Chand kilo korma baraye marassem - e tadfinA few kilos of dates for a funeral (2006)
Director: Saman Salur
This week I watched a film, which was so intense, that I felt compelled to write about it, in order to understand what about it left me so numb. A Few Kilos of Dates for a Funeral directed by Saman Salur, initially released almost nine years ago, in France.
Shot entirely in Black and White, the film deals with the lives of two men stuck in a remote gas station in the far off, frozen mountainous terrain of Iran.
Moments in the lives of these utterly incompatible men, almost forgotten by civilisation, (occasionally visited by only two men from town, a mail man, and a ‘funeral driver’) is what makes the film immensely disturbing; interspersed with wry humour that makes one laugh only at how absurd, and weird life can get.
The introductory sequence of the film is very interesting. It not only reveals the most important elements of the film in the first three minutes, but also demarcates the beginning of a journey, only backwards.
Shot in telephoto lens, a snow covered land is revealed, with only a narrow visible path, traversed by a van, moving towards civilization (difference shown by presence of trees in the next shot). There is a cut to black, we know the van has stopped, as the sound of the engine ceases too. A voice over on the black screen utters the name of god before putting up the shutters of his shop, as our ‘funeral driver’ (as he calls himself later in the film), asks for a few kilos of dates for a funeral. The brisk track in on his face as he delivers his dialogue stolidly, puts immense power in the film right from the beginning.
Within the next seven or eight shots, the whole premise of the film is explained without any dialogues whatsoever. The setting up of the gas station against the winds (that will only ruthlessly hurl everything down later), the main protagonist Sadri’s obsession with the weather as he observes the skies, and his assistant Yadi’s comic mannerism of imitating his master, the chill of the snow felt through the window of the lone van perched amid-st infinite snow, and Sadri’s questionable ventures out into the biting cold when he actually should be taking refuge inside the warmth of his van.
All these lead up to the sequence inside the car, where Sadri indirectly proposes his love to a woman, (shown only through the ring on her finger) by narrating his memories of a previous encounter with love. For the first time we notice the strangeness in his left eye.
As the camera lingers on his face even after his dialogue is over, the cut is purposely delayed. A woman’s voice (actually from the broadcast t.v in the next shot) is kept on Sadri’s face as he looks towards the woman, almost giving us a feel of a real conversation between them. Almost as if the woman were talking. The illusion is broken sooner than it registers, as we get to know the real source of the sound soon.
The woman of course will never talk, we understand later, when Sadri goes to meet her for the third time. For the first time her face is shown through the mirror in the car, her eyes remain closed and she could pass off as being asleep too. But the next shot reveals the truth.
She is absolutely dead. Stains of blood have oozed from her nose, and her head is tilted lifelessly. It is a corpse that Sadri has fallen in love with and wishes to store it by hiding it in the snow for as long as he can. Hence his obsession with the weather reports and his desperate pleas to the gods for snow. In one compelling monologue with God, he almost breaks down, rebuking Him for not giving him some ‘lousy snowflakes to keep the one you gave me’. Seeing the mighty man crumble before the infinite skies to keep his dead beloved, reaches the highest point of absurd. And in each such painful junctures the vacuous, bass heavy music intercedes to create a deeper void in the mind.
Sadri is finally in love, and he makes every attempt to woo his dead lover so endearing. His gestures to get close to her, quivering to touch her hand, or expressing his love through a song on the radio, or his desire to have a photograph taken with her is so disturbing that it almost left me with a lump in my throat.
This is not all that is absurd in the film.
The entire film deals with the Absurd.
The presence of Orouj, the ‘funeral driver’, who searches for dead bodies stuck in the snow, only to give them a fitting funeral is equally disturbing. Apart from the introductory sequence, his entry into the narrative is depicted through the track out from a pair of tagged feet of a dead orphan in the van. Snow gives Orouj a profession, money for sustenance. His lines,
“The government pays very little for orphans.
