×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Bitter Dream

Crotchety cemetery director prepares his own funeral in offbeat black comedy from Iran. Illustrating increasing diversity of Iranian post-revolutionary cinema and loosening bonds of state censorship, it brings a quirky, down-to-earth viewpoint. Comedy is notoriously hard to export; could make it hard for pic's gentle irony to reach Western audiences beyond the usual Iranophiles.

With:
Esfandiar - Abbas Esfandiari Delbar - Delbar Ghasri

A crotchety cemetery director prepares his own funeral in this offbeat black comedy from Iran, “Bitter Dream.” Illustrating the increasing diversity of Iranian post-revolutionary cinema and the loosening bonds of state censorship, it brings a quirky, down-to-earth viewpoint to the subject of death and gets up close to the funeral director’s relationships to his fellow men. But the fact that comedy is notoriously hard to export could make it hard for the film’s gentle irony to reach Western audiences beyond the usual Iranophiles. Certainly this is a strongly personal calling card for first-time helmer Mohsen Amiryoussefi.

The setting is Sedeh, an ancient town in central Iran with an 800-year-old cemetery outside a mosque-shrine. The story is told in a series of titled mini-chapters. Old Mr. Esfandiar (Abbas Esfandiari) is the violent, mean-spirited and heartily disliked boss of an old opium-smoking gravedigger, a dizzy young boy assigned to burn the dead’s clothing, and a dignified widow named Delbar (Delbar Ghasri) who washes the bodies of dead women. Esfandiar washes the men’s bodies himself. All seem to have pariah status in society at large, making theirs a tightly closed world.

When the dictatorial Esfandiar finds himself visited by Azrael, the angel of death, he takes fright and tries to make hasty amends to those he’s wronged. But human nature is not so easy to change, and he does a lot of back-tracking and fighting off Azrael before the final shot.

There’s some first-film awkwardness in letting good gags go on too long and the morbid humor tends to get a bit obsessive. The human comedy, on the other hand, is not at all superficial in hinting at his unconfessed love for Delbar and paternal rivalry with the boy groomed to take his place. Astutely avoiding all mention of Islam, apart from burial customs, the film makes a point of contrasting the wealth of the shrine’s condescending mullah with the poverty of the other characters.

Film is remarkably visual. Bayram Fazli’s cinematography gives a strong sense of open space to the shrine and the overhanging mountain, where Esfandiar goes to spy on his workers through binoculars. Interiors have a spooky claustrophobia. Centered on ancient archways and underground bathing pools, the camera creates an eerie world of classical order, reinforced by discreetly used Persian music.

While the opening TV interviews used to set the scene have an irritating deja vu quality, they are later used more originally as Esfandiar’s conscience speaks to him from the tube, a truth box showing him his sins.

Bitter Dream

Iran

Production: A Touba Films production. (International sales: Dreamlab, Le Cannet, France.) Produced by Rouhollah Baradari, Mohsen Amiryoussefi. Directed, written, edited by Mohsen Amiryoussefi.

Crew: Camera (color/B&W), Bayram Fazli; production designer, Amiryoussefi; sound (mono), Hosseyn Ghourchian, Mohamad Reza Delpak. Reviewed at the Cannes Film Festival (Directors Fortnight), May 14, 2004. Running time: 87 MIN.

With: Esfandiar - Abbas Esfandiari Delbar - Delbar GhasriWith: Mohsen Rahinmi, Safar-Ali Safarik, Yadollah Anvari.

More Film

  • I Lost My Body

    French Animation 'I Lost My Body' Tops Cannes Critics' Week Winners

    “I Lost My Body,” a dark French animated film from writer-director Jérémy Clapin, has come up trumps in this year’s Critics’ Week program at the Cannes Film Festival, taking the strand’s top honor, the Nespresso Grand Prize. The film, which follows a young man’s severed hand as it struggles to be reunited with its own, [...]

  • Contract Placeholder Business WGA ATA Agent

    Talent Agents Blast Verve Agreement With Writers Guild

    The lead negotiator for Hollywood’s talent agencies has again blasted the Writers Guild and its recent agreement with the Verve agency — and cautioned other agencies against following suit. Verve defected from the major agencies on May 16 when it became the first sizable Hollywood talent agency to sign the WGA’s Code of Conduct. That [...]

  • Forest Whitaker

    Netflix Teams With Forest Whitaker on 'Hello, Universe' Movie

    Netflix and Forest Whitaker are collaborating on live-action family movie “Hello, Universe,” based on the 2018 Newbery Award winner and New York Times bestselling novel by Erin Entrada Kelly. Playwright and screenwriter Michael Golamco (“Always Be My Maybe”) will adapt the book. Whitaker and Nina Yang Bongiovi (“Fruitvale Station”) of Significant Productions will produce. The [...]

  • Lauren Ash44th Annual Gracie Awards, Show,

    Politics and New Abortion Ban Laws Dominate 2019 Gracie Awards

    Female empowerment was in the air Tuesday night as showrunners, writers and performers gathered at the 44th annual Gracie Awards to celebrate women breaking barriers and shattering glass ceilings within the entertainment industry. Sandra Oh, Patricia Arquette, Rachel Maddow and Connie Britton were among the honorees at the ceremony, which took place at the Beverly [...]

  • Spider-Man Homecoming

    Film and TV Productions Are Using Drones for Scouting Locations, Lighting and More

    Since a ruling by the Federal Aviation Administration in 2014 that cleared the use of drones in film and TV production, the acquisition of footage by these unmanned flying machines has become de rigueur for aerial shooting in cases when cranes or aircraft are impractical or unsafe.  As such, drones have been greeted enthusiastically not [...]

  • Filmmaker Maryam Touzani Talks About Her

    Filmmaker Maryam Touzani Talks About Her Cannes Debut, 'Adam'

    Debuting feature helmer-writer Maryam Touzani makes her Cannes bow with “Adam,” in Un Certain Regard. The Casablanca-set drama shows how a pregnant stranger changes the lives of a mother and her young daughter. What inspired your plot? When I moved back to Tangier after college, one day a young woman knocked on our door, looking [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content