If you’ve ever met Mohsen Namjoo, two things will immediately strike you about him. First, he is simultaneously unlike any Iranian you have met, and precisely he is just like every Iranian you have ever met. The Iran in him simply pours out. Second, he is infuriatingly likable. You don’t want to like him, mind you. But you have no choice.
This is best summed up in the wonderful award winning (2016 Best Actor: Durban International Film Festival) character he has created for a delightful independent film “Radio Dreams” (2015 Butimar Productions & Neda Nobari Foundation; run time: 1:30. Namjoo plays the part of the deeply conflicted perfectionist, Mr. Royani, the station program manager for “Pars Radio”, an homage to the familiar Iranian diaspora radio usually found in LA, this one in San Francisco. Although Mr. Royani cannot abide the peculiar peccadillos of his less than qualified, but nevertheless enthusiastically dedicated staff, his only solace and therapy comes from a regular late night secret sloppy desperate love affair with Hamburger and Fries.
Mr. Royani despises having to pay for his complex-ridden perfectionism with the necessary commercials sold and produced in-house by the young staff in order to keep the station afloat. These are deliciously ill-timed to all but ruin the deep-thoughts intellectual programming Mr. Royani is striving to bring his listeners, and the use of the same intro chime from a cheap keyboard by Morad the young announcer using the cliche over emphasized “advertising voice” on every ad, hilariously illustrates the cheapness and dirty commercialism of dirty commercialism.
These infernal ads are literally ruining Mr. Royani’s life. Nevertheless, he soldiers on, with a new genius promotional idea to bring together, the Afghan Rock band, “Kabul Dreams”, with the legendary American Rock band “Metallica”, and have them jam together on air in the station’s studio, as yet another triumph in his private collection of performance art, with the intended metaphor, the mending of pain from the long US-Afghanistan war through Rock music. A great idea, even if everyone doubts that it could ever be pulled off.
This is the premise of a mesmerizing quirky film directed by Babak Jalali, who has taken what feels a lot like a Wes Anderson theme, and like all Iranian homages, turned it into a new and highly entertaining Iranian variation on a theme. Whatever Jalali did, it works. Co-written by Jalali and Aida Ahadiany the dialog is raw and new and fresh and filled with the familiar Iranian cheek we’ve missed for 35 years. And it’s all very funny.
The wrestling obsessed Station Owner. The young work-in-progress loser. The too-tightly wound frustrated ad-saleswoman. The devoted protege in the edge desperately trying to hold it all together. The all-knowing office mom. Each of the other characters so stunningly interesting, you can’t take your eyes off them whenever they are in scene. Each no doubt with an intriguing untold backstory. That you’re just dying to know what those are.
I especially loved the mystery surrounding some kind of incident that shall not be mentioned, that has now caused an upsetting ongoing rift between Mr. Royani and young Morad, the station’s technician, jack of all trades, and plucky ad-producer. With his battery powered keyboard in perpetual painful tow. The one same sad intro jingle chime memorized and played dutifully with only two fingers on his pitiful plastic piano. The pain the sight of this causes Royani, his stifled impending explosion, is hilarious.
I’m going to stop here, and hope I have not divulged too much. This film is too much fun to spoil. Except to add that “Radio Dreams” is the kind of Iranian movie we have all been waiting for. But sadly do not deserve. The expression of the consummate modern Iranian on film. This film is vastly different than the usual over-complicated “Made with Fear in Iran” fodder that we’ve been over-fed as some sort of standard we are supposed to politely swallow, to be sure. It still has all of the usual wholly recognizable Iranian body flair that we desperately need in our films. And our lives. But it is a rare proof of life. The hostage is alive! And in spite of all we have endured, how our reputation has been re-engineered by a false narrative, we are thankfully still evolving and most certainly, we are a valid and modern people.
Even if we can’t help but fight our own evolution every step of the way.
If I play my role as a film critic now, the only critique I can make about this film is that it is Royani-infuriating that our communities in the US and Canada are so dysfunctional and mis-prioritized; that with all the sheer financial means we have acquired, the piles of useless money we’ve piled upon the piles of useless money, we are not apparently capable of providing the simplest opportunity for Iranians to see films like “Radio Dreams” in an actual movie theater. It is a damn shame and yet another cultural embarrassment that a film this good, is apparently only able to be appreciated by non-Iranians who easily recognized it with the following awards of excellence.
WINNER: ROTTERDAM IFFR, HIVOS TIGER AWARD, NETHERLANDS 2016
WINNER: DURBAN IFF, BEST ACTOR AWARD MOHSEN NAMJOO, SOUTH AFRICA 2016
WINNER: ANDREI TARKOVSKY IFF BEST DIRECTOR BABAK JALALI, RUSSIA, 2016
WINNER: SPECIAL JURY PRIZE, SEATTLE IFF, USA 2016
Marjaneh Moghimi, Butimar Productions
Neda Nobari, Neda Nobari Foundation
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