Premiering in the New Directors category at San Sebastian Film Festival; Emad Aleebrahim Dehkordi’s feature debut A Tale of Shemroon is as neutral as an observation can possibly be. The actions and the consequences following a slow-burn pattern, tell the story of two brothers trying to figure out their ways through each day, post their mother’s demise. The perspective through which we are allowed a thorough tour of the two brothers’ lives, bears the notes of intrusion but without interference or judgment. A style that resembles a simple-looking glass, turns out to be an interesting analysis of the differences between two people who care a great deal about each other. The experience is quite gripping despite the absence of any major theatrics and the emotions are more organic because of it.
Brothers Iman (Iman Sayad Borhani) and Payar (Payar Allahyari) share a close, grounded relationship despite possessing very different personalities. They live with and take care of their father who disapproves of Iman’s shady activities. Iman is shown to be reckless and impulsive in his pursuits while Payar’s nature is calm and way more responsible. When Iman’s friend Rouzbeh visits Tehran and invites him to a party; Iman is found picking up opium and a sample of cocaine from his peddler Nima.
After a dazed night of partying Iman sets off on his motorcycle; riding it high at the speed of light. This petrifying sequence of him riding fast in the dark and the anticipation of an accident are concluded when a bird flying at him makes him crash his motorcycle. Patient with his elder brother’s chaotic tendencies; suggesting that it isn’t something new; Payar tends to Iman’s injured arm and his motorcycle. Eventually, Iman’s occupation turns out to be as rash as his personality. Following the course of his primary business of selling illegal body-building powder; Iman also starts peddling Nima’s cocaine in hopes of turning a huge profit. A move that ultimately drags him and his brother down a horrifying path.
When his friend Hana is back in Tehran with her kid Pauli, Payar goes to visit them. The soft, nurturing side of his nature is further explored in his manner of treating Hana and Pauli. He spends as much time as he can spare with them, plays with Pauli and puts up with his tantrums, and is patient with Hana as she finds her way back to normalcy after her divorce. Payar shows no interest in hanging out with his peers or partying. When Iman gives him some money as a reward for him winning his krav maga match, he goes out with Hana and spends time with her friends in a restaurant. It is evident that Payar has always had a crush on Hana and while there’s clearly a mutual romantic affection taking place between them now; it is left without its climax. Subtle flirting is as far as they go in terms of communicating their desires.
Despite their contrasting personalities; the brothers are never lacking in support for one another. Iman is determined to make sure his uncle doesn’t rob their family of the only scrap of land they own. Even after moving out of the house because of the extreme conflicts with his father, Iman still pays to get their plumbing fixed without his knowledge. However, Payar ends up having to pay for Iman’s illegal ventures when he is attacked and severely thrashed by a group of people; one of whom Iman had punched during a peddling misadventure.
The character of Iman owns all the shades of a hotheaded young guy with a good heart and that is brought into life with the brilliantly convincing performance delivered by Iman Sayad Borhani. Being shattered by the grief of his mother’s demise and carrying the weight of the disappointments given by his father; Iman strays but safeguards the only bit of softness left within him for his brother. And that love is reciprocated by Payar in the form of constant support and stoicism that point towards him having to grow up before his time in order to take care of his family.
Amin Jafari’s cinematography heightens every scene that needs to convey emotions without words. And that along with Dehkordi’s mastery in making a story flow in the direction of a shock and still managing to cause a startling effect; are the perfect enhancements, heightening the performances even further. It is interesting and amusing to spot the little, seemingly insignificant additions that connect two characters who share the same emotion even though they never really interact. The prime example of that is the affection for cats that their father and Iman’s friend Haiduk share; both of whom also feel an attachment with their respective battered, old houses.
Some of the characters, however, needed more exploration in order to strengthen their relevance. Dehkordi’s feature, while containing the social memorandum of the dangers one would face in the path of drugs, sometimes takes the form of a character-driven film that focuses more on interpersonal connections than the broader message. And that is one of the things that adds heart to this story.