A beautifully crafted portrait of the extraordinary young musician/ethnomusicologist Amin Aghaie, “Amin” shuttles between the pale marble halls of the Kiev Tchaikovsky Conservatory and the impossibly vivid colors of the Qashai community in Iran, the two worlds tightly linked by Aghaie’s thesis research on the disappearing musical culture of his people. The tradition is fading fast, and Aghaie’s popular concerts, the very events that might keep it current, are regularly banned. Fueled by its subject’s passionate commitment (and virtuoso violin), and functioning on several levels, the docu could resonate theatrically with arthouse auds.
Iranian helmer-producer-editor-d.p. Shahin Parhami, a close friend of Aghaie’s, comfortably settles in with his close-knit family, all musicians in awe of their kin’s casual brilliance and generosity. Parhami shows Aghaie giving brother Housein gentle pointers on his accomplished piano rendition of a Bach prelude.
Chronicling the culture of the Qashai, a nomadic Turkish people of mysterious origin who settled in southwestern Iran, requires a certain degree of detective work. On the road, Aghaie hunts down rumors to locate the few remaining practitioners of Qashai music.
Aghaie is enthusiastically welcomed and regaled with impromptu performances, which he records for his archives. He captures extended sessions with players of various exotic instruments and enjoys a moving reunion with legendary composer-singer Ustad Kiyani, his 105-year-old-mentor, who still sings up a storm to Aghaie’s spirited violin accompaniment. But with limited time and virtually no resources, Aghaie is fighting a losing battle. In order to fund his research and continued studies, he and his brothers resort to selling their instruments, Aghaie sadly tracing the contours of the last of his three violins on the wall before parting with it.
Back in Kiev, romantic jaunts with fellow musician Galyna Omelchenko, whose passionate piano playing can sometimes be heard in the background, alternate with long, introspective interviews. These are filmed in black-and-white and with an almost uncomfortable intimacy, as Aghaie airs his doubts and fears to the camera.
Not the least impressive of the docu’s achievements is that it thoroughly familiarizes listeners with Qashai music, which might sound initially alien and off-putting to Western ears. By the film’s end, a violin/drum/piano composition by Aghaie and his brothers, obviously filmed before they were forced to sell their instruments, rocks the house.