Letter from Chicago By Frédéric Coquelin

in 42nd Chicago International Film Festival

by Frédéric Coquelin

Let me give you some fresh news from the 41st Chicago International Film Festival. The subjects of the new films on Chicago are far removed from the old stories we remember of the city, which looked at its dark side: the Untouchables and gangsters like Al Capone and Dillinger. This festival, one of the biggest cinematographic events in the USA, looks to the future with its special presentations, world cinema section, focus cinema, short films and three competitions: Documentary, International and the New Director’s competition. In this particular section and competition let us focus, among the fourteen listed films, on a very pleasant and unusual one entitled Poet of the Wastes, directed by the Iranian film maker Mohammad Ahmadi.

Ahmadi has worked since 1996 as a cinematographer, and apart the documentary Captive Waiting, shot in 2002, this is his first feature-length fiction film as a director. It tells the story of a man whom, faced with the prospect of unemployment in his home country of Iran, is reduced to sweeping streets, and must forget his dreams of entering university. Every day at dawn he collects garbage, and by rummaging through this trash he becomes involved in the romantic and social adventures of a mysterious beautiful girl and an old poet.

The sweeper is superbly portrayed by Farzin Mohades in a very sensitive and realistic performance. Initially intrigued and attracted to the girl through her discarded letters which reveal her private problems, then attracted to her beauty, he follows her, all the while sweeping the streets of the city – but he never dares to contact her and declare his love. His only form of satisfaction comes from his daily morning talks with the poet he admires – that is until the fatidic day when he discovers the poet’s dead body: has the poet been murdered or has he committed suicide? It remains open…

This film is in praise of life, love and above all poetry, poetry being a main feature of Iranian art, and moreover a very old tradition, (let us remember the extraordinary flowerings of Persian poetry in the Middle Ages with remarkable poets such as Omar Khayyám, Rumi, Attar, Sanar…) Although the director has only used a few streets on location, his choice is excellent. The alignment of the trees, the way the pavement is covered with yellow and brown leaves and the early morning glittering light; whilst the magical light of the night allows him to present us with a magnificent tableaux that embeds the whole story in a poetical atmosphere. It is so rare to see in movies such a competent mix of bitter comedy, poetry, and reality that Poet of the Wastes has something which will be appreciated by all movie lovers.

Let me end this with the director’s view:

Fortunetelling by garbage
Romantic letters of our age
When a leaf falls from a tree
A street cleaner meets a poet