Mourning / Morteza Farshbaf / 2012 /

Active Ingredients: Control over sound and image; Revelation of information
Side Effects: Incomplete ending; Restrictive locations

A protegee of Abbas Kiarostami‘s, Moretza Farshbaf exhibits much of the Iranian master’s control and restraint in his debut film, Mourning. Don’t let the title fool you though, Mourning is a vital film, fully realizing the lives of its three central characters. Narratively, it feels neither sombre nor restrictive; on the contrary, the great success of Mourning is how deliberately and convincingly it expands, taking a simple story and opening it up to nuance and complexity, allowing the audience to enter into the world of the film where there are no easy answers.

Like many of Kiarostami’s film, Mourning revolves around driving. After his parents were involved in a serious car accident, a boy is driven by his deaf aunt and uncle through the countryside to a hospital in Tehran. Along the way we learn more about these reluctant new guardians, their close connection, their shared disability, their divergent regrets. They debate the boy’s future and their own as the dynamic among the three characters shifts organically. Farshbaf beautifully utilizes the pacing of his screenplay and his precision in composition and use of sound to allow the characters to flower over the course of the film. He chisels away at them like a sculptor, revealing more of their shape and texture with each pass. As we learn more about the bonds and fractures of the deaf couple, the young boy, too, moves from passive backseat observer to a character that respects the depth and confusion of adolescence.

While the complex characterization and moral ambiguities remind me of last year’s powerful A Separation, Farshbaf’s visual style and pacing owe a debt to Kiarostami. Mourning is a quiet film, aesthetically distanced and even-handed, but never dry or dispassionate. Rather, Farshbaf chooses his sounds and images with conviction, showing great control over the elements of his film and calculating the impact of each decision. The acting of the three leads is equally precise and specific, and each performer achieves naturalism without sacrificing emotional clarity. Mourning is an extremely confident and formally accomplished debut from a promising new global voice.

[Mourning makes its US debut at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts “Global Lens” Film Series on June 9th. To learn more about the series, click here.]