Stories of migrant workers making a living for themselves in Western Europe often carry themes of cultural difference and dealing with racial bigotry. However, when handled by Iranian filmmakers the stories focus less on the difference, and more the individual.
Despondent Iranian worker Gholam (Asghar Farhadi) eeks out a living as a can driver in London, living in a squalid one-bedroom “studio” apartment. He spends his time eating at his uncle and aunt’s cafe, chatting to his Westernised nephew, and volunteering at a fellow expats garage. At the cafe, two Iranians recognise Gholam from their old military days.
What begins to surface is a semblance of a plot as these two men attempt to lure Gholam into their group. I say semblance because there isn’t a plot in the traditional sense. Most of the film is Gholam meandering from situation to situation as many plot threads grow but are never fully realised. While this is intentional, it does make Gholam an unengaging and distant film watching experience.
This distancing effect is problematised with a lack of visual flair. Many flat set pieces and stagnant conversations showcase the film’s budget restraints than anything else. Moreover, the conversations aren’t as illuminating as one might think as the character Gholam is simple, humble, and appears somewhat content with his current situation.
The film isn’t helped by the lack of its own verisimilitude. Characters behave uncharacteristically London, engaging with the world around them via outmoded practices. One notable example is a revealing plot point that is read out (literally) from a newspaper. Do people still buy and read from local newspapers?
A meandering, aimless film does have a bleak and resolute finale that ties everything up. It will undoubtedly split audiences, but it’s a bold move that (might) make the prior 90+ minutes worth the wait.