For years, Iranian films have captivated an international audience. They have given rise to a new kind of filmmaking which generates an overwhelming curiosity about Iran: its culture, society, politics and the recent hooliganism against its filmmakers. In this context, Morteza Farshbaf, who holds a BFA in cinema from the University of Art in Tehran, came up with an almost perfect debut feature film, Mourning (Soug). The first few minutes of the film are completely silent: there is a wide angle shot of mountain terrain, with no audible dialogue and only subtitles appearing on the screen. A distant car approaches with no-one seen inside, which creates a kind of jolt in our psyche. But a sudden close-up clears up the puzzle: a couple is communicating, and they are mute. Thus begins a brilliant road film, totally unlike those of Hollywood, which features lots of human emotions, secrets and desires. The first few frames remind us of the greatest master of Iran, Abbas Kiarostami, and then delve deeper. One may harp upon the fact that Farshbaf has workshopped with Kiarostami, and the beginning of the film probably testifies to that fact. Yet the rest of the film carries the remarkable signature of Farshbaf’s creation, which as a debut film is almost perfect.
The dialogue is crisp; it penetrates our minds and we immerse ourselves in the lives of the mute couple, Kamran and Sharareh. With them is a small boy who can talk, understand their signs, and try to cope with the catastrophic events of his life.
Before the film starts, Sharareh’s sister Nahid and her husband Masoud have had a violent fight at home. In the morning, abandoning their son Arshia and without telling anyone, they set out for Tehran. Next day, the mute couple starts off to return Arshia to his parents. Meanwhile, they discover that Arshia’s parents have been killed in a car accident. In fact, they do cross the ominous spot where the parents are killed; the usual roads are blocked and they take a different route. Nothing unpredictable happens in the film. The car occasionally halts when Arshia needs to respond to nature’s call. However, it is a tear-jerking moment when the audience finds out what has been torturing Arshia. Though the couple’s dialogue is chock-o-block with emotions, Arshia is depicted in the most mature manner. The sign language between Kamran and Sharareh creates a lasting impression on the viewer. It alludes to the estrangement and shock mute witnessing of the events around Arshia. Arshia could not participate when his parents fought, and he does not understand the implications of his aunt and uncle’s conversations. Nevertheless, thrown by the sudden force of strong emotions, he cries, sometimes under a faraway tree, and sometimes when the rain washes over him. He smiles only when he speaks with strangers during the trip.
After the car crash, inevitably this middle-aged mute couple have to take care of the small boy. The film takes place during one day, when a young boy’s future is to be decided. The film ends abruptly, with Arshia taking refuge in a tunnel while Sharareh looks everywhere for him. The last scene may seem abrupt to many, but it was a perfect one, suggesting the future is on hold for Arshia. The camerawork is splendid, the acting is brilliant, and the editing is musical; overall, this film is an unforgettable creation from a debut director.
© FIPRESCI 2011