Tender Spaces, Detached Times

in 19th Busan International Film Festival

by Dennis Vetter

A quiet circling shot shows the film’s protagonist Goli in a vibrant tableau vivant as a lady from another time. Dressed in fine clothes, she is facing the distance within an autumn forest. Farhad the framemaker works on a painting of the very same scenery. There is a visitor in his shop and as he watches over his shoulder, they talk. The visitor wonders why she does not face the viewer. Is it the woman who is shy, or the artist who painted her?

In cinema, the creation of every frame creates two worlds. A manifest world of images: defined and arranged by pace and rhythm, by perspective and space, inhabited by faces, bodies and their gestures, touched by colour, shadow and light. Outside of a frame, there lies another world; an indefinite world of individual and collective consciousness. It echoes in films that regard themselves as cinema. This world is based on perception, on senses and experiences. It circles around longings, struggles, doubts and glimpses of truth.

Every act of framing has the potential to catch such a glimpse of truth, to intertwine both of those worlds. But in front of our very eyes the act of framing is becoming increasingly random. We lose framing as cultural practice, as a guideline of our attention. In their constant presence, mostly outside of our focussed perception, our images have become detached, intertwined, mingled and chaotic; their makers are producing, not creating. Amongst each other, these images and their makers claim a new grammar that seeks to escape the grasp of truth and seeks to blur truth. In virtuality and simultaneity, contemporary images seek to establish absolute accessibility. In their omnipresence they are becoming soulless, autonomous from our hearts. And we are becoming careless about them. They are becoming digital, replaceable, consumable. What is invested to produce them is rarely spirit, but budget.

What’s the Time in Your World? (Dar donyaye to sa’at chand ast?) is a film that articulates its images as inseparable from their maker’s framing. Safi Yazdanian refuses to create an oversaturated space that appeals to the hasty editing of modern images and to standardized setups of narrative and representation. Instead, his work breaks immersive rules and points towards its origins, demanding artist and creation to be considered as one. His framings create performative, tender spaces, often detached from time. Fiction may dissolve while the touch of the director arranges his protagonists in an episodic, dreamlike stream of consciousness. Through their physicality, the actors become storytellers here, as well as editors of a scenes pace. While the cinematography plays with dynamics and perspective, dancing with them and exploring them, within the concept of an impressionist search for aesthetic and intuitive truth, the film manages to unfold a clear and touching storyline.

The painting Farhad (Ali Mosaffa) was framing is French, close to Renoir and his contemporaries, like many paintings that we can find on the walls of Yazdanian’s film. Often the film is accompanied by language that is spoken, taught, and read. We even encounter French cheese. When Farhad will have finished framing the painting of the shy lady, it will become a present for Goli (Leila Hatami). She grew up here, in the Northern Iranian town of Rasht. When she left the place as a young woman and moved to France, Farhad cherished her memory. Now she returns, out of frame, confused and for no evident reason, with a sense of lost identity. She has a deep longing to reunite with herself. More than once she will face desperate tears.

The film and its quiet hero Farhad are attached to her, to her tenderness, her calm sadness and deep unrest, to the way she moves and sometimes pauses. Floating quietly, we follow her from the airport to her old house. Together with her we encounter tired and tender faces, inhabited by strong eyes as well as her family, old friends and neighbors. We collectively rediscover a deep sense of love and intimacy that secretly guides her way and might reunite her with her roots. While the film is often stunned by its muse and refuses to let her leave focus, we encounter a touching performance of Leila Hatami, altering between choreography and realism, intertwining them on the search for a transcultural sensibility, a strong, tender and playful femininity.

The associative arrangement of the film follows a logic of overlapping and repetition, intertwining its storyline of romance and shared memories with a strong set of recurring symbols and gestures. Glimpses of films and the paintings mentioned earlier enrich and embody the tale’s emotional untertones. Feelings appear here as the single preserving force of our memory and identity – and so ultimately as material of art itself.

While the impressionist arrangements of the film’s framings slowly calm down their playfulness towards a quiet and naturalistic closing note, Yazdanian’s film manages to defend the edgy appearance of its protagonist Farhad with a deep sense of humanist conviction. In this story’s small universe, the characters do not lack the ability to love, but it is the exposition of their inner selves that lets them struggle. For his youthful directness and ecentric search for such exposition, Farhad is considered awkward. It is the intuition of the villagers and the intuitive truth within her own feelings that might eventually convince Goli of a stranger’s gentle nature. It is such intuition that we must share with this small gem of Iranian cinema.

It is intuition that will let us recognize and create works of art as pieces of individual and collective truth. Within this truth, every act of framing becomes self-revelation and self-exposition. Revealing and exposing, ultimatively recognizing ourselves is sharpening the intuition of ourselves and of others. It is a counter strategy in a world ridden by capitalist efficency and the globalist dictatorship of superficial ideology. Rediscovering intuitive truth and trust within ourselves and each other is a most important responsibility of our present and future. As it requires a collective intuition to foster the courage that will avoid blunting, ignorance and decay. The sensibility and bravery of artists like Safi Yazdanian to reveal themselves on a global scale through cinema deserves not only all possible attention but must inspire us to find similar ways, in our own social realities, to share and to claim the beauty and depth that make us human.

Edited by Glenn Dunks