Opium and Diesel By Kirsten Liese

in 35th Kiev Molodist-International Film Festival

by Kirsten Liese

A desert somewhere in the South of Iran. A dreary place. For miles around nothing but sand. Inconceivable that anyone would live here. But there are two brothers , about fourteen years old, who rebel against their harsh lives with cleverness and illicit business. One of them deals with diesel which he draws off trucks, the other one with opium which he should actually feed to his father’s camels for keeping them in dependency. That, by the way, is all we learn about the tough heroes whose names are not even mentioned.

From the Land of Silence (Sakenine sarzamine sokoot) is a wonderfully quiet and almost plotless study of documentary precision which says a lot about life in the Iranian desert. The sparse dialogue as well as the incredible silence makes us more sensitive to every noise: roaring engines, barking dogs, bellowing camels and, of course, the constant murmuring of the wind which becomes almost the third main character of this film. It is the natural soundtrack from which this unspectacular film draws much of its power. Music is part of the story, never just a background. In an exemplary scene, one of the brothers longingly attempts to turn on the radio and, noticing that it is broken yet again, starts singing a gentle melody. This probably helps him to endure nerve-wracking disputes with his father who does not want him to sell opium and spend his earnings on a bicycle. In one of the most poetic scenes, the boy lifts his bike out of the sand like out of a secret safe.

As noted already, From the Land of Silence is a small film which is somewhat reminiscent of productions by established Iranian directors like Abbas Kiarostami, Mohsen and Samira Makhmalbaf who have cultivated an equally minimalist style. Nevertheless, director Saman Salur has his own personality, when he, for instance, follows the diesel-thief with a shaking handcamera in Danish Dogma-Style. It is a particularly likeable trait of the film that, despite all hardship, it refuses to descend into complete and utter depression, evoking hope for humanity. A generous truck driver who is involved in unpaid repairs of wind generators, helps one of the brothers with money, and gives a music cassette to the other. By assisting him with a car breakdown, the two seem to try and take a leaf out of the trucker’s book.

In every respect, From the Land of Silence is a remarkable debut.