×

Film Review: ‘A Few Cubic Meters of Love’

Afghanistan's foreign-language Oscar entry is an earnest but affecting social-issue drama.

With:
Saed Soheili, Hassiba Ebrahimi, Nader Fallah, Alireza Ostadi, Masoud Mirtaheri. (Farsi, Dari dialogue)

Set in a shantytown on the outskirts of Tehran where a factory owner employs a horde of illegal Afghan workers, “A Few Cubic Meters of Love” is an earnest but affecting social-issue drama centered on a forbidden relationship. This debut feature from Afghanistan-born, Iran-based helmer-writer Jamshid Mahmoudi and his producer brother, Navid, does a good job of depicting the tensions that arise when refugees are deprived of their rights and subject to arbitrary abuse. Further fest play beckons for Afghanistan’s foreign-language Oscar entry, which nabbed awards for first feature and direction at Fajr.

Orphaned teen Saber (Saed Soheili) is part of an Iranian team laboring at a ramshackle scrap-metal workshop run by the genial Mr. Sabahi (Alireza Ostadi). Afghans work alongside Iranians, making wheelbarrows, buckets and basins for the construction industry, but they receive only half the salary of their local counterparts because they have no working papers. Moreover, if police come to inspect the facility, they must quickly grab their children and tools and hide in a drainage pipe, knee-deep in water.

Sabahi lets the Afghans, many of whom are part of an extended clan, live on site, in whatever makeshift shelter they can devise. Saber, whom Sabahi has helped raise, lives among them and is accepted by most of the Afghan men and invited to their celebrations.

But it is unlikely that the Afghan men would look so kindly upon Saber if they knew that he and the motherless Marona (valiant non-pro Hassiba Ebrahimi) were involved in a chaste but charming courtship. The two youngsters meet daily, hiding from prying eyes inside an empty, rusting container in the cargo yard next door, where they exchange gifts, share confidences and make plans for the future. But Marona fears the consequences if Saber were to ask her dour, ailing father Abdolsalam (Nader Fallah) for her hand.

Without belaboring the point, Mahmoudi’s screenplay makes clear that the (at best) second-class status Afghans have in Iran and how this rankles their pride. For many of them, forced to flee by war and having lost family and possessions, their dignity is the only thing that remains and their women folk represent their honor. Still, some introductory text might be useful for audiences outside the region, noting that Iran is home to nearly 3 million Afghan migrants, with less than a third of that number registered with the right to work, and some 250,000 deported in the last year alone.

Mahmoudi graduated from Tehran’s prestigious U. of the Arts and cut his teeth helming a number of shorts and TV pics produced by his brother. Here, shooting in an actual location where Afghan refugees live and work, he displays a dynamic, muscular style of direction that makes this dusty, dirty landscape as vivid as the backdrop in “Slumdog Millionaire,” and which suits his mixed cast of thesps and non-pros.

Playing younger than his age, personable TV thesp Soheili is highly convincing as a naive young man so in the grip of first love that he is emotionally deaf and insensitive to the more complicated feelings of his elders. Standing out among the impressive craft credits is the lensing by Morteza Ghafouri, whose prowling camera emphasizes the confined and constricted worlds of the characters with every shot. Also worthy of note are the evocative sound design and the plaintive score.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: ‘A Few Cubic Meters of Love’

Reviewed at the Chicago Film Festival (World Cinema), Oct. 22, 2014. (Also in Busan Film Festival  A Window on Asian Cinema; Fajr Film Festival competing) Running time: 94 MIN. (Original title: "Chand metre moka’ab eshgh")

Production: (Iran-Afghanistan) An Aseman-Parvaz Film production. (International sales: Dream Lab Films, Paris.) Produced by Navid Mahmoudi.

Crew: Directed, written by Jamshid Mahmoudi. Camera (color, HD), Morteza Ghafouri; editor, Sepideh Abdolvahab; music, Sahand Mehdizadeh; production and costume designer, Abtin Barghi; sound (5.1 Surround), Mehdi Saleh-Kermani, Amir Hossein Ghasemi.

With: Saed Soheili, Hassiba Ebrahimi, Nader Fallah, Alireza Ostadi, Masoud Mirtaheri. (Farsi, Dari dialogue)

More Film

  • Amanda Awards

    ‘Out Stealing Horses’ Tops Norway’s 2019 Amanda Awards

    HAUGESUND, Norway —  Hans Petter Moland’s sweeping literary adaptation “Out Stealing Horses” put in a dominant showing at Norway’s Amanda Awards on Saturday night, placing first with a collected five awards, including best Norwegian film. Celebrating its 35th edition this year, the Norwegian industry’s top film prize helped kick off the Haugesund Film Festival and [...]

  • Editorial use onlyMandatory Credit: Photo by

    Richard Williams, 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit' Animator, Dies at 86

    Renowned animator Richard Williams, best known for his work on “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” died Friday at his home in Bristol, England, Variety has confirmed. He was 86. Williams was a distinguished animator, director, producer, author and teacher whose work has garnered three Oscars and three BAFTA Awards. In addition to his groundbreaking work as [...]

  • Instinct

    Locarno Film Review: 'Instinct'

    Now that “Game of Thrones” has finally reached its conclusion, releasing its gifted international ensemble into the casting wilds, will Hollywood remember just what it has in Carice van Houten? It’s not that the statuesque Dutch thesp hasn’t been consistently employed since her startling 2006 breakout in Paul Verhoeven’s “Black Book,” or even that she’s [...]

  • Good Boys Movie

    Box Office: 'Good Boys' Eyes Best Original Comedy Opening of 2019

    Universal’s “Good Boys” is surpassing expectations as it heads toward an estimated $20.8 million opening weekend at the domestic box office following $8.3 million in Friday ticket sales. That’s well above earlier estimates which placed the film in the $12 million to $15 million range, marking the first R-rated comedy to open at No. 1 [...]

  • Pedro Costa’s 'Vitalina Varela' Wins at

    Pedro Costa’s 'Vitalina Varela' Triumphs at Locarno Film Festival

    The 72nd Locarno Film Festival drew to a close Saturday with Portuguese auteur Pedro Costa’s dark and detached film “Vitalina Varela” coming away with several awards together with superlatives from segments of the hardcore cinephile crowd, including jury president Catherine Breillat. In announcing the Golden Leopard prize for the film, as well as best actress [...]

  • Vitalina Varela

    Locarno Film Review: 'Vitalina Varela'

    Frequently beautiful compositions and the theatrical use of a fierce kind of artifice have long been the hallmarks of Portuguese auteur Pedro Costa, regarded by a small but influential group of aesthetes as one of the great filmmakers of our era. For those in tune with his vision, the director’s films offer an exciting lesson [...]

  • Notre dame

    Locarno Film Review: 'Notre dame'

    Not to be too cynical about it, but might the recent horrific fire in Paris’ cathedral attract audiences to a film in which the gothic gem plays a major role? It’s likely a wiser marketing strategy than promoting the unrelenting silliness of Valerie Donzelli’s oh-so-kooky comedy “Notre dame,” the writer-director-star’s return to contemporary Paris following [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content