Kamal Tabrizi leapt out of obscure TV work in 2003 with his malicious comedy about a convict disguised as a mullah, “Lizard.” Though completely different, “A Piece of Bread” is another curious take on Islam from the inside. It might be called a mystical fable, religious in spirit but non-sectarian, far from preachy and somewhat mysterious in its message. Distant cousin to Ermanno Olmi’s “The Legend of the Holy Drinker,” it captures, better than many others, the state of grace behind everyday life. Fans of spiritual cinema will be interested in taking a look at this likable if meandering pic.
The action starts on the unlikely note of a footrace along country roads, whose winners will be awarded forest jobs of some kind. In the version screened at the Fajr festival, this metaphorical rat race is barely mentioned again and sticks out as a structural oddity.
In the mountains dotted with goats, villages and even a desert, a miracle has occurred. An illiterate old woman has heard a voice telling her to enter a little mountain shrine, where she is suddenly able to read the Koran in Arabic. Contact with her is rumored to work miracles.
Now everybody who lives in the area is headed for her house, including an army officer sent to check out the fuss. With him is a raw, doltish recruit (Reza Kianian) and a well-known elderly mullah. Their assignment is to debunk the miracle-worker and send everyone home.
The officer painfully abuses the simpleton, who can barely speak Farsi. But as soon as he sends him to fetch water, the boy makes contact with strange characters who appear out of nowhere. These three wise men seem to be directing him on a predestined path toward the place of the miracle. When the officer finds an excuse to go back to the garrison , the young soldier instinctively continues up the mountain.
In a farcical vision straight out of Fellini, the old woman’s house has been overrun by curiosity-seekers and vendors, along with the sick and ailing. Pushing his way inside the free-for-all, the old mullah hears her tell what really happened at the shrine. Tabrizi carefully balances the closing scenes, which bring the young soldier’s role in the miracle into focus, shifting the tone from realism to reverence. Though the ending is left up to the viewer to decide, it is eerily moving. The use of Koranic verses about the Annunciation to Mary should help Western auds.
Young Kianian’s open, glowing face captures the sense of ambiguity at the heart of this strange little film. Rest of the cast are humorously recounted, down-to-earth mercenaries full of worldly realism. The quality tech work by lenser Hossein Jafarian and composer Peyman Yazdanian is a step up from “Lizard.”