Opening 13 Aug 2009
Nine people long for freedom. Young men Ali and Merdad smuggle the children Azy and Arman out of Iran to be reunited with their parents in Vienna. Lale and Hassan leave Iran with their small son Kian for political reasons. People smugglers (called coyotes) take them across the border to Turkey. In Ankara they check into a no-star hotel full of refugees, including two other men: political activist Abbas and a Kurd named Manu. After the strain of evading capture on a dangerously long trip over mountains and snow, Ankara seems like a paradise of freedom and happiness. Their euphoria is short-lived as they wait in endlessly long lines at UNHCR headquarters (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) for recognition of their petitions for asylum and permission to move into another country. Turkey is an unsafe no-man’s land due to traitors (the owner of their hotel) or undercover Iranian secret police who work with Turkish authorities. In spite of the uncertainty of their lives, they are still human beings capable of humor, playfulness, love and loyalty. The film resolves the fate of each of the nine in different ways.
Director Arash T. Riahi has made a singularly wonderful film for which he drew on his own experiences as well as those of friends. He fled with his parents from Iran to Austria at age nine. Riahi has won prizes for documentaries, but this is his first feature film. The topic is quite pertinent, especially after the recent election in Iran with the ensuing demonstrations and deaths and also because the United Nations has been recording rises in refugees in Europe since 2005. There are many excellent films about this popular theme, such as, recently, Eden a l’Ouest by Costa-Gavras, but Riahi has set a new, high standard of tragedy and comedy interacting. The film is so closely woven that it is never boring, even during quiet moments; we are drawn into each person’s mind and care tremendously that he should succeed. There wasn’t a dry eye in the cinema, both from laughing and crying. There is an innocence from the standpoint of the children (similar to The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas) and childlike Manu; there is Hassan’s misplaced feeling of responsibility which estranges his wife; there is jealousy between naïve Ali and Merdadi over a girl named Jasmin.
The landscape is filmed beautifully. The music by Karuan, who combined western sound with eastern oriental instruments, is never intrusive. Rightly awarded 21 prizes from, e.g., Canada, Switzerland, Austria, Germany and France, your own personal freedom will take on new meaning. The opening line, “long live freedom” says it all, but at what cost? I saw the film in Farsi, Turkish and English with German subtitles. (Becky Tan)