Funeral driver, you call that a profession?” are loaded with irony.
Orouj is in the look out for the body Sadri has secretly hidden. Conversations between the two reach such provoking zones, and are aptly shown through inverted top shots. In fact top shots keep recurring in the film. For me they work really well when the subjects talk about heavy, discomforting issues, like the disintegration of dead bodies here, and how its a sin to keep them in the earth for long. Hence Orouj is really the voice of the society, the cleanser of the land, the voice of religion/morality/natural laws and Sadri is the defying one. Defying all of this unintentionally, driven solely by love.
The introductory montage of the mailman in the film, (the other visitor in the bleak land of the two men) is fragmented at first with shots of boots peddling a cycle, and a bag stacked with enveloped letters. The somber music has already marked the beginning of his journey. The mailman is finally shown cycling feebly through a puddle as the snow pelts the silver trees, and him. The music is in fact interspersed with the sound of his shivering breaths.
He crosses the fence to reach the head office to once again plead for a bike, cycles through thin alleys, leans and looks down, at the vast expanse of land, and the long route he must travel. This shot, for me is so evocative, that this, and this alone is enough to tell his tale, the nature of his ruthless
This shot, so well conceived speaks of his journey, and the painful heave he perhaps sighs before embarking on it everyday.
As the montage is winding up, a fragmented tracking shot of a mirror on the mail man’s bike is
shown again. From the mirror, is reflected the expanse of the white mountains, moving with the rhythm of his muffled song. Perhaps singing makes the chill bearable. The track ends as the mirror frames in Yadi standing by his van. His wretched bicycle has no brake, his ‘vision is blurry’ and he can’t even pause to take a leak. His desperation to hand over the bicycle to Yadi, in order to relieve himself breaks the somber mood, bringing in a humour especially as Yadi teases him, while he’s inside the washroom, peeing.
“Can you see clearly now? Relieved?”
He is the official mail man for the pump station. But he delivers love letters written by Yadi for a woman he had met a long time back. He has a demented brother to look after and an aged father who still believes he’s capable of heading the family. Two powerful camera movements show the absurd dynamics of their family brilliantly.
The right to left track from the aged father sitting by the heaps of cotton (from the mattresses he still makes) smoking a hookah, to the brother in the next room shaking his bottom wildly to the beats of a popular song, and finally our mail man, copying Yadi’s letters and signing them off with his own name.
The other is a track up from the demented, drooling brother, having his hair cut by the mail man, to the mail man in turn getting his trimmed by his father.
By far the most bizarre thing that happens in the film is the entry of David Beckham(‘s human sized cut out) with a football in the snow clad, white lands of Iran. It is of course a delivery to a wrong address, but nevertheless serves as an advert to the gas station.
Even in the midst of all the discontent, Yadi, the mail man and his brother crack jokes referring to Beckham. “You don’t know him? He makes all the girls swoon!”
Yadi, the most amiable of all, who annoys as much as he loves, must get hurt. His illusions must be shattered. Sadri’s repeated thrashings do not shatter him as much as the mail man’s betrayal does. He is the most naive romantic fool who breaks down when he finds out the mailman has been wooing some girl with his love letters. What turns out to be more absurd is there is no trace of the girl who Yadi fell in love with. She translates now into an idea, devoid of any existence.
This heartbreak brings the two incompatible men closer together. After all both were motivated by an impossible idea of love, in an inhospitable, bleak land which erased possibilities of any real relation.
Absurdity and irony goes impossibly well together. And Saman Salur has in fact built his entire narrative just on the basis of these two emotions. The most absurd of situations must be shown in an explicitly ironic manner. Yadi steals the jewelry of the dead woman via the mailman to send a gift to his lover. But the mail man uses it as his marriage ring.
Sadri must confess to the funeral driver, Orouj. The scorching sun and fear of retribution make him give up his dead beloved too. He requests Orouj to give her a befitting funeral.
And this is where the film begins.
A journey from the end.