You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘A Few Cubic Meters of Love’

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

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

  • Joker

    Why 'Joker' Is About All of Us (Column)

    Take a look at the photo above. It’s the most poetic image to have emerged from Todd Phillips’ “Joker,” and the reason I say “poetic” isn’t just because the shot has that caught-in-action indelible vibe of a quintessential movie poster: graphic, hauntingly composed, a bit shocking (at least, the first time you see it). It’s [...]

  • Angelina Jolie is Maleficent in Disney’s

    'Maleficent: Mistress of Evil' Rules International Box Office With $117 Million

    Though Disney’s “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” stumbled at the domestic box office, the Angelina Jolie-led sequel enjoyed a far stronger start overseas. The follow-up to 2014’s fantasy adventure inspired by the “Sleeping Beauty” villain took off with $117 million from 56 international markets. In North America, “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” debuted with a meager $36 [...]

  • Angelina Jolie is Maleficent in Disney’s

    Box Office: 'Maleficent: Mistress of Evil' Dominates With Soft $36 Million

    Five years after Angelina Jolie’s “Maleficent” cast a spell over the box office, the villainous enchantress has returned to the top of domestic charts. Disney’s “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil,” a sequel to 2014’s fantasy adventure based on the “Sleeping Beauty” sorceress, flew lower than the original and debuted to a disappointing $36 million from 2,790 [...]

  • MIA Wrap

    Rome MIA Market Wraps With Stronger U.S. Presence, Boosts Italy's Industry Standing

    Rome’s MIA market for TV series, feature films and documentaries wrapped positively Sunday with organizers boasting a bump in attendance just as some 2,500 executives departed in an upbeat mood after four days of dealmaking and presentations of mostly European fresh product, which elevated Italy’s global standing in the industry, especially within the TV sector. [...]

  • Film Republic Adds Further Sales for

    Film Republic Inks Further Deals for 'God of the Piano' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Sales agent Film Republic has closed further territory sales on “God of the Piano.” Film Movement previously picked up North American rights to the film, as reported exclusively by Variety. Mont Blanc Cinema has taken the rights for Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Paraguay. Limelight Distribution is looking after the Australian and New Zealand releases, Hualu [...]

  • ‘Bears Famous Invasion’s Lorenzo Mattotti Brings

    Lorenzo Mattotti on MIA Title ‘Bears Famous Invasion of Sicily’

    Illustrator Lorenzo Mattotti is no stranger to film festivals. The artist – a long-time New Yorker cover artist and onetime Lou Reed and Michelangelo Antonioni collaborator – has designed posters for past editions of Venice and Cannes, and has contributed to films that played in Toronto and Rome. This year, however, he experienced the festival [...]

  • Dreamworks Abominable

    'Abominable' Release in Malaysia Abandoned

    Plans to release the increasingly controversial Chinese-U.S. co-produced animation film “Abominable” in Malaysia have been dropped after the distributor said that it would not be cut to cater to political sensitivities. The film includes a scene which depicts a map showing the South China Sea and the so called “nine-dash line” that China uses to [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content