The Wisconsin Film Festival features a wide variety of feature-length films from different countries, allowing moviegoers to sample films from many genres. This year was no different than previous years, with more than a hundred and forty films playing over a five-day period from April 18-22, 2012. After having lived in Madison for twelve years, this year was the first time I have seen films at the festival. On Sunday, April 22, I watched two of them, “Policeman “and “Mourning.” Let me tell you about the second one.
“Mourning” (2011) is an Iranian drama from first-time director Morteza Farshbaf, who is a protégé of the famous Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami. As we watch “Mourning,” we see glimpses of Kiarostami’s signature style, evident in his earlier works like “Taste of Cherry” (1997) and “The Wind Will Carry Us” (1999). Iranian directors, noticeably Kiarostami, have used the Iranian landscape to portray simplistic human stories before. There is something lyrical about a countryside setting, letting characters temporarily escape from daily chores and worries. On the surface, we as viewers perceive this aspect, but as we dig deeper, we realize that a dusty Iranian landscape is a metaphor for depicting beautiful human souls who are emotionally distressed and yet manage to hold things together. “Mourning,” in this regard, is no different.
“Mourning” begins with a scratchy-looking night shot in which we hear voices of a man and a woman. We never see their faces, and it seems as though they are having an argument over something. Moments later, we are introduced to a young boy, Arshia (Amir Hossein Maleki), lying on a bed, and he appears to be sad after hearing the quarrel. Soon after, we hear the couple hurriedly drive away in their car. At this point, the shot cuts rapidly, and we see Arshia sitting in the backseat of a car, riding with a couple, Sharareh (Sharareh Pasha) and Kamran (Kiomars Giti), who are taking Arshia to Tehran; the couple is deaf and they communicate using only sign language. Later, we learn the couple is not Arshia’s parents, and Arshia is, in fact, Sharareh’s nephew. In addition, Arshia’s parents died in a car accident after the fateful night shown in the opening shot.
First and foremost, the film is a road trip. By the time the journey finishes, although figuratively it never does, the characters are microscopically examined through their interactions. In a mere eighty-five minutes, we learn a lot about these characters, especially the couple. In the context of the characters presented to us, the film’s title, “Mourning,” has a multilayered significance. Who is mourning, after all? Is it the couple? Or is it Arshia? As the scenes play out, we feel all the characters are grieving in their own ways. For the couple, Arshia’s entry at this point in their life opens up wounds from the past. At some point in their marriage, Sharareh and Kamran agree not to have any kids, fearing that their child might be deaf, too. But, Sharareh is still hurt because it was at Kamran’s insistence that they mutually agreed upon not parenting a child. There is pain in Sharareh’s eyes, having swallowed internally tears of a childless marriage all these years. Indeed, in Sharareh’s case, time hasn’t healed the wounds, and this issue still remains debatable between the two. Even though Kamran is a nice person, he fails to understand Sharareh’s grief. For Kamran, Sharareh is the anchor, as she is better equipped to respond in a crisis. Despite their issues, Sharareh and Kamran are generally tolerant and pleasant to each other, with Sharareh complementing Kamran rather well.
Arshia’s presence presents a similar scenario for the couple, something they shrugged off years earlier. Are they willing to parent a child now? Over the course of the journey, we realize they might not be ready. Instead of getting emotional about it, the couple, through their conversations, practically decide that with their communication barrier, the idea of being parents would be overwhelming. It is obvious they are generous and welcoming with their intent. Initially, Arshia appears rather uninterested during the trip, and his character never blossoms in the first half. But, in the film’s final act, the script focuses on Arshia, showing us a weeping Arshia, releasing emotions associated with the loss of his parents.
“Mourning” is not a heavy, grief-stricken drama of a couple, per se; in fact, the film never feels this way. The conversations are added so that we get some background on the characters. Within the conversations, there are plenty of humorous moments, especially when Sharareh and Kamran are conversing and when Arshia rides with a mechanic. Set against a beautiful landscape, “Mourning” nicely balances humor and drama without getting overly dramatic. In spite of the positives, however, I feel the movie slowed down a bit in the middle half, but this is only a minor quibble.
With his debut effort, director Farshbaf has shown his talent by keeping a tight focus on the characters and their issues and fully utilizing the film’s running time. By keeping the climax open-ended, Farshbaf has involved his viewers until the film’s very last moments. The word “grief” means many things, but the film’s outcome leaves its characters with hope. Indeed, “Mourning” is a laid-back Iranian ride worth taking.