What’s The Time In Your World? (Dar donya ye to saat chand ast?)
Iran (2014) Dir. Safi Yazdanian
In the midst of heavy social dramas emanating from Iran which seek to explore the complexities of their theocratic world and traditional culture, this feature debut from documentary maker Safi Yazdanian instead offers a lighthearted romantic meditation on the power of our memories.
After twenty years living in Paris, Goli (Leila Hatami) decides on a whim to return to her hometown of Rasht, where she is greeted at Tehran airport by Farhad (Ali Mosaffa), the local frame maker who seems to know Goli but she has no idea who he is. As Goli tries to reconnect with her old life, Farhad keeps showing up wherever Goli is, imparting more of his knowledge about her despite her insistence he is a stranger to her.
Despite its gentle air Yazdanian’s film plays out like a mystery albeit one without a crime as its basis. The French resettlement for Goli might have been an incidental plot point but one can actually detect a slight Gallic breezy quality to the atmosphere, most notably in the external scenes about town. A small pier, a family run café and a stone stair case by a quiet park offer visual tributes to Paris even though it is never in doubt we are in Iran.
However for Goli the sights and sounds of her hometown should act as totems of nostalgia for her past and while some things haven’t changed, others have on a drastic scale. The most common question Goli is asked whenever she meets an elder acquaintance is why she didn’t return home for her mother’s funeral five year earlier. While a direct answer isn’t forthcoming, we are lead to assume that Goli’s guilt over this is a part of the reason for this visit.
As guarded as Goli is towards answering questions about herself and her life in Paris – the sole frequent reference is of an Antoine to whom she speak on the phone and who appears in a couple of surreal dream sequences – she finds the ambiguity of Farhad equally frustrating when it comes to explaining himself. Yes, he is just as shady with his replies but Goli isn’t asking the right questions.
One of the conceits of the script comes from the gifts featuring her late mother which Goli receives, believing them to be from Farhad, whom she know fears is a stalker. The big reveal is a slight case of deus-ex-machina in that the true culprit is someone not mention before but the effects of this confession add a different perspective to Goli’s understanding of her mother’s life.
The interesting thing about many of the characters is how they all seem to expect time to stand still for them while they get along with their own lives. Goli encounters some harsh reactions when meeting up with some of the elderly folk still in town, whilst Farhad is clearly clinging on to something from the past too. Even the mysterious Antoine wants Goli back in Paris to resume whatever relationship they have, but with nothing explained as to why Goli suddenly left, maybe she had her reasons.
In what might be rather atypical for an Iranian film is the use of gentle humour and occasional whimsy. Not a laugh out loud experience by any means but Farhad has a clumsy aura about him, despite his fastidious and earnest approach to his work. When not framing pictures he is also tutoring two young twin sisters who seem to view him as pitiful comic character, their deadpan reactions to him telling us everything.
Yazdanian’s prior life as a documentary filmmaker is evident in much of the camerawork and shot composition, or lack thereof. Unlike other directors he doesn’t set up shots, he and cinematographer Homayoun Payvar simply point the camera and follow the action, the best example of this being a walk through a market where you can see the public in the background all stopping to get into the shot and mug for the camera.
It’s not all so rigid with some nice crane shots employed to give us a look at some of the more lush and quaint locations, but internal scenes are largely shot as two handers from a respectful distance. The result is something which at least feels natural in the way the characters interact and position themselves as if the camera wasn’t present, and any awkward conversation ebbs and flows as one would do in real life.
There isn’t much in the way of overt colour present in this film so when the odd burst appears it creates a sense of rebellious vibrancy against a rather sedate backdrop. The aforementioned twins are clad in bright red jumpers while an old car Goli’s mother used to drive is a startling sky blue amongst the sea of white and grey vehicles.
As you would expect the connection between Goli and Farhad is revealed very gradually with piecemeal flashbacks and the odd flash of recognition before all is explained. However Yazdanian ends the film on an ambiguously valedictorian note that leaves us wanting more. It needn’t be sentimental or cheesy but just something to close the open threads which remaining dangling like a faulty wire.
If the end doesn’t meet with one’s expectations then at least the journey was worthwhile thanks to the two lead performances from husband and wife team Leila Hatami and Ali Mosaffa, the latter also the film’s producer. Hatami will be familiar from A Separation but Goli is a thankfully lighter yet still a strong female role, while Mosaffa had a key role in The Past, one which differs vastly from the bumbling but good-natured Farhad.
Perhaps needing to drop a few of his documentary habits Safi Yazdanian proves himself an interesting new voice in Iranian cinema with What’s The Time In Your World?. Maybe his calmer style catches on with other filmmakers to add some light to the shade of the tense dramas of recent years.