With “Delbaran,” Iran’s poet of social realism, Abolfazl Jalili, comes up with another beautifully realized study of characters lost between the cracks of history and politics. Focusing on a group of residents, and in particular a 14-year-old kid, in the eponymous border town between Iran and Afghanistan, film lacks the powerful abstraction of his tone-poem “Dance of Dust” but is accessible at a more human level. Fest exposure is a given, with niche theatrical outings and TV sales down the line. It deservedly won the special jury prize at the recent Locarno festival.
Jalili is a director who seems incapable of a lazy or botched visual and yet doesn’t belabor the viewer with any self-conscious cleverness. Without overpoetizing the barren, hilly region in which the movie is set, Jalili and d.p. Mohammad Ahmadi manage to keep the eye entranced while firmly placing the characters within their own landscape.
Kaim (Kaim Alizadeh) is a young illegal from Afghanistan who entered Iran 10 months ago and has found work and lodging with Khan and Khale, a couple who run a small tavern. Kaim’s mother was killed in an air raid, and his father is still fighting at the front in the ongoing border war.
With sparse dialogue and a vignette type of structure, pic is not exactly thick with plot or backgrounding. (Much of the above information comes from a scene 30 minutes in, when Kaim is taken to a doctor for the treatment of an ear infection.) Main thrust of the film comes from a steady stream of illegal Afghan laborers, patiently tracked down by police chief Mahdavi (Ahmad Mahdavi), who discovers Kaim’s identity and later has to deal with an illegal cross-national marriage. When a new road threatens stopover business at the tavern, Khan and, later, Kaim take measures into their own hands.
Though sometimes frustrating, the lack of clear exposition doesn’t damage the film’s appeal, which has a droll humor largely created through cutting and compositions alone. Dialogue, when it comes, is in big chunks, before another silent stretch.
Dedicated to “all the children of war,” pic is aces at a technical level. Aside from being the name of the real border town, “Delbaran” also means “lovers” in Farsi.