Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Silence Between Two Thoughts



Sokote beine do feks : Iran 2003 : Babak PAYAMI : 95 mins

Payamis achingly serious follow-up to acclaimed absurdist comedy Secret Ballot is – as that forbiddingly enigmatic title indicates – a cerebral, challenging, ambitious piece of (very hard) work, one whose glacial pace may prove too testing for even the most hardened arthouse denizens. Writer-director Payami adopts a frustratingly oblique approach to narrative, purposefully and persistently withholding information and placing many key events just outside the edge of the frame. Aiming for the timeless air of fable, the film unfolds in an unspecified, semi-desert landscape: shooting took place near the city of Bam, only months before last autumn’s devastating earthquake.

The narrative is simple, and a competent editor could condense the plot to a third of the 95-minute running-time (Payami had to reconstruct the film via video after the original print was reportedly confiscated by Iranian authorities). In a ten-minute opening shot, a young soldier (Kamalan Narouli) – obeying the orders of tribal-leader Haji (Moazen’) – executes two men. But as he aims his Kalashnikov at the third condemned prisoner, Haji imposes a stay of execution. He has discovered that this (female) “criminal” (Maryam Moqadam) is a virgin, and to kill her would mean sending her soul to heaven. Hajis devises a cruel solution: the executioner must marry his “victim” – who he would then have to kill after their union’s consummation. But Hajis plan is imperilled by the encroachment of opposing armed forces, and also the not-so-happy couple’s dawning feelings of resistance and affection.

Payami takes an idiosyncratic angle on some very topical issues: religious dogmatism is his main target, and his rigorous austerity is unwavering in its presentation of injustice and exploitation. The script’s dialogue is as stark as the drought-ravaged landscape, and Payami’s control of image and sound – and their interaction – is no less careful and deliberate, Farzad Jodat’s camera tracking with painstaking care over indoor and outdoor environments. At other times the frame remains fixed on certain tableaux for so long that the viewer has little option other than to tease out the scene’s latent symbolic elements. Except, perhaps, to walk out.

29th May, 2004
(seen 17th January : Fokus Cinema, Troms Troms International Film Festival)

by Neil Young

the above is a rewrite (for Tribune magazine) of the original article written (in conjunction with S.Nahid and C.G.Munch) for the website of the Fipresci organisation of international film critics.

click here for a full list of reviewed films from the Troms International Film Festival 2004