'Parting' ('Raftan'): Film Review | Busan 2016

Busan International Film Festival
A moving migrant tale.

Navid Mahmoudi's debut, about a young migrant couple's attempt to leave Iran for Europe, is Afghanistan's submission in the foreign-language film Oscar category.

Given its melancholic title, Parting doesn't exactly promise a happily-ever-after ending for its two young Afghan lovebirds seeking a new life in Europe. Then again, Navid Mahmoudi's directorial debut is more about those who are stranded than those who have managed to move: Set nearly entirely in the Iranian capital of Tehran, it's is a compact but vivid illustration of migrant lives in limbo.

Far from the long-circulating images of refugees swimming and trekking their way to their lands of hope, Mahmoudi — who was born in Afghanistan and moved to Iran when he was a child — has offered a heartfelt and somewhat audacious follow-up to A Few Cubic Meters of Love, the 2014 film he produced about the plight of illegal Afghan migrant workers in Iran.

Bowing in Busan in the festival's New Currents competition, the film is Afghanistan's submission in the foreign-language film Oscar category. The film did not appear on the Academy's official list of entries, which was announced on Tuesday, but Mahmoudi has already made the longlist in 2014 with A Few Cubic Meters of Love, which was directed and written by his brother, Jamshid. With or without the Academy's stamp of approval, Parting should enjoy plentiful stops on the festival circuit from here.

Parting begins with a close-up of Nabi (Reza Ahmadi) as he struggles to follow an offscreen smuggler's instructions about the possibilities and perils of his pending trip out of Afghanistan. The screen turns black, and then boom: a frantic tracking shot in which he and his fellow travelers are seen scrambling across the border, fighting off the dogged pursuit and manhandling of Iranian border guards.The film then cuts to a highway sometime later, as a bus mechanic offers to bring Nabi to Tehran in the hold.

For nearly the entirety of the next 70 minutes, the young man moves around Tehran slowly and tentatively as he tries desperately to find a way to continue the next leg of his journey to Europe. Joining him in his quest is his girlfriend Fereshteh, who has settled in Iran after fleeing Afghanistan with her family four years earlier. 

We see Fereshteh leaving home in the morning as if she's just going to school. She prepares and packs some food, kisses her young siblings goodbye as if it's a final farewell and heads out to meet Nabi, braving for a long journey. But after a confrontation with a trafficker, their move quickly flounders — and the pair spend the day whizzing from one place to another, trying to locate the money, the contact and the resources needed to restart their journey.

Rather than offering a visceral depiction of those braving that risky, transcontinental passage, Mahmoudi audaciously (and perhaps conscientiously) sticks with those who stayed. Through the two young protagonists' eyes, he reveals the realities of those who profit from the migrants — these racketeers run their well-oiled business like a legit public transportation service — and those who are stranded in a stranger's land in the middle of an aborted journey. It's an approach the Mahmoudi siblings already deployed in A Few Cubic Meters of Love, a story set in an Iranian factory filled with illegal Afghan workers.

At the center of A Few Cubic Meters of Love is a forbidden romance between an Iranian boy and an Afghan girl, and Parting revolves similarly around the relationship between Nabi and Fereshteh. Both rookie actors Mahmoudi claimed to have recruited from refugee camps near Tehran, Ahmadi and Hosseini deliver sufficiently dynamic performances.

While there are some problems here — the use of melodramatic devices, such as slow-motion or song-backed sequences, jars with the dominantly gritty outlook of the film — Mahmoudi has delivered a largely captivating piece. At its realist best, Koohyar Kalari's camerawork conveys the character's lurching panic within a hectic city of cars and construction sites. A moving tale about lives in stasis, Parting provides another perspective on a humanitarian crisis showing no signs of abating.

Venue: Busan International Film Festival (New Currents)
Production company: Aseman Parvaz Film
Cast: Reza Ahmadi, Fereshteh Hosseini
Director-screenwriter: Navid Mahmoudi
Producer-editor: Jamshid Mahmoudi
Director of photography: Koohyar Kalari
Production and costume designer: Amir Hossein Babaeian
Music: Sahand Mahdizadeh
International Sales: Dreamlab Films

In Dari and Persia

Not rated, 78 minutes