‘The Long Farewell’: Tehran Review

A top-flight cast turns this dark tale into compelling drama

Two women, played by Iranian stars Sareh Bayat and Mitra Hajjar, brighten the life of a lonely outcast

Iranian love stories typically run into too many cultural obstacles to be convincing on film, and end up feeling stilted, unreal and above all unmoving. Farzad Motamen’s The Long Farewell  (Khoda Hafeziy Tolani) is a pleasant exception and definitely worth a once-over by festival programmers. The hero is an angry loner living on the fringes of society. His relationship with two fascinating women – one his dead wife, the other a young factory worker – makes his intensely interior drama engrossing to watch and the ending far from predictable. The film has its dreamy side, but always comes back to bleak but credible reality.

Among Motamen’s directing credits is an adaptation of Dostoevsky’s short story White Nights, and one can feel the atmosphere of the Russian writer here mixed with a dash of Ken Loach.

When Yahya (played by Saeed Aghakhani, who directed and starred in the drug-abuse drama Lamp 100 last year) is released from prison after being wrongfully accused of murdering his wife, no one at his small textile factory is happy to see him. Almost to the man, they have testified against him at his trial. There are snide remarks behind his back and more openly expressed hostilities like, “We thought you killed her.” Yahya is a burly fellow who doesn’t take fighting words lying down. He gets into a great number of bloody fist-fights in the course of the film.

But mostly he lives in his fantasies. Returning to his modest dwelling by the RR tracks, he is lovingly welcomed by his dead wife, the wispy Mahrokh (Sareh Bayat, the caregiver who falls down the stairs in Farhadi’s A Separation). He’s madly in love with her, even though she’s clearly a figment of his imagination. They have dinner, take a walk, sit and watch trains go by. He isn’t delusional, but could be suicidal.

Then a new girl turns up at work. Tal’at (Mitra Hajjar) is a spunky, down-to-earth country lass full of homey wisdom. Under the threat of being married off to anyone with a paying job “who knows the ins and outs of life,” she boldly chooses Yahya as her man, ignoring his qualms and a wall of social disapproval. In any other Iranian film this would be a prelude to disaster, but Asghar Abdollahi's screenplay goes in new directions.

Hajjar (It’s Winter), a popular actress who has also worked on the French stage, is a blast of fresh air in the role of the girl and blessed relief from the tired, sad-faced, coughing ghost of Mahrokh.

But it’s Aghakhani’s passionate central perf that gets the audience behind him, his seemingly hopeless situation, his aching sadness. His gruff exterior hides a secret vein of romanticism, and one can believe he's a working class man who loves poetry.

Motamen may work theatrically with his actors, but he's very much a visual director in the way he uses the camera to frame enclosed spaces and wider landscapes, all with the attentive help of cinematographer Morteza Ghafouri, who shot the Afghan tale A Few Cubic Meters of Love. Sound effects have an important role in creating the mood.

Cast: Saeed Aghakhani, Sareh Bayat, Mitra Hajjar, Nader Fallah
Director: Farzad MotamenScreenwriter:  Asghar Abdollahi
Producers: Farzad Motamen, Ali Hazrati
Director of photography: Morteza Ghafouri
Production and costume designer: Jahangir Mirzajani
Editor: Zhila Ipakchi
Music: Iman Vaziri
Sales Agent: Farabi Cinema
No rating, 90 minutes