Gesher -- Film Review

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SAN SEBASTIAN -- Though perhaps a touch too oblique for its own good, "Gesher" represents a quietly promising feature debut from Iran's 29-year-old writer-director Vahid Vakilifar.

A patient, visually absorbing but narratively minimalist study of harsh industrial landscapes -- and three men who work, live and play among them -- it's a low-key humanist portrait of simple dignity that, given the enduring popularity of Iranian fare, looks set for a healthy festival life after its world premiere in San Sebastian.

Shot on high-def, high-contrast, vividly colored DV, "Gesher" functions best as a contemplation of place: an unnamed, sun-baked waterfront area which has been irrevocably and drastically altered, many would say ruined, by man. Some kind of vast industrial plant is already in place, a miniature city of lights after dark, and further construction is ongoing, involving the assembly of vast iron structures that look like something from a science-fiction movie.

These developments dwarf the humans who work in and around them, but Vakilifar's main focus is on precisely these often-overlooked toilers: middle-aged Nezam (Abdolrassoul Daryapeyma), who has a grueling and unpleasant job unblocking toilets (presented in stomach-churning close-up); thirtyish construction-worker Qobad (Ghobad Rahmanissab); and sharp-dressing, ambitious twentysomething Jahan (Hossein Farzizadeh), who drives bigwigs between various areas of what is evidently a sprawling industrial zone.

The trio sleeps in one of the large, seemingly abandoned pipes which are lined up on the beach, and "Gesher" devotes much time to observing their ad-hoc domesticity and leisure periods, which they spend smoking, chatting, looking out to sea or swimming. Vakilifar's attention to humdrum detail is impressive, considerably boosted by sound mixer Hossein Mahdavi's multi-layered collection of machine-made and natural noises.

This is very much a film of moods, atmospheres and impressions. Vakilifar isn't much interested in conventional character development or plotting. But while this is a valid artistic standpoint, he could still have trimmed many of the scenes -- he serves as his own editor -- and it wouldn't have done much harm to have given the viewer a bit more idea of what is going on, and why, and to whom. Even the title (it happens to be Hebrew for "bridge," but that's surely a coincidence) remains unexplained by the picture's end.

Venue: San Sebastian International Film Festival
Production company: Shargh Tamash Media, Tehran
Cast: Hossein Farzizadeh, Ghobad Rahmaninassab, Abdolrassoul Daryapeyma.
Director/screenwriter/editor: Vahid Vakilifar.
Screenwriter: Vahid Vakilifar
Producer: Mohammad Rassoulof
Director of photography: Mohammed-Reza Jahan Panah
Sales: DreamLab Films, France
No rating, 84 minutes
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