Lonely Tune of Tehran

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Cannes, Directors' Fortnight

CANNES -- In a bad year for Iranian cinema, when even expected films by Abbas Kiarostami, Samira Makhmalbaf and Amir Naderi have failed to turn up at Cannes, "Lonely Tunes of Tehran" saves the good name of Iran with its touching tale of two lonely misfits struggling to survive in the asphalt jungle. Sensitively written, directed and produced by Saman Salour ("From the Land of Silence," "A Few Kilos of Dates for a Funeral"), this is a film that plucks the heartstrings while it effectively speaks for the masses of poor souls who can neither earn a living nor satisfy their unbearable longing for love. Fest prizes will help unleash its art house potential.

Salour rolls the dice, and wins, on the unusual casting of leads Hamid (Hamid Habibifar) and Behrouz (Behrouz Jalili), respectively a midget and a giant, the first a cocky, sarcastic electrical engineer; the latter a taciturn, morose war veteran missing a few screws. Comic and dignified at the same time, this odd couple teams with the sweet-tempered driver of a dumpster (Mojtaba Bitarafan) to ply the dangerous trade of satellite dish installers, in a country where dishes are illegal and everyone owns one.

Hamid keeps up a non-stop stream of put-downs at poor Behrouz's expense, as they march up the hills to Tehran's wealthy neighborhoods and install rusty dishes on rooftops, slaving away but never earning enough to pay their rent. Economic woes come second, however, to the piercing loneliness each feels and their inability to find even a hint of love from the opposite sex.    

As in Mohamad Ahmadi's "Poet of the Wastes," the main characters unrealistically fall for a beautiful lady they meet (Maryam Sabaghian), who becomes a focus for their fantasies. Salour skillfully plays them off each other, stopping just short of pathos until the final scene when he lets out the emotional stops, abetted by Mohammad Salarvand's touching musical score.

Story can be faulted for being too one-note, as most of the film is nothing more than a comic portrait of Hamid and Behrouz's bickering and bonding. Fortunately the pace of this 75-minute film is swift and even in translation the Persian dialog comes across as amusing.

Giving the proceedings a quality look is Touraj Aslani's superbly imaginative camerawork, which paints an unforgettable double portrait of Tehran both in its daytime, traffic-choked ferocity, and its peaceful nocturnal beauty.

Cast: Hamid Habibifar, Behrouz Jalili, Mojtaba Bitarafan, Maryam Sabaghian, Mohammad-Reza Salour, Mohammad Fassihi. Director: Saman Salour. Screenwriter: Saman Salour. Producers: Saman Salour, Nasrine Medard de Chardon. Director of photography: Touraj Aslani. Production designer: Saman Salour. Music: Mohammad Salarvand. Sound: Mohammad Shahverdi. Editor: Saman Salour
Sales Agent: DreamLab Films, France
No MPAA rating, 79 minutes.

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