'What's the Time in Your World?': Busan Review

Courtesy of Busan International Film Festival
A fairly conventional but engaging drama that’s made better by its cast

Acclaimed actress Leila Hatami teams up with real-life husband for a delicate mediation on memory in Safi Yazdanian’s debut feature

Critic and documentary filmmaker Safi Yazdanian takes his first steps in feature storytelling with What's the Time in Your World?, a languid and ambiguous tale of an Iranian woman's return to the hometown she has little to no memory of. The curiously constructed story about memory and how it defines us is anchored by stars Leila Hatami (A Separation) and Ail Mosaffa (The, Past), who alone should garner the film a good amount of attention. On top of the film's above-the-title stars, Yazdanian's new voice in Iranian narrative cinema will guarantee strong festival play, and a limited art house release in urban markets is not out of the question.

The film begins with Goli (Hatami) landing at Tehran airport for her first visit to her hometown Rasht in two decades. She's been living in France and has established quite a life judging from a phone call with (presumed) partner Antoine about her sudden plans. A plucky, semi-acoustic guitar soundtrack signals the beginning of a road trip, and in ways What's the Time in Your World? is just that; it's just a road trip through memories. At the bus terminal at Rasht she's greeted by the local frame-maker Farhad (Hatami's husband Mosaffa, also producer here), who puts her in a taxi. He clearly knows her (they seem to have a private window tap greeting), but Goli is baffled, convinced she's never met Farhad in her life. He leaves her to go about her business but quickly starts showing up wherever she is — the market, her favorite diner, random streets — and it begins Goli's deeper investigation into her memory and identity.

What's the Time in Your World? is a delicate, understated exploration of memory, personal history and our perceptions of the past as much as it is a subtle and unconventional romance, one that segues into a valuable friendship. Yazdanian brings his documentarian's eye to his frames, often letting the action flow within their confines as if seeking a kind of authenticity as to how the characters interact. Goli and Farhad each have their demons, sometimes relating to each other, and the pair's leisurely strolls and rambling conversations exorcise some of them. But it's not all lonely hearts and mystery. Goli is particularly affected by her mother's death and the fact that she was absent for her protracted illness. Goli and Farhad's connection is revealed layer by layer, never in a rush to get to the next reveal or moment of recognition (to be fair, sometimes not in enough of a rush).

Poetic and slightly melancholy, What's the Time in Your World? hangs together on the strength of Hatami and Mosaffa's performances. Mosaffa brings a lonely, resigned dignity to Farhad, and is never in danger of allowing him to fall onto the side of "stalker," which it too easily could have. Hatami is her usual graceful self and infuses Leila with enough shades that she's as empathetic as she is enigmatic. Tech specs are strong, with Homayoun Payvar's (Taste of Cherry) cinematography effortlessly creating an almost dreamy urban landscape that flows from one moment to the next, mirroring Goli and Farhad's developing—or rekindled—relationship.

Production company: Road Film
Cast: Leila Hatami, Ali Mosaffa, Ebrahim Zamir, Payam Yazdani, Christophe Rezai, Lili Samii, Zeynab Sha'bani
Director: Safi Yazdanian
Screenwriter: Safi Yazdanian
Producer: Ali Mosaffa
Executive producer: Peyman Jafari
Director of photography: Homayoun Payvar
Production designer: Iraj Raminfar
Costume designer: Iraj Raminfar
Editor: Fardin Saheb-Zamani
Music: Christophe Rezai
World sales: Dreamlab Films
No rating, 98 minutes