One of the more festival-ready pics screened at this year’s Fajr fest, “Cafe Transit” depicts an independent-minded widow who bucks tradition to run her dead husband’s truck stop cafe. Director Kambuzia Partovi, a veteran of children’s pictures, confronts an adult subject with a popular touch, though the results cannot really be called compelling, out-of-the-box drama. Western auds will have no trouble identifying with the stubborn heroine, and pic, though talky, could find a comfortable berth on the small screen.
In Reyhan’s (Fereshteh Sarde Orafaei) village, lying on the border of a country that could be Turkey, it is a tradition for widows to marry their brothers-in-law, who assume the burden of a second wife and their children. But Reyhan will have nothing to do with her late mate’s lascivious frere Naser (Parviz Parasstoei.) She meets his ill-disguised macho demands with disdain and, much against his wishes, re-opens the truck stop.
The idea of a woman working in a public place full of men is so inconceivable that she hides herself in the kitchen while a waiter takes orders. Everyone in town knows she’s there behind the scenes, so it’s a mystery why the truckers don’t catch on. Her tasty home cooking soon turns the place into a popular hangout. The more success it has, the more outraged Naser becomes. When a sensitive, good-looking Greek named Zachariah (Nicolas Papadopolos) falls for Reyhan, Naser has the cafe closed down in a fit of jealousy. Ending is upbeat, however.
A bold subplot that never quite comes into focus tells how Reyhan gives shelter to a runaway Ukrainian girl, Svieta (Esobeta Mikhailishina.) The girl, frequently shown without a headscarf and apparently willing to exchange sexual favors for a ride to Italy, seems to have stepped out of another movie.
On the other hand, the film is unusual in the way it brings Western and Iranian societies into such close contact and interweaves their uneasy co-existence into the drama. Thus, in comparison to Svieta’s moral aimlessness, Reyhan’s staunch integrity stands out as a real quality, not just a conventional cultural reaction.
As the overextended working mom, Sarde Orafaei exudes courage and an appealing force of will. The other characters look cardboard-like next to her. Tech work is adequate.