Iranian helmer Saman Salour (“Lonely Tunes of Tehran”) continues to spotlight marginalized characters in “Sun Station.” Centered on a trio of misfits whose lives intersect along a railroad line in a remote mountain location, the pic is a visually interesting, emotionally rewarding meditation on loneliness and the healing power of friendship. Initially banned by Iranian censors for the casting of actress Azadeh Zaree as a male character, the 2012 production has since been slightly recut and approved for international screenings, which have now commenced with a world preem at Busan. The green light for domestic distribution has yet to be granted.
The long gap between filming and permission to export leaves “Sun Station” in the unfortunate position of being officially too old for consideration by most festivals outside specialty events. Kudos to Busan organizers for offering a lifeline that might encourage other programmers to give this fest-worthy item further exposure.
The eye-catching central location is a burnt-out train wreck that’s home to Qader (Mahmud Nazaraliyan), a grumpy old railway employee who’s retreated from society following a traumatic incident. Choosing to collect scrap metal rather than attend to his job, Qader grudgingly shares quarters with Hassan (Alireza Mehran), a stuttering oddball who operates a rickety, hand-cranked cable-car service for passengers wishing to cross a nearby river.
Completing the trio is Asghar, a loudmouth peddler who plies his scrappy trade on trains that roll past Qader and Hassan’s makeshift dwelling. Though Asgar’s boisterous manner is viewed with suspicion by Qader, his company is welcomed by Hassan, an awkward type who seems to be otherwise friendless.
Asghar’s outspoken nature and money-making instincts are the lever by which Hassan and Qader are slowly brought back into more meaningful contact with mainstream society. Discovering that a bridge has collapsed and Hassan’s cable car is now the only means by which travelers can continue their journey beyond where the train line stops, Asghar begins drumming up business. His first customer is a grieving young woman (Sanaz Asadi) from the city who claims to be transporting her father’s body to his homeland for burial.
In the first of many engaging sequences in which discussions begin on a mundane note such as the fees and conditions of carriage, it turns out that the woman is in fact the widow of a much older man she loved dearly, despite the prison time he served and the financial ruin caused by his errant ways. As the conversation continues, Asghar and Hassan become involved in an entertaining discourse on philosophy, politics and economics with a tipsy member of the funeral party (Hassan Sakvand).
In a highly amusing later sequence that pokes gentle fun at having to observe strict tradition no matter what the circumstances may be, a bride and groom become stranded halfway across the river and are forced to complete their vows via megaphone with a Hajji (religious man) stationed at the cable-car embarkation point. Some of the most rewarding little touches in the film arrive when this Hajji, who has been called upon to assist with funeral and wedding rituals, is able to defuse tensions and help people find common ground with little more than a smile.
The trigger for a change in Qader’s somber outlook is a visit from railroad-company official Nader (diminutive “Lonely Tunes of Tehran” actor Hamid Habibifar), whose assignment is to force Qader into retirement and send his home to the scrapyard. From this ominous first contact, things take unexpected turns once Asghar and Hassan go to work on Nader, with the result that Qader is able to finally confront the root of his sadness.
Though Hassan is sketched too thinly for auds to get a real sense of what makes him tick, and some of the revelations pertaining to Asghar and Qader in the rushed finale might have been better introduced earlier, Salour’s compassion for these damaged characters ultimately carries the day. In this regard, he is aided significantly by appealing, unaffected performances from a largely inexperienced cast. Actress Zaree is terrific as the live wire whose cheeky nature provokes many of the story’s most interesting conversations about aspects of life in contemporary Iran.
Warm interior color schemes, striking images of hot and dusty exteriors, and a lovely score dominated by plaintive harmonica and string arrangements are the standouts of a quality tech package.