The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Cinema] - ATABAI | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Cinema] - ATABAI

atabai review
A middle-aged man falls for the daughter of the man who bought his family's orchard.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Niki Karimi

Starring: Hadi Hejazifar, Sahar Dolatshahi, Javad Ezati, Danial Noroush

atabai poster

One of the most pernicious lies that our society and culture, which is in complete thrall to youth, propagates is that love exists exclusively for the young. Our images of romance trade upon vernal beauty as it experiences the first flushes of intimacy, wherein naivety is idealised. We make such a big deal of weddings (boring, endless), but shouldn’t our congratulations be saved for the decades down the line marriages which have survived, for the participants who have grown together and born the inevitable anguish and injuries that love, actual love, necessitates? Or maybe, hahaha, isn’t it hilariously disgusting when those old people in Ti West’s (boring, endless) X have a shag? When Cupid’s arrow hits the target it leaves a hole pierced right through your heart: it is there forever, and the wound can only be soothed by the very source of the pain. I dread to imagine the heartache of love long unreciprocated, and the concept of an old age without such affection is similarly inconceivable. Still, as a character in Atabai suggests, "sadness is good for poets..."

atabai review

Niki Karimi and Hadi Hejazifar’s (the former directs and the latter stars with both contributing to the script) Atabai opens with lead character Kazem (Hejazifar) recounting the decades past, and looking toward those which are to soon speedily pass. Middle aged Kazem is a man characterised by his heartache. He has suffered romantic loss at the university where he teaches, and his sister has killed herself in the orchard which belonged to his family. This causes Kazem to return to the village, where old wounds are reopened, and fresh cuts are threatened. Opposing the selling of the orchard by his brother in law, Kazem finds himself falling for a woman from the village, a relationship which is complicated by both the staggered ages of the suitors along with their different statuses in life.

atabai review

The visual dynamic of Atabai is highly striking. Filmed in Northwest Iran, the intimacy of the human drama is played out against epic panoramas of imposing mountains, infinite scrub and lakes that shine as hard and blue as steel, giving the interactions an almost mythical significance. Karimi weaves in rich tradition within deep focus backgrounds where there is always something unusual occurring to catch the eye: young men play a skipping game with a bullwhip, and Kazem and a fellow villager ritualistically burn a tyre before setting it to run down a mountain. Is there an implication that cultural systems have led to repressions and behaviours which Kazem, in his autumnal years, seems to have outgrown? Hejazifar’s powerful central performance is kinetically physical, giving in to rage and passions that would have seemed to have simmered away for decades...

atabai review

A recurring motif of Atabai is the superstition that if you see a dead person in your dreams, and reach to touch their finger, then they will tell you important secrets. In a film where communication is paramount, and much is made of the interface of different languages, this is neat metaphor for reliance on solipsistic tradition over actual human collaboration. Only when Kazem is honest and open with those around him, and, more crucially, himself, can he move on and accept both the joy and pain of love.

Atabai is in UK cinemas from May 6th.

2022 movie reviews