Smell Of Camphor, Fragrance Of Jasmine

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Bahman Farmanji seems to be at the end of his rope. Once a celebrated filmmaker in his native Iran, he left the country after the Islamic Revolution in the late ’70s, realizing that he wouldn’t be able to get any worthy script approved by the censorious new regime. Now having returned, 20 years later, the only film work he can find is making a documentary on Iranian burial customs for Japanese television. The topic is appropriate, since death is constantly on his mind — he’s still in mourning for his wife, who died five years ago; many of his old friends have passed on and he himself is ailing, overweight and smoking too much and continually stroking his arm in anticipation of his next heart attack.

Farmanji is played by Bahman Farmanara, who also wrote and directed this thinly disguised self-portrait. On the surface, much of it plays like a very dark comedy of irritations, with our put-upon hero enduring a series of absurd nightmares. When he picks up a hitchhiker who looks like the Grim Reaper’s sister, she tells him how her husband beat her when she was pregnant and then leaves behind a horrible bundle in the back seat, to be discovered later. Visiting his wife’s grave, he finds that the adjacent plot, which he purchased so he could be buried next to her, is occupied. And, worst of all, during an extended dream/fantasy about his own funeral he finds everyone ignoring his detailed last wishes, a grievous insult to his directorial ego.

But the general tone of the film is more bittersweet than comic. With its echoes of Fellini’s 8 1/2 (using creative frustration as inspiration) and Bergman’s Wild Strawberries (a life’s final examination), it seems to belong to the genre of the metaphysical/confessional, the slow pacing signifying its musing mode. And like many Iranian films, despite some wonderfully scenic shots, it seems both slightly impoverished and oddly padded, with a lot of the kind of dead-air sequences (a guy walks down a long hall, a guy sits and thinks) that American films tend to avoid. Fortunately Farmanji/Farmanara is entirely sympathetic and though his crisis may not resonate as deeply as he seems to want it to, we certainly end up wishing him well.

Showing exclusively at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward, Detroit) 7:30 p.m. on Monday. Call 313-833-3237.

Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for Metro Times. E-mail him at letters@metrotimes.com.

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