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GILANE (director/writer: Mohsen Abdolvahab/Rakhshan Bani-Etemad; cinematographer: Morteza Poursamadi; editor: Davoud Yusefian; music: Mohammad Reza Aligholi; cast: Fatemah Motamed-Aria (Gilane), Baran Kosari (Maygol), Bahram Radan (Ismael); Runtime: 84; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Sa’d Sa’di; ; 2005-Iran-in Persian with English subtitles)
“A universal antiwar message film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Iran’s most prominent female filmmaker Rakhshan Bani-Etemad codirects and cowrites with Mohsen Abdolvahab this intelligently made but slow-moving scars of war drama. It’s meant as a universal antiwar message film. It covers two wars as background for telling about a peasant family’s struggle to survive their still lingering ill-effects from the first war.

The heart of the film covers the Iran-Iraq War from the civilian Iranian’s point of view. It was a brutal war fought by the two middle-east nations from 1980 to 1988, that left both populations with many physical and mental causalities. Unfortunately it wears its sincerity and simplistic broad anti-war message on its sleeves in a heavy-handed manner, and never picks up any steam to say something that is stirring, memorable or new. Even if you endorse the message, the film is only effective in a few scenes. It’s just not enough to say war is bad, even if you put a human face on its causalities and point out that there are no winners except for the war profiteers. Even the sympathetic viewer demands more in the way of drama to rouse his or her interest.

It opens in 1988, with Iraqi missile attacks causing ruin in Tehran and many of its citizens taking to the road to flee for safety to the country. In the backward remote Iranian countryside village of Espilli, concerned mother Gilane (Fatemeh Motamed Arya) watches helplessly as her healthy son Ismael (Bahram Radan), the village’s best prospect, goes off to war and also leaves behind his fiancée. Gilane then goes by bus with her headstrong pregnant daughter, Maygol (Baran Kosari), as they trek through the war-torn Iranian countryside to reach Tehran (going in the opposite direction of most citizens) and find her soldier husband Rahman, who has not been heard from ever since he deserted his post. He rented an apartment for her there in anticipation when she gives birth, but when the women reach there they find it deserted and the furniture gone.

Fifteen years later, in 2003, the United States invades Iraq. Gilane is stooped over from a hard life and caring for Ismael, who returned from the battlefield of the first war a cripple with mental problems. Living in isolation, suffering at times from delirium and ignored by the government, the soldier’s only visitors are a caring country doctor making the rounds and his guilt-ridden former fiancée, now married to someone else and raising a family. The widow Gilane and her son watch the TV newscasts of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and Saddam getting his comeuppance without any of it registering with any importance. These two wounded and abandoned souls are just trying to survive and make it through another day, who are shown to be worse off because of the war. There only hope is that the doctor can get a veteran’s hospital to take Ismael and that the mother would agree it’s in the best interest of all parties to let her son go.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”