A rebellious young boy defiantly asserts his feelings after witnessing his father's summary execution in "Sanam." Haunting and forthright tale of daily hardships in primitive conditions is about as far as one can get from a feel-good movie; rather it qualifies as a sort of Iranian "400 Blows."
A rebellious young boy defiantly asserts his feelings after witnessing his father’s summary execution in “Sanam.” Haunting and forthright tale of daily hardships in primitive conditions is about as far as one can get from a feel-good movie; rather it qualifies as a sort of Iranian “400 Blows.” The contrast between beautiful landscapes and harsh circumstances lends an indelible sense of place to pic, whose central perf by a non-pro lad makes this a must for fests.
Following 1997’s “The Fifth Season,” French-based Iranian helmer Rafi Pitts melds superb camera placement and basic human dilemmas to powerful effect in a tale of stubborn determination that leads not to justice but to compound dismay.
Pic opens with wide-eyed youngster Issa (Ismail Amani) observing as men on horseback pursue a lone figure in the distance. Mood is both majestic and ominous. A shot rings out, and the victim is Issa’s father, who may or may not have stolen a horse. His beautiful widow, Sanam (Roya Nonahali), and Issa believe he was innocent; but they have to bury him — digging the grave themselves — and move in with the late man’s sister.
Sanam patiently makes the long trek to file complaint after complaint at the nearest police outpost, without results. Meantime, Issa is not the least bit interested in harvesting grain or herding sheep, tasks to which he is assigned in the meager economy where every individual, however young, must pull his or her own weight.
A local man who could offer a level of material comfort wants to marry Sanam but she, still young but resolute in refusal, replies, “I was married once, that’s enough.” Pic is permeated with a sense of uphill struggle that should be punishing for the viewer but instead registers as an authentic portrait, skillfully told.
Each shot is expressively framed to convey the timeless power of the stark terrain. Potent sound design targets both natural and mechanical sounds as intrusions.
Amani is utterly winning as Issa, who rejects both work and school and refuses to toe the line. An unusual child protagonist for an Iranian pic, Issa doesn’t want to help a friend with his homework or buy a goldfish or comfort an ailing sibling. He just wants to defend his father’s name, live as he sees fit and ride off on a purloined horse.
Both mother and son are pursuing the same goal, but are connected only by pain rather than a shared mission. Pic’s conclusion is devastating.