From the very beginning of Djomeh, a simple intensity increases its power with each new shot as we watch poetic innocence slowly suffocated by an overbearing, culturally driven parent. In Afghanistan, young men must marry before the age of 20 or they’re considered over the hill. Djomeh is 20 and unmarried, working with fellow Afghan Habib in Iran on a dairy farm. He’s a romantic trying to keep his love of love alive in a foreign land and under the supervision of the oppressive Habib, who’s long ago given up on such idle thoughts. So he finds a sympathetic ear in Mr. Mahmoud, his Iranian boss, as he goes against all conventions to avoid loneliness.
Without melodrama or sentimentality, writer-director Hassan Yektapanah has infused his first film with a realness that transcends any continental gaps. Having assisted with the direction of A Taste of Cherry in 1997, Yektapanah credits Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami for influencing his style and aesthetic: “Kiarostami taught me how to look at the world and think.”
And that’s exactly what Djomeh forces its audience to do. The film takes its time to show just how much time it takes to get from one place to another in rural Iran. Yektapanah has made an effort to be as realistic as possible, and no one looks like they’re acting. Characters speak and work completely unaware of an outside eye. It’s as if a greater force allowed us a window into another reality, with the only sound track being the opening and closing of doors and the crunch of Djomeh’s bike as it rolls across the earth. An intense light with breathtaking mountains and Iranian countryside makes one wonder if the purity of the air affects the quality of the film. Released in 2000, Djomeh has since won the Camera d’Or at Cannes (crowning the best debut feature film) — and for his portrayal of Djomeh, Jalil Nazari won best actor at the “Faces of Love” film festival in Moscow.
Djomeh presents a sequence of simple and hopeful moments embodied with a truth that pulls us in, without any special effects, and gently exposes the peculiar state of a human soul in a very different place. Beautiful!
Showing exclusively at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit), Friday through Sunday. Call 313-833-3237.
Anita Schmaltz writes about the arts for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].