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Facets Video
2001 / Color / 1:66 anamorphic widescreen / 96 min. / Street Date December 23, 2008 / 29.95
Starring Kaim Alizadeh, Rahmatollah Ebrahimi, Hossein Hashemian, Ahmad Mahdavi, Ebrahim Ebrahimzadeh, Teymour Shamsi.
Cinematography Mohamad Ahmadi
Film Editor Abolfazl Jalili
Written by Abolfazl Jalili , Reza Saberi
Produced by Abolfazl Jalili, Shozo Ichiyama
Directed by Abolfazl Jalili

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

All is not quiet on the Afghan front. Delbaran is an Iranian film from 2001, presumably filmed before 9/11, that examines the harsh life at a truck stop only a few miles from the Afghan border. Veteran director Abolfazl Jalili's story plays out in a treeless desert, on a road that must be a major trade route. His movie is by turns naturalistic and poetic. Images of barbed wire recur at frequent intervals, reminding us that a war is being waged just "over the next hill" in Afghanistan.

Young Kaim (Kaim Alizadeh) is an illegal Afghan immigrant. His absent father fights the Taliban and his mother was killed in a shelling; he's left his sister behind. Kaim works at the Delbaran truck stop / coffee house of Khan (Rahmatollah Ebrahimi), a wiry old man who sells gasoline and water. Khan also makes money by smuggling Afghans fleeing the war zone. A solitary government policeman comes by every so often asking questions, but Khan denies seeing any illegal foreigners and claims ignorance of any smuggling trade.

Old machinery and cars broken down on the road are the truck stop's lifeblood. Kaim is always on the move, hauling water and gasoline and running to summon a mechanic from a neighboring hovel. The kid's survival instincts are well developed: at thirteen or fourteen he can haggle like a pro, and he gives the mechanic a hard time just to keep in practice. The truckers drink coffee and argue over cards while Kaim, Khan and an ancient one-legged woman tend to their needs. Kaim speaks both Afghan and Farsi and his employers consider him family. But when the policeman stops by, Kaim must make himself scarce.

The story is a series of episodes related to the road. Unseen bandits are at work, and the Delbaran crew salvages an overturned truck that may be from an accident or a sniper killing. The local hunter rides a moped, and sometimes needs a tow as well. When a breakdown forces a doctor and his pregnant wife to stay a night, Kaim gets a free ear examination. The doctor's generosity elicits a rare smile of gratitude from the boy, who otherwise exists in wary survival mode.

The policeman is ambushed on the road and must walk for miles shackled in irons. Finding the government man's car stripped, Khan and his mechanic locate replacement tires and get it going again. Unfortunately, the policeman discovers that Kaim is an Afghan illegal and takes him away. The one-legged woman sets out to get him back.

Some of the later scenes are almost impressionistic in style. Truck-mounted cannon are observed passing on the highway, and soon thereafter the entire Delbaran road is closed because of the nearness of the fighting. The truck stop has little choice but to shut down. Kaim makes his way through the barbed wire back into Afghanistan, perhaps to find his sister or join with his father in the fighting.

Director Jalili began directing in the early 1980s and by 2000 had won a number of prizes at the Cannes, Venice and San Sebastián film festivals. His many telephoto shots emphasize the isolation of the featureless Iranian desert, where people huddle inside mud buildings and scrape by as best they can. Khan appears to be doing reasonably well, but we wonder how long it will be before his smuggling activities are uncovered, and what the penalty might be. As with many films from the region Delbaran makes use of a child for its main character, to keep the narrative uncomplicated and touchy politics at arm's length. The movie provides a detailed view of a part of the world we never see, where ordinary people do their best to subsist as history's wars rage around them.

Facets Video's DVD of Delbaran is a rather good transfer of a decent film element, probably a print. The sparse title credits are simply white Farsi script on black. A few scratches and wear are visible from time to time, but the color is acceptable and the audio clear. The English subtitles are easy to read. The non-enhanced encoding appears to be matted at a 1.66:1 ratio. No extras are included, which is a shame; we'd like to hear more about this talented director and filmmaking conditions in Iran. Delbaran is co-produced by Bandai, a Japanese company. Does the government in Teheran mind that a moviemaker depicts illegal refugees streaming unchecked across Iran's borders?

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Delbaran rates:
Movie: Very Good
Video: Good
Sound: Good
Supplements: none.
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: February 17, 2009

Republished by permission of Turner Classic Movies .

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2009 Glenn Erickson

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