adds a lot to the film.
The problem with the movie is that much of the symbolism and meaning
of the film will be lost on western audiences. When the film
was over, I had more questions about the film than answers. There
were many events that were obviously meaningful that were hard to decipher.
What was the significance of the deer that the couple nearly hit?
A couple of times it was mentioned that there were no deer in that part
of the desert, but the significance of the event is unclear.
The argument could be made that the film examines the role of women
in modern Iranian society. Women are all but invisible while men are around,
even disappearing when a traveling salesman stops to hawk his wares.
Though this is a compelling interpretation, it isn't totally satisfactory.
After all Mahmood's wife still is able to exercise considerable power over
her husband. She's the reason for the trip in the first place, and
at the end she is able to make him do her bidding even though he doesn't
really want to.
This film comes with a stereo soundtrack in the original Farsi with
burned in subtitles. I was fairly astounded that they didn't offer
optional subtitles on this disc, and it's too bad really. The white
subtitles were often put over light colored images making it very hard
to read. There are also a few misspellings, but they aren't prevalent.
Aside from that, the audio was about average. The background
music was haunting and really fit the movie well, but there wasn't a huge
amount of range and the sound wasn't as tight as it could have been.
Distortion and dropouts were absent.
I was disappointed to discover that this film's widescreen presentation
(1.66:1) isn't anamorphically enhanced. This is too bad because there
is some nice scenery that would have looked even better in true widescreen.
The video quality was also not very good. This movie was mastered
from videotape and not as crisp as film would have been. The colors
are muted and the image is rather soft. In addition to that, there
are many defects in the print too. Spots and dirt are present, and
there are more than a few video dropouts and tape errors. This looks
more like an unrestored film form the 70's than a three year old film.
The extras on this disc are a series of text biographies, a photo gallery,
and a statement from the director.
The gap in cultures was just a bit too wide for me to fully appreciate
this film. Though the cinematography was very beautiful and the acting
nicely restrained, much of the symbolism and meaning of the film was hard
to decipher to these Western eyes. Added to that is the sub-par presentation.
The burned in subtitles are hard to read at times, and the image is definitely
below average, making this a good film to rent.