Two outcasts, a silent old man and a loudmouthed Azerbaijan youth, set out to catch poisonous snakes in the desert in this eye-catching first film by Asghar Farhadi. His theme, surprisingly, is love and the sacrifices it demands, beautifully illustrated in the story’s final, satisfying twist. Mustering enough festival and critical support, pic could find favor with Western auds in search of exotica with a heart.
Though Nazar (Yousef Khodaparast) is madly in love with his young bride Reyhaneh (Baran Kosari), his family and friends make him divorce her when they hear rumors her mother is a prostitute. The boy, who’s a little crazy, agrees to the divorce but becomes obsessed with paying the girl’s marriage portion, which he can’t afford. He earns barely a pittance in a strange pharmaceutical institute, where serums are made from the antibodies in horses injected with snake venom.
On the run from a creditor, he hides in a delivery van and finds himself transported to the middle of the desert. Ignoring his demands to be taken back to the city, the stony-faced old driver (Faramarz Gharibian) makes him sleep outside in the cold and wait the next day while he goes to hunt snakes. Nazar foolishly tries to hunt, too, hoping to make money for Reyhaneh, and gets bitten in the process. To save his life the snake hunter cuts off his wounded finger, keeping it in a jar so it can later be reattached. But Nazar, still reeling with love for his ex, has other ideas.
Dispensing with heavyhanded symbolism, Farhadi tells the tale engrossingly and with a lot of physicality through the two main actors. As the young swain, Khodaparast creates an original, often irritating character redeemed by his great love. Gharibian’s haunted face needs no words to express his inner devastation, and in fact he barely speaks in the film.
The snakes are genuinely scary, almost as much as the protags’ unpredictable emotions.