A straight-up, character-driven drama about betrayal and exile set near Iran’s Afghani border, “Paradise Is Somewhere Else” marks an auspicious feature debut by former documaker Abdolrasoul Golbon. Pacier and more accessible than the often oblique chin-strokers from Iranian cinema’s best-known filmmakers, pic has enough emotional immediacy and visual brio to give it legs on the festival circuit. However, the helmer’s lack of name recognition will limit theatrical prospects to only the most adventurous distribs.
Seventeen-year-old shepherd Eitek yearns to leave his small village and make his fortune in the United Arab Emirates. But Eitek’s father, who works at a highway construction site, wants him to stay on longer to care for the family’s herd of goats and sheep. Pooling his savings with some money stolen from his father to pay for his passage to the UAE, Eitek persuades ex-shepherd Gol Mohammad, an Afghani refugee who’s his age, to take over his shepherding duties.
Golban economically sketches the two very different teens’ growing affection for each other. Eitek, initially scornful of Afghani refugees, comes to recognize Gol Mohammad’s natural talent for herding and sympathize with the hardships he’s been through after losing his father in the recent war in Afghanistan. While Eitek only wants to get out of Dodge, Gol Mohammad wants to bring his mother and sisters over the border and reunite the family.
But following the accidental death of Eitek’s father at the construction site, Eitek’s plans and his friendship with Gol Mohammad are both compromised. When Eitek takes revenge on the man he blames for his father’s death and goes on the run, Gol Mohammad is arrested in his place.
Basic story about divided loyalties and the moral awakening of a teen has a fairly shopworn quality, and contempo issues — such as the treatment of Afghani refugees — get only a gentle airing. However, the film’s innate humanism is of a piece with that of the region’s best movie output.
Golbon pulls powerful, understated performances from both his youthful leads. Supporting characters, including Eitek’s meek mother, his wily grandfather and the village’s rather over-kindly cop, are all neatly sketched. Technically, pic remains consistently watchable throughout thanks to smooth editing, good-looking lensing and especially Saeed Ansari’s evocative score, which mixes indigenous instruments with Western synth inflections.