A wandering tale of middle class, middle-aged urbanites at loose ends, “Abadan” is not what one thinks of when imagining Iranian film, and yet pic attests to the depth and vitality of the national cinema. One old man’s pilgrimage to Abadan carries along in its wake a string of people, each fervently looking for somebody specific and encountering someone else altogether. Despite veteran cast and savvy helming, pic’s virtues are probably too subtle even for cable run, though pic reps a welcome change of pace for specialized venues.
A woman (Fatemeh Motamed Arya) runs sobbing and hysterical to her exasperated estranged husband (Ehsan Amani) and begs him to find her missing elderly father (Dariush Asadzadeh). Reluctantly, he takes off in the company of his best friend (Shahrokh Foroutanian), reminiscing about the past and pondering the future as they scour the streets of Tehran for his father-in-law.
The senile old man has taken it into his head to fulfil a lifelong dream and visit the once rich, now desolate Abadan, which was destroyed in the war with Iraq. But first he must deliver a package to his old comrade Jamal, a task complicated by the fact that he doesn’t recall precisely where Jamal lives.
Furthermore, he has forgotten that Jamal actually died many years ago. Wandering among identical-looking high-rises, he hooks up with an old pensioner. (Jamsheed Mashayekhi), more tuned into the present but equally desirous of escaping it. The two geezers take off on a wild, last-ditch adventure, hiring on sympathetic cab drivers and daredevil motorcyclists along the way.
Meanwhile, back at hubby’s house, his mistress (Hedeyeh Tehrani) drops by, is invited to stay by his ex, and, amid the comings and goings of workmen renovating the house, the two women first warily circle each other, but soon break out the wine and let their hair down, exchanging dreams about emigration and fears of abandonment, while bonding over the failings of their absent significant other.
Handheld HD lensing and consummately professional cast, composed equally of current stars and pre-revolutionary cinematic icons, give a sense of immediacy and spontaneity quite distinct from the kind achieved in typical recent Iranian exports: Gone is the usual quasi-documentary of non-professionals framed in simple narratives.
Helmer Haghighi, son of renowned Iranian filmmaker Nemat Haghighi and grandson of seminal director/writer/producer Ebrahim Golestan, has not created a work of deathless beauty nor of stirring integrity, but has loosened up the parameters of storytelling, awakening actors to the joys of talky improvisations that signify nothing and symbolize even less. Unfortunately, some of pic’s impromptu vulgar uncensored language led to film being banned in Iran.